News & Opinion | December 24, 2019 12:15 pm

Wedding DJs Weigh in on Playing MJ, R. Kelly in the Era of #MeToo

Can you still play “Ignition” at a reception? Depends on who you ask.

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

Can you separate an artist from their art? For many DJs, brides- and grooms-to-be, the answer is no. What were once go-to wedding and party songs perfect for dancing — like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”or R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” — are increasingly getting axed from potential playlists in the wake of allegations made against the artists. Within the past year, the documentaries Leaving Neverland and Surviving R.Kelly have brought the allegations made against the two artists into the mainstream, thus making the choice to play them — especially at a wedding — a potentially controversial situation.

Now when crafting a party or dance playlist, DJs must weigh their options carefully. For bride Tara Diana and her fiancé, they were concerned that certain artists, such as Jackson or Chris Brown (who has been accused of assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009), would rub guests the wrong way.

“It’s your happiest moment, and if it makes people uncomfortable knowing what we know about that artist… it’s sad that some people have R. Kelly songs as important first dances for them and now that’s looked at in a different light,” Diana told Billboard

Diana and her fiancé are just one of many clients with similar requests that DJ Jesse Kivel, co-owner of Los Angeles DJ company Dart Collective DJ, has met with. Kivel finds that Kelly tops the lists for artists not to play at weddings.“We used to play all of them… ‘Ignition’ was a mandatory end-of-the-night song prior to these more recent cases,” Kivel told Billboard. On the opposite spectrum, other couples have doubled down and specifically request MJ and Kelly be on their lists, as if to make a point about the disconnect between their art and personal lives.

Although the music industry has yet to see as big of an effect from the #MeToo movement as the worlds of film and television, the debate is likely far from over.

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