One of the most prominent news cases across all platforms recently has been the case of Robert Sylvester Kelly — known by his stage name, R. Kelly. R. Kelly, who was one of the biggest names in R&B music at one point, has been found guilty on nine counts, including sexual exploitation of a child, bribery and sex trafficking. As R. Kelly awaits his sentencing on May 4, he could face anywhere from 10 years to life in prison.
With the recent attention brought to this case, it begs the question, can R. Kelly’s unspeakable actions be forgiven just because he made music that many people love? There is not a simple answer, but it is difficult to imagine supporting an artist who has done such unimaginable things. People may argue that there doesn’t have to be a correlation between listening to his music and liking him as a person, but there is. Even if you don’t like him as a person, you are still supporting him by putting money into his pocket every time you hit play on any of his songs.
Unfortunately, R. Kelly is not the only example of an artist who has done terrible things yet still receives the support of people. Another notable artist who committed questionable acts was Elvis Presley. Nicknamed the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Presley had multiple relationships with underage girls — three of them being 14 at the time that he met them. Presley began a relationship with his only wife, Priscilla, when she was 14 and he was 24. In her memoir, “Elvis and Me,” Priscilla discusses how intimate their first meeting was despite her being a child. This was frowned upon then and would definitely be frowned upon today as well. While these are only two examples of many artists who have been rumored to have committed wrongdoings, many others — from Michael Jackson to Dr. Seuss to Pablo Picasso — have also been linked to this violence.
It is nearly impossible to separate an artist from their music because art is personal. Most artists draw from their personal experiences; that’s what makes it art. Iranian-Dutch artist Sevdaliza wrote about the relationship between an artist and their art and its reflection of life. It perfectly encompasses how there is an electric bond between the art and the artist.
We understand that if we stopped supporting every artist who made bad decisions, then we wouldn’t be able to listen to a lot of the music that we do now. However, there is a difference between someone coming from a bad past, turning their life around and making great music and someone who has continuously done unspeakable things without remorse or acknowledgment of wrongdoing. People grow and change, and we recognize that, but sometimes it is obvious that they have no intention of growing.
We can’t tell you who or what to listen to, but just know that next time you go to put on songs like “Ignition (Remix)” or “I Believe I Can Fly,” you are putting money into a sex trafficker’s pocket.