Despite a Guilty Verdict, R. Kelly’s Music Is Still Poppin’ on Music Streaming Services and TikTok

The singer faces life in prison for sex trafficking, but people cannot stop listening to Ignition (Remix)

R&B singer R. Kelly leaves the Leighton Criminal Courts Building following a hearing on June 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.
R&B singer R. Kelly leaves the Leighton Criminal Courts Building following a hearing on June 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

Last week, R. Kelly was found guilty on nine counts — eight of sex trafficking, and one racketeering charge with 14 underlying acts that included sexual exploitation of a child, kidnapping and bribery. His sentencing is scheduled for May, and it’s likely he’ll face decades, or even life, in prison. 

The conviction has sparked debate over whether Kelly’s songs should be removed from streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. Even before his guilty verdict, though, we’ve been having the age-old can we still listen to this creep’s music? debate (aka separating the art from the artist), and it seemed like we were heading in the direction of uh, no we can’t.

The #MuteRKelly campaign, launched in 2017, is a “nationwide, grassroots movement to end the career of [the] R&B singer” that called for Kelly’s music’s removal on radios and streaming services and even prompted a few concert tour cancellations. In 2018, Spotify announced it was making an editorial decision and removed Kelly from its official playlists. It didn’t, however, remove the singer’s music from the platform entirely. And, of course, in 2019, Lifetime’s documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” once again incited calls to remove the artist from music streaming platforms. Turns out though, none of that shit mattered, because R. Kelly has been doing just fine on streaming services and social media platforms like TikTok, indicating that majority of people can separate the art from the artist (even if that artist is a convicted sex trafficker.)

According to Yahoo! Finance, who obtained data from a recent report by music analytics platform Chartmetric, R. Kelly is still on roughly 300 Spotify playlists with a spike in adds occurring around August 2020. Not only Spotify, but Apple Music and Amazon Music have also seen playlist spikes happening within the last two years, with one jump occurring as late as Spring 2021.

“Any kind of attention will always warrant a spike of short-term metrics across different platforms. In the long-term, if consumption really were affected by these unsavory news events, we’d see a drop in activity over time,” said Chartmetric. “Instead it seems the old industry adage ‘any publicity is good publicity’ holds up.”

As Yahoo! also points out, the singer has remained on the U.S. iTunes R&B/Soul chart since 2018, and Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” peaked at No. 6 in January 2019, following the release of the Lifetime documentary series that featured Kelly’s victims recounting harrowing accounts of the sexual and mental abuse they faced by the singer. Even his recent guilty conviction may have reminded and compelled people to add his music to their playlists. “According to the data, 300 to 400 user-generated lists featuring the singer popped up between September 27 and September 29,” said Yahoo!.

Beyond streaming services, R. Kelly’s music also remains popular on the video-sharing platform TikTok. “I Believe I Can Fly,” “I’m a Flirt” and “Ignition” are the singer’s top tracks on the app, and a viral 2020 TikTok trend used the heavily parodied “Trapped In The Closet.”

Now, as TikTok is mostly frequented by children and teens, many users probably don’t know or realize who these songs are by, or possibly even know who R. Kelly is. Regardless, though, the data is rather abysmal. Hopefully, as InsideHook’s Bonnie Stiernberg wrote last week, R. Kelly and his music will eventually just fade into obscurity:

“He’s already been dropped by his label, and it seems unlikely he’ll ever put out another album (especially if he’s got a lengthy prison stay ahead of him). As Billboard‘s Gail Mitchell recently told the Associated Press, ‘As more generations, younger generations come up of age, there’ll be a separation. It’ll be a bookmark that people can access. But the music probably will kind of fade away.’”

Well, as long as that music doesn’t make it onto TikTok.

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