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Local musicians comment on the legacies of Michael Jackson and R. Kelly in light of their sexual abuse scandals

Local musicians comment on the legacies of Michael Jackson and R. Kelly in light of their sexual abuse scandals

Hard to hear

Editor: Tracy Phillips , Aravin Sandran


Masia One

 

What kind of influence have Michael Jackson and R. Kelly had on your life and music?When I was a kid, I thought Michael Jackson was a magical creature the first time I saw him moonwalk. "Rock with You", "The Way You Make Me Feel"  Michael's songs are so classic they take on a life of their own. When I got my driver's license, the first song I bumped loud was "You Remind Me of My Jeep" (Not to mention being a huge Aliyah fan). Growing up in Canada, my early years were shaped by the sounds of these artists. 

How do you feel about the documentary Leaving Neverland, which chronicled how two young boys were sexually abused by Jackson as well as the indictment and sexual abuse allegations made against Kelly? Have you watched the documentary or seen Kelly's recent interview with Gayle King on CBS Good Morning?
I have seen the documentary Leaving Neverland. After watching it, I had trouble sleeping and it left me with such an uneasy feeling. It's a hard story to stomach. I'm aware of the abuse allegations against Kelly as well. I stopped listening to his music from the day I learned about the girls and women who were hurt. My feet start moving as soon as "Step in the Name of Love" comes on at any dance, but I make myself stop. I love music, but I love my fellow girls and women more. 

As a musician, what do you do when you find out that the music you love has been created by an artist who has done something so terrible? Are you able to separate the music from the man?
No man is an island, and it takes a village to make an artist. Although the celebrity may have deep and problematic issues, the music is also the product of a great producer, songwriter, arranger, manager and distributor. For this reason, I still respect the work and the craft.

Michael Jackson's childhood stardom was shaped by Motown (which was a great label) and later Quincy Jones (whose brilliance as a producer still holds true today). Following Thriller, he told Quincy he had gotten too big for him and moved on. If you consider the chronological order of Michael's real life and musical journey, you can see his music move away from soulful innocence in the sound and toward a more harder ego-driven subject matter.  His LP Invincible had song titles like "Unbreakable", "Threatened" and "Privacy". It's hard for a true artist to separate the commercial personality from their real life. I did not listen to Michael much in his later years. What you do in your real life, effects the soul of your music. 

How will these developments affect the perception of their music and legacies for new generations of music lovers?
We would like to believe that these accusations about Michael Jackson and R. Kelly are not true. Having worked in Hollywood, I've witnessed some questionable stuff. I've also worked with marginalized youth who have gone through very severe abuse. It takes a lot of bravery to come forward and speak out so others will not be victimized in the same way. I hope that these developments will set an example for those in a celebrity position to think twice before abusing their power by manipulating young hopefuls or fans.  I hope this also sets a precedent from victims to know they are not alone and to have the bravery to speak out. As for their legacies, let us look beyond the lights and glamour and realize the human condition that lies behind all of it.   

Dru Chen

 

What kind of influence have Michael Jackson and R. Kelly had on your life and music?
As a musician and producer, I was and still am inspired by the records Quincy Jones, Bruce Swedien, and Michael Jackson made together. I'm not directly inspired by the music of R. Kelly, but I am aware of his work. Personally, I am removed from the influence of both of their lifestyles.

How do you feel about the documentary Leaving Neverland, which chronicled how two young boys were sexually abused by Jackson as well as the indictment and sexual abuse allegations made against Kelly? Have you watched the documentary or seen Kelly's recent interview with Gayle King on CBS Good Morning?
I am conflicted because I am influenced by the music of Michael Jackson, but I completely do not condone any form of abuse — sexual or otherwise. Michael Jackson created a lot of positivity with his music. However, that doesn't clear him of any acts of abuse, should they prove to be true. It is impactful that he is no longer with us to address this.

I have not seen Leaving Neverland but I have watched Oprah Winfrey's interview with Wade Robson and James Safechuck, and CBS This Morning's interview with Michael Jackson's family. I have seen the R. Kelly interviews conducted by Gayle King on CBS Good Morning, and Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani on Huffington Post. 

