“I didn’t come here for negative. I came here for positive.”
That’s what R. Kelly told Huffington Post Live host Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani on Monday (Dec. 21) after she asked the veteran R&B singer a question he did not want to hear.
Kelly was appearing on the program to promote his latest album, The Buffet, and cheerily invited the softball questions that constituted the first half of the Q&A, featuring fan-submitted questions. Kellz often smiled while discussing how great his new album is, what it’s like to produce hit after hit, and spending time in the studio with his daughters.
Then, Modarressy-Tehrani did what she should have done—she acted like a journalist. She took off the kiddie gloves and asked Kelly about several of his fans’ conflicted feelings about supporting an artist with “multiple lawsuits” and “multiple allegations of you having inappropriate relations—sex relations—with minors.”
And, for Kelly, that was that. The singer spent the next 10 minutes haphazardly defending himself, pointing to his sold-out concerts, questioning Modarressy-Tehrani’s intelligence, claiming that he didn’t “come here to be interrogated,” shouting-out McDonald’s, and finally walking out of the chat.
Why did he behave that way? Because he came there for the positive, not the negative.
Kelly has spent so many years inside a PR cocoon that he forgot that, for a large population of music listeners, the allegations of predatory tendencies and multiple lawsuits accusing him of sexual relationships with minors still constitute part of his public profile, and leave fans conflicted. He has not heard those questions recently, likely because he has not allowed those questions to come within his earshot. But of course they remain: with such a brilliant discography and such ugly allegations in his past, how could they not?
For years, Kelly has ignored the “negative questions,” refusing to talk to journalists about the past allegations and hoping that they magically disappear from our collective memories (a rep for the singer did not respond to Fuse's request for comment following the interview). This week, on live video, Kelly surprisingly let his guard down, and an interviewer did the right thing by fairly asking him about his murky past instead of tiptoeing around the issue. In turn, Kelly acted like a petulant child. The nerve of an interviewer, asking a question instead of simply helping him promote his new album!
On the one hand, Kelly’s outrage was predictable. The singer was likely promised that the interview would focus on his music, and didn’t want to revisit questions about allegations from over a decade ago. For Kelly, the ability to outrun the sordid lawsuits and alleged pedophilia has kept his music career afloat in the 21st century—and yes, as he pointed out, his shows still sell out. And while Kelly has settled a ton of lawsuits, he was acquitted on all counts in his 2008 child-pornography trial. In the eyes of the law, at least, he is not a monster.
On the other hand, the 48-year-old R&B legend desperately needs to grow up. Despite Kelly’s wild claims, Modarressy-Tehrani’s questions were not out-of-bounds or inflammatory; she was simply addressing the elephant in the room, and asking him what he’d say to music fans who can’t separate the often brilliant music with the ugly allegations. Modarressy-Tehrani could have asked “Did you do it?” or “Why did this happen? or “How are you such a scumbag, Kellz?” A lot of people in the world want to ask those questions. Instead, she maintained her composure and endured the singer’s heckling, buoyed by the fact that she had simply done her job.
It could have been Kelly’s job to respond with something like, “I have maintained my innocence and have kept a clean record for years. I understand why people want to believe the rumors, but they are not true.” He could have offered a measured response to a reasonable inquiry. Instead, he spouted some misogynistic B.S. and treated the McRib with more respect than Modarressy-Tehrani.
Here’s what R. Kelly needs to comprehend: No matter how many hits he accrues, a lot of people will have an uneasy time digesting them. Legally, he doesn’t have to address the past, and artistically, he can keep releasing albums and selling out shows, if there are audiences willing to pay. Kelly diehards probably supported the hissy-fit he threw on Huffington Post Live. For the rest of us, it was clear that Kelly is a crybaby unable to answer an honest question.