When Pitchfork Music Festival announced in 2013 that R. Kelly would headline, journalist Jim DeRogatis published a series of discussions with professors, music critics, and fans about the allegations of sexual assault against Kelly. For years, the artist had denied accusations of predatory behavior — some cases have reportedly been settled outside of court, and in 2008 Kelly was acquitted on child pornography charges. Reports of Kelly's alleged activity did little to discourage the music industry from working with the singer. He still performed at Pitchfork, and continues to release music and tour. On Monday, DeRogatis released another investigative article about Kelly via BuzzFeed, this time claiming that the artist is holding women in an abusive "cult." These allegations are shocking, but if the past is any indication, the new R. Kelly story isn't likely to end his career — or even change anything at all.
UPDATE: Kelly's lawyer, Linda Mensch, released the following statement to Bustle:
Mr. Robert Kelly is both alarmed and disturbed at the recent revelations attributed to him. Mr. Kelly unequivocally denies such allegations and will work diligently and forcibly to pursue his accusers and clear his name.
EARLIER: Bustle has reached out to Kelly's lawyer's, Linda Mensch, RCA Records, and a rep for Kelly for comment, but did not receive a response.
Mensch denied the allegations in the BuzzFeed story, writing in a statement to DeRogatis,
We can only wonder why folks would persist in defaming a great artist who loves his fans, works 24/7, and takes care of all of the people in his life. He works hard to become the best person and artist he can be. It is interesting that stories and tales debunked many years ago turn up when his goal is to stop the violence; put down the guns; and embrace peace and love. I suppose that is the price of fame. Like all of us, Mr. Kelly deserves a personal life. Please respect that.
In 2013, after Kelly performed at Pitchfork, music journalist Jessica Hopper teamed up with DeRogatis, who had reported on Kelly's alleged predation for years, in a conversation for The Village Voice that also included much of DeRogatis' research. DeRogatis hoped his investigation would rekindle the conversation about Kelly and at least discourage other artists and listeners from continuing to support him.
"I’m not expecting you to feel the same way I do. But you can look at this body of evidence. 'You' meaning everybody who cares," the reporter said.
In his recent piece for BuzzFeed, DeRogatis points out how little has changed. He notes in the article: "Lady Gaga recorded the duet “Do What U Want” with Kelly in 2013, Lil Wayne, Ty Dolla Sign, and Juicy J made cameos on Kelly’s 2015 album The Buffet, and he performed on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon last December. He recently starred in a digital campaign for Alexander Wang".
After decades of allegations, the industry still seems to focus on any seed of doubt, rather than the pattern of allegations.
Kelly has been accused of sexual crimes multiple times. In 1996, a young woman named Tiffany Hawkins filed a case claiming that she began having sex with Kelly in 1991, when she was 15 and he was 24, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Kelly denied the claims and countersued for "punitive damages." The case was settled in 1998 and sealed by the court.
That doesn't mean that there isn't testimony against Kelly on record, though — DeRogatis noted in The Village Voice that initial lawsuits from these civil suits are public information. Affidavits from Hawkins 1996 case that contained claims about of the alleged sexual relationship are public record. But with no court cases decided against Kelly, some fans and members of the musical world seem to cling to this and continue to support the singer's career.
In his BuzzFeed article, DeRogatis reports that sources close to the star, including women who left his circle, alleged that Kelly has been allegedly physically and mentally abusing women. These allegations of abuse, and the repeated pattern with which these allegations have occurred over the past two decades, should be enough for members of the music industry to think twice before working with the artist, even though Kelly has denied them. For things to continue as usual sets a very public precedent for anyone who wants to come forward with an allegation of sexual abuse.
The trial of public opinion matters. Allegations against Bill Cosby were public knowledge for years, but because of the timing and because of what he represented in popular culture, people were hesitant to condemn his behavior. After a staggering number of women came forward and alleged that they were sexually assaulted by the star, that public perception did begin to shift. While Cosby has not been found guilty of rape in court (Andrea Constand's case against Cosby was ruled a mistrial), his alleged behavior was condemned by famous peers and his reputation in Hollywood was permanently tarnished. It took decades, but people began viewing allegations that women make against powerful men differently once the situation became extreme.
The view of Cosby has changed now, but that's not always the case — and, as seen with Cosby, it takes a lot. For instance, Chris Brown pled guilty to assaulting Rihanna, and faced few professional repercussions. Like Kelly, artists continue to collaborate with him, and his musical career has had continued success. That doesn't even begin to delve into the lack of fallout for famous men in the entertainment world at large when they commit or are alleged to have committed wrongdoings. And the world can't expect anything different now in light of the latest claims against Kelly.