R. Kelly's legal trouble may be boosting album sales. Tom Sinclair ponders the reasons the singer -- now facing 21 counts of child pornography -- has the new No. 1 album in the nation

By Tom Sinclair
February 27, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
R.Kelly: Steve Granitz/WireImage.com
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R. Kelly’s legal trouble may be boosting album sales

Last week, each staff member of EW’s music department received a free gift in the mail: a promotional R. Kelly poster commemorating the release of the R&B star’s new album, ”Chocolate Factory.” Each and every staffer promptly deposited said poster into the nearest trash receptacle.

Granted, those posters would likely have wound up being trashed even if R. Kelly wasn’t under indictment for 21 counts of child pornography. But they might not have been quite so vehemently ripped in half, and they doubtless wouldn’t have inspired so unanimously vociferous a chorus of derisive snorts.

Let’s face it: In the court of public opinion, a lot of people have already tried and convicted Kelly. That may not be fair, but the sentiment is so widespread as to seem almost monolithic — at least, according to the results of an unscientific survey conducted by yours truly. Yet it seems the public may care more about the star’s music than his morals. ”Ignition,” the first single from the album, is already a major smash. And in its first week, ”Chocolate Factory” sold 532,000 copies, making it the No. 1 album in the land.

That’s a staggering number, especially when you consider how many folks profess to being appalled by Kelly’s alleged behavior. Maybe it’s simply a matter of people genuinely liking his music. Kelly, after all, is a masterful songwriter, producer, and arranger of freshly minted classic R&B. Still, I can’t help but theorize that his success may speak to a darker side of the our collective consciousness.

Is it possible that some portion of Kelly’s audience secretly admires the idea of supporting him no matter what he may have been accused of? Do they get a perverse thrill out of rooting for him as a bad boy and underdog? We all remember how, a decade ago, Snoop Dogg gained a ton of street credibility after being accused of murder. Can that same sort of thinking be driving some Kelly fans?

Precious few people will admit to supporting pedophilia, even as an abstract notion, and the idea of child pornography is repugnant to most of us. But it wasn’t that many years ago that people looked the other way when male rock stars flaunted their dalliances with underage females.

To my knowledge, no one has done an actual poll of those who bought ”Chocolate Factory.” Keeping in mind that Kelly has not yet been tried or convicted, I still can’t help but wonder how those consumers would answer the question: ”R. Kelly: Did he or didn’t he?”

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