As a musician, what do you do when you find out that the music you love has been created by an artist who has done something so terrible? Are you able to separate the music from the man?
As a musician, my function is two-fold: to provide entertainment and/or listening pleasure to an audience, and to express myself personally. With regards to artists, I find it difficult to separate the music from the person. It is a sad and sensitive subject; abuse and defamation are both awful. 

How will these developments affect the perception of their music and legacies for new generations of music lovers?
I hope new generations will be aware of the circumstances surrounding their music but view them from a balanced standpoint. Michael Jackson and R. Kelly were both megastars, and with that comes hordes of people wanting something from them. On the flip side, with power comes the prospect of getting away with unforgivable acts of abuse. 

Joshua Simon

 

What kind of influence have Michael Jackson and R. Kelly had on your life and music?
I grew up listening to Michael Jackson religiously. I still have the choreography for his "Remember The Time" video down. I can even do a pretty cool impersonation of his singing. I've got all his albums on vinyl, even some pretty rare ones too. Michael Jackson pushed the sound of pop in the 90s and his work ethic, desire to experiment as well as his emphasis on dance in his music shaped my approach in the production of my music.

How do you feel about the documentary Leaving Neverland, which chronicled how two young boys were sexually abused by Jackson as well as the indictment and sexual abuse allegations made against Kelly? Have you watched the documentary or seen Kelly's recent interview with Gayle King on CBS Good Morning?
There's been evidence floating around about Robert for years. Michael's case is tough and even tougher for a fan. Michael was acquitted of the charges, he was investigated by the FBI and he isn't around to defend himself anymore — it doesn't mean we can't have a conversation about this. Do I think he did it? I'm not sure. Leaving Neverland was completely one-sided, so I've spent the time to watch Wade and Safechuck's press run, every interview I can find, including what the Jackson family, Aaron Carter and Macaulay Culkin have said. I'm trying to hear both sides but I am no judge. It's important in this cancel culture that we have going on right now to remind ourselves that it is important to hear the stories of victims, and even more important that we question the very human celebrities that we idolise. Michael needed help. Michael was a kid who did not have a childhood and we all empathise with that, but there also comes a point where one must grow up. Surrounded by the sheer power that he wielded, in my opinion, he did not grow up and that eventually did him in. I wished he got help. I wished someone intervened. I wish those parents weren't blinded by the celebrity culture and remembered that no grown adult should be in bed with a child that isn't theirs. 

As a musician, what do you do when you find out that the music you love has been created by an artist who has done something so terrible? Are you able to separate the music from the man?
He had a problem. I think what he did (if he truly did) was criminal and he should not have gotten away with it. Michael, like all of us, was flawed. He did a lot of good and a lot of bad. No one human who we adore is perfect. I'm sure all of our favourite celebrities, politicians, friends and family members have a truly dark side. I do too. It's up to us to make good decisions in our fight against that dark side. Some of us beat that side. Some of us don't come out from it, but I don't believe in condemning anyone to hell. As for listening to his music, it's tough. Before this documentary aired, I had this Thriller T-shirt that I would wear everywhere I went. You can see it all over my instagram. I can't pick it up anymore but I still listen to his music. I do. When I listen to it though, I see myself as a kid jamming out to it. I hope in time more people learn to separate the art from the artist from the human.

How will these developments affect the perception of their music and legacies for new generations of music lovers?
I'm honestly worried. My generation grew up with the King of Pop and knowing the King of Pop. I worry for this new generation that, were born when he passed away and is growing up with only this side to Michael. Michael did a lot of good. He inspired people all over the world. When you go to India, the Philippines, the amount of people he's inspired to dance, to sing and express themselves, no one can ever outdo the good he's done. I don't in any way condone what he did to the young boys through the years, if these allegations are true. If his music catalogue doesn't survive, we have artists who were inspired by Michael carrying his artistry on: Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Beyonce and we've got Janet. 

Inch

 

What kind of influence have Michael Jackson and R. Kelly had on your life and music?
Moonwalker is one of my favourite movies of all time that has sparked so much of my imagination and given me so much joy, wonder, and creative inspiration. MJ was otherworldly, a fierce performer with a gentle spirit.

