Chris Brown and R. Kelly were both in the news last week for very different reasons, with Brown celebrating a new deal with RCA Records -- which makes him one of the youngest artists to own his master recordings -- just as R. Kelly was coming under fire for claims in a damning documentary series.
It's a cycle that R&B fans have seen before with Kelly and Brown, both artists with histories of abuse, both artists periodically making headlines with horrifying stories of their alleged behavior, only to bounce back and continue their successful careers.
Considering Brown has spent the past decade racking up almost-yearly assault charges, his rosy beginning of 2019 was a reminder of how things used to be for R. Kelly, an artist who managed to maintain his fan-beloved reputation over nearly three decades of abuse allegations -- though unlike Brown, Kelly has never been convicted.
Things look shakier now for Kelly with the premiere of Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary Jan. 3, prompting yet another national conversation about Kelly’s history of alleged crimes and resulting in a renewed interest in a potential criminal case against Kelly among prosecutors in Atlanta and Chicago.
Those who have followed R. Kelly’s controversies can remember how many other times he outlasted seemingly career-ending allegations to continue recording and touring. It’s easy to be skeptical about whether “Surviving R. Kelly” will have a definitive impact on Kelly’s R&B-legend status. And looking at Chris Brown, who has capitalized on the same kinds of fan sympathies as Kelly to develop his own Teflon reputation, it’s clear that things don’t seem to be changing in the younger generation of so-called R&B greats. Fans and industry players alike continue to support men with abusive tendencies, as packed arenas or comments rallying behind the artists on social media show.
Recent data shows that since the premiere of "Surviving R. Kelly," the artist's streams and sales have even spiked.
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It’s been almost a decade since Brown was charged with felony assault for beating up Rihanna in 2009. A string of other incidents and allegations followed, none resulting in jail time: A woman accused Brown of shoving her to the ground after a nightclub show in California in 2013, though no charges were filed; Brown was convicted of a misdemeanor stemming from a 2015 assault charge by a woman in Colorado; a 2016 altercation at a Las Vegas nightclub in which a woman accused Brown of punching her in the face, with no charges filed; and Brown was hit with charges for assault with a deadly weapon later that year after a woman claimed that Brown pointed a gun at her face, which did not result in a conviction.
Then, in June 2017, a judge granted Brown’s ex-girlfriend Karrueche Tran’s request for a restraining order after Tran claimed he threatened to kill her. And early last year, he was arrested outside of one of his concerts in Florida for an outstanding felony battery charge in a case that is still ongoing.
While Kelly has never been found guilty of any charges related to sexual harassment or assault, reports of sexually predatory behavior have followed him throughout his career, in addition to the numerous lawsuits he settled out of court with female accusers and his acquittal in his 2002 child pornography case. Most recently, a 2017 Buzzfeed report accused Kelly of trapping women in a “sex cult.” Additional women have come forwardin the months since -- including in “Surviving R. Kelly” -- to corroborate the story's shocking accounts of the alleged physical and psychological abuse Kelly inflicted against sometimes-underage women.
Yet both men have maintained their reputations, with fans’ help, as the kings of R&B of their respective generations. Time and again, Kelly and Brown have called fans to their defenses by speaking directly to them in posts and videos on social media, making themselves out to be persecuted geniuses and presenting their followers as the true believers, manipulating their fans into standing in solidarity with them.
As writer Jamilah Lemieux explained in “Surviving R. Kelly,” “When someone like R. Kelly gets in trouble, there’s this knee-jerk instinct to protect him, from the system, from the hand of the law, from all these forces at play that make sure black people, and black men in particular, don’t succeed. ‘We have to stand by him. We have to take care of him.’”
And of course, as RCA’s continued involvement with both artists goes to show, music industry players continue to exist who are perfectly willing to fund -- and profit from -- Kelly and Brown’s careers.
So while R. Kelly’s public profile may have taken another hit this week, his labelmate Chris Brown stands strong as a reminder of how resilient famous singers’ reputations can be against even the most documented histories of violence.
Given the previous three decades’ precedent of Kelly eluding guilty verdicts and jail time, even something as damning as “Surviving R. Kelly” may not be enough to bring him down. That’s a win for the two artists, a win for RCA’s payday, a win for the fans who still insist on supporting their “R&B kings” at whatever cost and a win for every predator in the music industry following Kelly and Brown’s playbook. But it’s a loss for the rest of us, for women, and for every other music listener who is more than ready for these men's time to be up.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: R. Kelly may be under fire, but Chris Brown's career is still flourishing