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NOT THE WORLD'S GREATEST

R Kelly’s sex trafficking conviction has increased his income

R. Kelly at the Criminal Court Building in Chicago
Reuters/Daniel Acker
Still streaming.
  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

Published

Although R Kelly faces a long spell in prison after being found guilty on federal racketeering and sex trafficking charges last month, his music sales and streams have soared since the trial verdict. The musician and producer will be sentenced in May.

Album sales for the 54-year-old singer increased by 517% in the week following his Sept. 27 conviction, according to Rolling Stone. His on-demand audio streams and video streams increased by 22% and 23% respectively compared to the seven days prior to the judgment, the music magazine reported.

Infamy can be good for business

And it’s not just the verdict that appears to have given his career a boost. Two years ago, when the Lifetime channel aired “Surviving R. Kelly,” featuring allegations from several women about how he groomed and raped underage girls and ran a sex cult, his music streams more than doubled. A disastrous interview with CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King the same year also fed the demand for streams for several subsequent weeks.

Artists profiting from infamy is nothing new. Michael Jackson’s streaming numbers did not suffer after HBO’s broadcast of “Leaving Neverland,” which featured two men who alleged Jackson had abused them when they were young boys. Earlier this year, after a video of country musician Morgan Wallace using a racial slur started doing the rounds, his streams surged 1,220%. Around the same time, Marilyn Manson’s streams rose following sexual abuse allegations.

Should R Kelly be canceled by streaming platforms?

Since 2017, the #MuteRKelly hashtag has been circulating. His  biggest hits, like “I Believe I Can Fly” and “The World’s Greatest,” have been wiped clean from the radio and other commercial placements. A few weeks after “Surviving R. Kelly” aired, record label Sony Music dropped him, as did tour promoters.

But notably, music-streaming platforms didn’t show him the door. In 2018, Spotify and Apple Music did remove him from their curated playlists, but his entire discography still exists in their catalogs. His music is also still available on rival platform Amazon.

So far, YouTube is the only major platform that has officially booted the “Ignition” singer, removing both his official channels—RKellyTV and RKellyVevo—from its video-sharing site. The company’s guidelines state that it can “terminate a creator’s channels if they’re accused of a very egregious crime” or “should the creator be convicted or plead guilty.” The policy also prohibits him from creating new channels in the future. But YouTube Music will continue to list his songs.

“I think, from an ethical framework, we as a society have to decide at what point we divorce an artistic output from a creator. I think we can all agree that at no point in modern history has it ever been acceptable to sexually abuse children,” George Howard, a professor of music business and management at Berklee College of Music, told NBC News. “It’s a no-brainer to me, and that behavior far outweighs any sort of artistic merit.”

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