R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" is probably one of the most genius web content series existing on the internet. His music has always however been quite "rape-y" and didn't appeal to me as much. In many ways, he's always been quite consistent and transparent with his nature: "i don't see nothing wrong, with a little bump and grind", all fun and games until it's contextualized as a disregard for consent.

How do you feel about the documentary Leaving Neverland, which chronicled how two young boys were sexually abused by Jackson as well as the indictment and sexual abuse allegations made against Kelly? Have you watched the documentary or seen Kelly's recent interview with Gayle King on CBS Good Morning?
Leaving Neverland was heartbreaking. Such a display of bravery, pain, love all mixed up into a cocktail of profound human complexities. It's never easy for anyone subjected to abuse to reclaim their narrative and my heart goes out to James Safechuck and Wade Robson.

I've seen the Lifetime docu-series, Surviving R. Kelly. For the most part of the last 15 years, there have been many blog entries and social media posts of girls coming out to share their encounters with R. Kelly, not including the demeaning sex tape leaks.

As a musician, what do you do when you find out that the music you love has been created by an artist who has done something so terrible? Are you able to separate the music from the man?
I don't see the need to advocate to listen or to not listen to their music. These stories go beyond these men; it's not about the King of Pop or the King of R&B. It's about the condition, the circumstance of celebrity superseding criminality; a story about two individuals exploiting authority and power.

I choose not to listen to it anymore as someone with a history of abuse. It is difficult to reconcile and continue to give power to their celebrity. I do, however, believe that the world isn't binary and that humans are complex. I respect his accolades as an artist and musical legend, but will not be part of endorsing his deeds.

How will these developments affect the perception of their music and legacies for new generations of music lovers?
No one is responsible for MJ's legacy but MJ himself. No one is responsible for R. Kelly's legacy but R. Kelly himself. The rest of us, fans and non-fans, we grieve; tumbling through shock, denial, pain, guilt, bargaining, anger when we hear their music. Hopefully, we can come to a point of acceptance, where we'd be able to listen to a lesson on broken humanity.

Myrne

 

What kind of influence have Michael Jackson and R. Kelly had on your life and music?R. Kelly definitely played a huge part during my formative years with "Ignition", "I'm a Flirt" and the "Trapped in the Closet" series. Music discovery was not as accessible as it is today. It was commonplace to listen to an entire artist's discography to get a firm grasp of a genre. R. Kelly was one of those artists. I even did a tribute remix of "Ignition" several years ago on Soundcloud. 

How do you feel about the documentary Leaving Neverland, which chronicled how two young boys were sexually abused by Jackson as well as the indictment and sexual abuse allegations made against Kelly? Have you watched the documentary or seen Kelly's recent interview with Gayle King on CBS Good Morning?
I didn't watch Leaving Neverland but I found it ill-fitting that allegations of such a serious nature were released through a documentary. I understand that the justice system has failed the victims in some parts, but the nature of delivery - through a three-hour-long full-production film - might lend credence to proponents of Jackson's innocence. I watched snippets of the Gayle King interview, and R. Kelly's emotional behaviour struck me not as one of a man proclaiming innocence, but a desperate man formerly in a position of power. His lawyer probably should've told him not to do that interview.

As a musician, what do you do when you find out that the music you love has been created by an artist who has done something so terrible? Are you able to separate the music from the man?
As a musician, it's important to acknowledge that a person's work should be separate and distinct from their legacy and personal life, but as a human being, it's extremely hard to appreciate someone's work while knowing the serious nature of their allegations. I find it hard to appreciate someone's work if you know for a fact something darker lies beneath their image. I haven't played Michael Jackson's or R. Kelly's music consciously in a while, and if it comes on, I find it hard to enjoy the work while knowing the context in which it was created.

How will these developments affect the perception of their music and legacies for new generations of music lovers?
It's still important that their work is kept alive. They were iconic and seminal. Similar to war museums and early racist cartoons, people have to know that these things have happened and may happen again if listeners don't hold artists accountable. It's important to educate new music lovers that their idols aren't always angels.

Leaving Neverland is available on-demand on HBO until 8 April.

 

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