Is R Kelly's music being shut down after new abuse claims?

By Kameron Virk and Cherry Wilson
Newsbeat reporters

Image source, Getty Images

John Legend has described him as a "serial" abuser, Lady Gaga has apologised for working with him and Neyo says there's "no excuse" not to "mute R Kelly".

For 20 years, the Ignition (Remix) singer has faced numerous accusations of sexual misconduct - with many of the stories alleging he preyed on teenage girls.

But the singer has never been convicted and denies any wrongdoing.

R Kelly's big hits are still played by DJs across the world, he has a huge fan base and he's considered one of the biggest stars in R&B.

However, several famous people have now spoken out against him following the release of a six-part documentary called Surviving R Kelly - which has been shown on US channel Lifetime.

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The programme outlined allegations from various women who say they were victims of abuse by R Kelly.

As well as Lady Gaga, the claims have also prompted artists such as Chance the Rapper and French band Phoenix to apologise for working with him.

While Omarion, whose group B2K had some of their biggest hits produced by R Kelly, said the band will no longer perform songs written by the singer.

It's led to a renewed focus on the campaign to "Mute R Kelly" - which calls for a boycott of his music and concerts.

It was launched in 2017 after other claims were made against the star and gained momentum last year when famous faces such as director Ava DuVernay and singer Janelle Monae came out to support the movement.

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R Kelly is a name that BBC 1Xtra's DJ Ace hasn't said on the radio in years. He instead refers to him as "the person whose name will not be spoken".

As part of a discussion on whether an artist can be separated from their art, Ace said he doesn't play R Kelly on his radio show or in DJ sets.

"I've never played an R Kelly record on [1Xtra show] Everything R&B. And I won't," he told listeners to the show on Monday.

"I believe a lot of the stuff that I've seen and I've heard about R Kelly, so in my opinion I can't listen to those records in the same way.

"I believe all of the women, and I will never play an R Kelly record on this show or in a set."

Fellow 1Xtra presenter Yasmin Evans agreed.

Yasmin and Ace told listeners that "a lot" of 1Xtra's DJs believe the allegations against R Kelly and "want nothing to do with" his music.

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Lady Gaga duetted with R Kelly on the 2013 single Do What U Want which has now been pulled from several streaming sites

But the official message from many radio stations on whether they are no longer playing R Kelly's songs is a little more complicated.

Newsbeat asked some of the UK's biggest stations and streaming services whether R Kelly would continue to feature on their platforms.

Radio 1 and 1Xtra said in a statement that there are "currently" no R Kelly songs on either playlist - which in radio industry terms is a list of songs chosen to be played regularly on the airwaves.

But they did not say whether there was a full ban on ever having his songs played on specialist shows or if a listener requested one.

Other radio stations refused to comment on whether they had blacklisted the star's music - including Global, home to Capital FM and Capital Xtra, and Bauer Media, which owns the likes of Kiss FM.

A Global spokesperson told Newsbeat that they do not comment on playlist decisions.

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Demonstrators held a protest near to R Kelly's studio on Wednesday

Spotify chose not to comment and Beats 1, Apple Music and Tidal didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.

Deezer was the only streaming service we contacted who had something to say.

In a statement, it said it has a "strict" process in place for monitoring content "while ensuring that we do not restrict freedom of speech, irrespective of our personal view on any given artist or issue".

"We are following the conversation around R Kelly closely but at this stage we have not made any editorial changes to our playlists or content library," it added.

But should the people who provide our music have to react to such widespread allegations?

Music journalist Natty Kasambala says it's "unrealistic" to expect stations and music services to hold people to account for charges that haven't necessarily been put through a court of law yet.

But she says if a station plays R Kelly it should be seen as a "statement of support".

"If you choose to support people in the midst of accusations such as this, we should all be able to take that as a statement of character," the Reprezent Radio and Foundation FM DJ told Radio 1 Newsbeat.

Natty thinks there's a big enough number of people "refusing to accept his guilt or are making excuses for him" that R Kelly will not be muted.

"I don't think we live in a world where the people who are against this have enough power to mute someone like R Kelly - but I think we have become an obstacle in his success, which is enough for now, and then we'll see what the courts do," she said.

"It shouldn't be the case that we have to have a documentary in order for the police to do their jobs, that's so depressing to me, but the fact that that's done something for this case is promising I guess."

Despite the renewed focus on abuse claims against R Kelly, it appears it's not hurting his career just yet.

Nielsen Music, a data analytic company in the US, says streaming numbers for his music have doubled since the documentary aired - finishing its run on 6 January.

It calculated that R Kelly averaged more than 955,600 streams in the last week of 2018. He averaged more than 1.5 million streams from 3 to 6 January.

R Kelly is also due to play a concert at the MHP arena in Ludwigsburg, Germany in April.

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On Thursday, the singer's duet with Lady Gaga, Do What U Want, was in the top 15 of the US iTunes Stores' top songs list - which ranks the most-purchased songs of the moment.

The song has since been removed from the likes of Apple Music and Spotify and is unavailable for purchase on Amazon Music.

In 2008, the singer was found not guilty of 14 counts of child pornography following a trial in the US and has not faced any further criminal charges since.

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Chris Cooke, business editor of music industry news service Complete Music Update, says it's "hard to know" whether these latest allegations will have a lasting impact on R Kelly's career.

"These stories have been following him for such a long time... it's not like these are new revelations to anyone really.

"However it has gone so big across the news networks and the social feeds and we're starting to see people in the music community, who in the past have tended not to comment, coming out.

"It does seem like there's a bigger reaction within the music community which could have an impact."

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