R&B artist R. Kelly has been dodging numerous sexual assault allegations over the past year, but he has stepped back into the limelight with the announcement of a show next month at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theatre.
While the event has gone pretty unnoticed so far, Spin‘s Anna Gaca notes that this is Kelly’s most high-profile event in years. He has faced severe backlash over these allegations, dating back to 1994 when he married a 15-year-old girl. Vox outlined Kelly’s 24 years of accusations, which includes a child pornography charge in 2008 and a Buzzfeed article released last year which claimed that Kelly had started a “cult” which kept women against their will. Even earlier this year, the singer was accused of “knowingly and intentionally infecting” a woman with an STD.
Social justice activist Kenyette “Tish” Barnes co-founded the #MuteRKelly movement with Oronike Odeley, and has been working to shut down multiple Kelly concerts. Through the campaign, they helped cancel 10 of his shows, including one at the University of Illinois – Chicago in his hometown this past April.
However, despite the media’s backlash and constant show cancellations, Kelly still continues to perform. People have begun to question how the singer could have possibly been booked by Madison Square Garden. Although the Hulu Theatre is not as big as its parent venue – only holding 5,600 seats – it is still attached to MSG’s prestigious branding and is located in the heart of Manhattan.
The show at NYC is also weird because Hulu, the streaming platform that the theatre is named after, is in the process of developing a documentary revolving around Kelly’s allegations and history in the limelight.
“MSG has a long history of not censoring performers,” a representative for MSG said. “We believe artists have the right to rent our venues to put on their own event, and that the public then has the choice whether or not to support that event.”
In addition to the MSG show, Kelly is also slated to perform at the Family Arena in Saint Charles, Missouri on August 17. Both shows follow Kelly’s recent single, a 19-minute track called “I Admit,”
which delves into the singer’s allegations as he claims his innocence. Odeleye calls the song a “19-minute sex trafficking fundraising anthem.”
“This is all shock value and a plea to ‘please buy my concert tickets,'” Odeleye said of the song. “And we are steadily working to get all of his concerts canceled.”
She told Mic that “I Admit” is actually helping, rather than hurting the #MuteRKelly movement.
“I think this is fuel to our fire, so the more he responds, we know eventually he’s going to put his foot in his mouth,” she said. “This will be a year and a month since we started this campaign and so we’re just going to keep pushing.”