Gray: Star-power should not grant legal immunity

R&B artists R. Kelly (left) and Chris Brown (right) have been at the center of many sexual and physical abuse allegations throughout the course of their careers.

Alexander Gray

Star power has allowed too many to live without consequences for their actions, including R&B singers R. Kelly and Chris Brown.

Far too frequently, artists like Kelly and Brown are given a pass because they’re popular, or their behavior is expected and considered “okay.” Let’s not allow our love of an artist’s music to blind us from horrible actions they have committed. Let’s not allow the voices of survivors to continue going unheard or ignored.

Lifetime’s new investigative series, “Surviving R. Kelly,” details the allegations of sexual abuse against Kelly that have come to light over the years. The six-part series employed the use of interviews with survivors and music industry peers like Chance the Rapper and John Legend. 

In the days since the documentary’s viral release, Lady Gaga, Phoenix, Chance the Rapper and many more have apologized for working with Kelly in the past. While Lady Gaga was among the many artists who initially declined being interviewed for “Surviving R. Kelly,” she has since removed their collaborative song, Do What U Want” from all streaming platforms.

Also inspired by the documentary, prosecutors in Chicago and Atlanta have launched new investigations into the allegations of sexual abuse against Kelly.

Kelly’s career has been rife with scandal, starting as early as 1994 with an alleged marriage to a minor. In 2002, a video of Kelly urinating on a minor circulated the internet. While he does not appear directly in the video, evidence later found in his home linked him to it. Because of the video, Kelly faced charges of child pornography — but was eventually found “not guilty” on all 14 charges.

Later in Kelly’s career, allegations surfaced of the singer trapping women as young as 14 in an abusive cult. A former partner claimed Kelly had intentionally infected her with a sexually transmitted disease.

Even in the face of such strong allegations with substantial evidence to back them up, Kelly has remained free for the past two decades. In the time since the initial allegations surfaced, Kelly has made appearances on “The Tonight Show” and performed at many public events.

Brown is notorious for hospitalizing Rihanna after physically abusing her during an argument. He has since committed several violent criminal acts, but charges were reduced to misdemeanors. Whenever Brown was arrested, he was consistently able to post bail.

In 2016, after a bizarre, hours-long standoff with the Los Angeles Police Department at his California home, Brown was arrested but later released for posting the $250,000 bail. A warrant for his arrest was issued in 2018 for felony battery charges from assaulting a photographer earlier in 2017. Brown was released only an hour later after posting the measly $2,000 bail.

Prior to his death in 2018, XXXTentacion, a.k.a. Jahseh Onfroy, had committed several violent crimes as well, including assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. Even when spending time behind bars, support continued from his young fanbase.

After committing such terrible crimes, all three were allowed to continue their careers because fans and the industry looked the other way. R. Kelly still sold concert tickets. Comedic rapper Lil Dicky featured Chris Brown in his track “Freaky Friday,” and the video sits at over 450 millions views on YouTube. Onfroy’s death has only immortalized him as a martyr and an idol to his fans.

If Kelly, Brown and Onfroy were not music “superstars,” their cases would likely not have been brushed off so easily. The money and fame they held and the support they received from their passionate fan bases allowed them to live mostly unaffected lives, even in the spotlight.

2019 is the year of Kelly’s last stand. Regardless of whether or not he is finally successfully charged with his years of abusive activity, it is unlikely his career will be allowed to continue after so much negative attention.

The attention isn’t just on Kelly. “Leaving Neverland,” a documentary set to release later this year, could do the same for Michael Jackson’s legacy as “Surviving R. Kelly” did for Kelly. Jackson’s death similarly immortalized him and his discography with a reverence that will prove difficult to shake.

Hollywood faced a massive shake-up after allegations were made against Harvey Weinstein, placing increased scrutiny on industry veterans. Survivors of similar abuse cases later spoke out, generating a domino effect and bringing down actors like Kevin Spacey.

“Surviving R. Kelly” may carry the “Weinstein effect” over to the music industry, eventually ending the careers of Kelly, Brown and others like them.

Don’t allow Kelly to go down alone. When Kelly is brought down, use the momentum and negative attention to bring others with him. Stand with survivors and hold artists accountable for their actions. Money and fame should not allow these monsters to go unscathed.