“Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries refocuses spotlight back on R&B singer's troubled past with underaged girls
Songs like “I Believe I Can Fly,” “Bump N’ Grind” and “Ignition (Remix)” made Robert Kelly, better known as R. Kelly, an R&B household name. Throughout Kelly’s professional career, he has won three Grammy awards and has been nominated for countless other prestigious awards.
But Kelly has a long history of accusations of inappropriate sexual contact with underaged girls. Recently Kelly’s troubled past has been a topic of discussion again, including his most recent ten counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse charges in February.
Over a decade ago, Kelly was indicted on child pornography charges but was later acquitted. Kelly’s latest charges are partially due to four different women’s allegations, including three who were underage at the time of the encounters. The 52-year-old singer turned himself in to Chicago police on Feb. 22, and his bond was set at $1 million. After a weekend in Cook County Jail, he was finally able to post his $100,000 bail the following Monday.
Lifetime aired “Surviving R. Kelly” in early January, a six-part series detailing Kelly’s childhood, ascension to fame and alleged sexual encounters with underaged girls, including the infamous sextape, which shows Kelly engaging in obscene sexual activities with a 14-year-old girl. The series premiered just weeks before these new charges were brought against Kelly.
In the Lifetime series, women who alleged they were in abusive relationships with Kelly while they were underage or significantly younger than Kelly discussed the trauma they were subjected to. Kelly’s younger brother, ex-wife and musical colleagues also appeared in the series.
The series brought attention back to Kelly’s problematic past. Variety reported that the series peaked at 2.1 million viewers during its premiering weekend. Many of Kelly’s concerts were canceled following the premiere of the series. #MuteRKelly, a social media movement aimed at removing his music from streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, gained traction, which led to record label Sony Music dropping Kelly only weeks after the series concluded.
Kelly’s history with the law and abuse allegations stretch back to 1994, when he married then-15-year-old R&B singer Aaliyah while he was 27. According to the documentary, Kelly knew how old Aaliyah was and helped her falsify a marriage certificate that stated her age was 18. Kelly’s former tour manager and assistant, Demetrius Smith, said in an interview on “Surviving R. Kelly” that he was not proud of the day that Kelly and Aaliyah got married and was a witness to the ceremony.
According to USA Today, Kelly has been involved with five separate lawsuits from women accusing the singer of charges, including physical, emotional and sexual abuse from 1996 to 2010.
The lawsuits vary, but allegations include women not knowing they were being recorded during their sexual encounters with Kelly and the video being made public. In 2002, Patrice Jones said she met Kelly in a McDonald's on her prom night, and said that Kelly forced her to get an abortion after they engaged in sexual activity nearly 30 times before she turned 17, according to MTV News. All of these lawsuits were settled out of court by Kelly for an undisclosed amount of money.
Kelly plead not guilty to his most recent criminal charges. He is due back in court March 22. Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing some of Kelly’s accusers, said he gave more video footage of Kelly engaging in sexual activities with a 14-year-old girl from the late 1990s to prosecutors the same day Kelly was released from jail.
Each count of the new charges carries up to seven years in prison, and the sentences could be served consecutively, making it possible for Kelly to receive up to 70 years.