The reluctance of the mainstream music industry to engage with the predators in its midst has been well-documented, from Kesha’s legal battle with her accused abuser Dr. Luke to the silence from industry executives on decades of allegations of sexual abuse leveled against R. Kelly. Today, a campaign to pressure Sony and Live Nation to drop the latter from their roster gained a high-profile new ally, as the Women of Color (WOC) of Time’s Up say they are joining forces with #MuteRKelly.
Calls for Kelly to face consequences, whether legal or otherwise, for his alleged misconduct have been gaining momentum over the last few months. It’s already resulted in the cancellation of nine R. Kelly shows, most recently resulting Kelly’s homecoming show at Chicago’s UIC pavilion. (Kelly blamed the cancellation of his Chicago show on “rumors” in a video posted to Instagram last night.)
The #MuteRKelly campaign began with a hashtag created by activist Kenyette Tisha Barnes, then grew into a petition that now has more than 65,000 signatures. There have also been in-person protests in Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Detroit, and Birmingham since the campaign’s creation in July 2017, according to Barnes. Referring to the recent allegation that Kelly purposefully infected a young woman with an STI, Oronike Odeleye, a leader in the #MuteRKelly campaign, says in a video interview with Care2, “we need to look at it as battery. Not as something that is a byproduct of [a] sexual relationship he’s having with them, but something deliberate ... The emotional manipulation, the physical abuse, the sexual abuse, this is another tool of abuse he’s using against these young women to keep them under his control.” Barnes adds, “he will face his Me Too moment.”
The letter from #TimesUp—printed in full in our sister publication The Root—begins with a rallying cry for women of color to come together to bring each other’s long-ignored pain to light: “We intend to shine a bright light on our WOC sisters in need. It is our hope that we will never feel ignored or silenced ever again,” it reads. Citing the recent conviction of Bill Cosby as a step in the right direction, it continues: “We call on people everywhere to join with us to insist on a world in which women of all kinds can pursue their dreams free from sexual assault, abuse and predatory behavior.”
The letter demands “appropriate investigations an inquiries” into Kelly’s behavior in the interest of fairness and justice, and calls out the following organizations that work with R. Kelly, specifically those putting on his next scheduled concert on May 11. To quote the letter:
- RCA Records: the venerable music label currently produces and distributes R. Kelly’s music;
- Ticketmaster: the popular ticketing system is currently issuing tickets for R. Kelly’s show May 11;
- Spotify and Apple Music: the popular streaming platforms currently monetizing R. Kelly’s music;
- Greensboro Coliseum Complex: the North Carolina venue is currently hosting an R. Kelly concert May 11.
In their video interview, Barnes and Odeleye also call on ordinary music fans, particularly people of color, to stop buying tickets to R. Kelly’s shows, buying his records, and streaming his music. “If we can’t figure out how to get criminal charges filed, let’s hit him where it hurts, in his pockets. Let’s say as a community, ‘we’re not going to support you,’” Odeleye says, adding that the less money Kelly has, the less able he will be to pay off accusers and hire high-priced lawyers. Celebrities including Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe, and Robin Thede have publicly supported the campaign:
In a statement released after last summer’s Buzzfeed exposé of Kelly’s alleged “sex cult” keeping young women in psychological captivity, Kelly’s legal team says, “Mr. Kelly unequivocally denies such allegations and will work diligently and forcibly to pursue his accusers and clear his name.”