It's almost like beating a dead horse to yet again bring up the controversial Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly. If you are a survivor of assault, at this point triggers are all around you. Not only is it all over social media, you might be forced to hear about it via conversations at happy hour or even randomly on your Spotify playlist. According to The Blast, a Spotify representative confirmed streaming numbers have increased for the R&B singer. It's no surprise as Kelly was just spotted performing in Chicago in front of a pretty packed crowd of fans, seemingly unbothered.
But what if you were once a fan of his music? If you would've talked to me five or six years ago, I'd probably still be singing along and dancing to "Step in the Name of Love," along with every other Black person still vibing out to Kelly's songs. Even back in 2002, when The Chicago Sun-Times reported about the surfacing of a sex tape allegedly showing Kelly urinating on a then 14-year-old girl, I still didn't get the gravity of the case until I was out of college.
I'm a sexual abuse survivor. The encounter happened when I was four years old, and it continued for a full year. When I started to go to therapy and really unpack my own trauma is when I felt a responsibility to stand up for women who've gone through abuse. I was stronger, and I wanted other women to know I would no longer support an artist because of their art.
When the Bill Cosby case came out that was an easy decision. In solidarity, I stopped watchingThe Cosby Show reruns, and I definitely didn't find "pudding" memes featuring Cosby's face on social media laughable. I shut down any memory of his legacy due to the savagery of his actions. With Kelly, it took a little longer before I chose to #Mute his music; I didn't know how to let the art go.
So how do you separate the artist from the music? Here are a few tips for coping with the reality of R. Kelly.
1. Remember the Good Times
Nostalgia can be a gift. BBC reported psychologist studied positive and negative memories and found 60 percent of unfavorable experiences were forgotten, while only 42 percent of good memories faded. This could potentially explain why so many people have positive thoughts center around Kelly's music. As Surviving R. Kelly poignantly points out, if you've ever heard "Step in the Name of Love" during a momentous life event — at a wedding or while creating a baby, for example — you may still associate that music that enjoyable, special experience. It's completely possible to remember Kelly's music with the good thoughts they are tied to without having to think of him. But if it's a struggle for you, boundaries are the next step.
2. Establish and Maintain Boundaries
Boundaries protect you from repeating the same pain over and over again. It's a form of practicing self care, so you aren't reliving the traumatic experience that caused your emotional wound. Watching the news right now is really hard for many of us, because every time they show Kelly, they also play one of his songs — often a song some of us once enjoy. Consider reading the news for the next couple of months so you can disassociate from the triggers, and hold off on listening to his music as you process the reality of these accusations.
3. Reconsider Giving Him Your Money
As you are healing, don't feel obligated to fund the artist. Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times reported the University of Illinois at Chicago canceled a May 5 appearance for their “Pre-Mother’s Day Love Jam” due to Kelly's glaring past. The school's decision is a reminder attending the Chicago-natives concerts puts money in his pocket and toward his work. As you take a break to self care and reevaluate your relationship to his music, it's a safe option to avoid his concerts so you don't have to actually see him on stage performing.
4. Be OK With Saying Goodbye
Standing in solidarity as a survivor doesn't necessarily mean I still don't know the words to all of Kelly's songs, because in reality, I do. I don't hate myself for it, but I also won't entertain listening to his music because it's triggering. Does that make me a better or more woke person? Not really. So no judgment — cope with this situation how you cope, and remember it's completely fair if you have to say goodbye to his music in its entirety.
5. Curate an Alternative Spotify Playlist
If you are choosing to press pause on listening to Kelly's music, muting his songs by creating an alternative playlist on Spotify is a great way to make sure you aren't adding to increased listens. It's always frustrating when you've come to the end of an album or curated radio station and a suggested song pops up. Some of us can suddenly find ourselves a minute and a half into a song without realizing it, especially while driving. Creating your own playlist will also help you find other artists from Kelly's era, like Jodeci, to listen to instead.
6. Be Gentle With Yourself
At the end of the day, whatever you decide is completely OK if it's what's best for you at the moment. You know your own coping mechanisms. If you still secretly hum along to songs from 12 Play, even though your cognitive dissonance is kicking, in don't attack yourself after; that's like eating a donut and hating yourself for weeks. While this situation is a lot heavier than breaking your no sugar New Year's resolution, it's also important to remember self-loathing won't help you right now.
While it's potentially problematic to defend the man, we get why it may take you some time to get over the music.
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