Media Moments R. Kelly Can Never Erase

This article contains descriptions of sexual assault and child abuse.

As much as R. Kelly has been defined by his career as a singer, with hits ranging from "Ignition (Remix)" to "I Believe I Can Fly," his success in music has been overshadowed by his past of sexual misconduct, which includes criminal charges like child pornography, criminal sex abuse, sex trafficking, and sexual exploitation of a minor. From the beginning of his career, Kelly has been known as the "Pied Piper of R&B," a reference to the tale of the Pied Piper, who would lure children from their families with music from his magic pipe. In retrospect, many point to the irony of this name, as Kelly is now known as a convicted sex offender, who, among other crimes, illegally married R&B star Aaliyah when she was just 15 years old.

The R&B singer is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for child sex crimes, and though he is officially out of the spotlight, he has had some very questionable moments over the years. Here are some media moments cemented in pop culture that Kelly cannot erase.

His questionable interview with Touré

R. Kelly's controversial moments trace back to the early days of his career.  As he continued to grow in popularity throughout the 1990s and 2000s, he began to develop a reputation for being attracted to younger women, specifically underage girls. Over the years, Kelly brushed off the accusations and denied being sexual with minors. Yet, throughout several interviews, including an interview with journalist Touré, his unusual way of answering questions gave away his guilt.

In 2008, Kelly sat down with Touré for a BET interview in a Chicago hotel, and the journalist did not shy away from asking him tough questions. In light of Kelly's long-standing reputation for being attracted to underage girls, Touré asked the singer directly, "Do you like teenage girls?" The obvious answer, arguably, would be "no" if Kelly did not like teenage girls, but he shocked Touré when he responded, "When you say teenage, how old are we talkin'?" Touré clarified and said, "Girls who are teenagers ... 19 and younger." Following that clarification, Kelly explained that he had friends who were 19 years old, but that he did not like "anybody illegal."

An emotional tribute at Whitney Houston's memorial service

Outside of his singing career, R. Kelly has been credited for writing and producing songs for a handful of other artists, including Aaliyah, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston. In 2009, Kelly wrote "I Look to You" for Houston's seventh album, "I Look to You," which was released in August 2009. The song was well-received by critics and fans and reached No. 19 on the Billboard Hot R&B and Hip Hop chart in August 2009.

"I Look to You" was Houston's final album before her death on February 11, 2012. Her memorial service was held on February 18, 2012, and among other artists like Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys, Kelly was in attendance to perform a song in her memory. In front of New Hope Baptist Church, Kelly sang an emotional rendition of "I Look to You" and was seen pausing and shedding tears throughout the performance. When the song was finished, he said (via Reuters), "We love you Whitney; rest in peace."

The explosive sit-down with HuffPost Live

By the mid-2010s, R. Kelly was still making albums and touring across the country. In December 2015, he released his thirteenth album, "The Buffet," which only sold 37,000 copies within its first week, compared to other albums, like the 2013 album "Black Panties," which sold over 100,000 in the same timeframe. With his album flopping off the start, Kelly agreed to do a sit-down interview with Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani of HuffPost Live to hopefully garner some attention for the album, but it backfired horribly.

Just two weeks after "The Buffet" was released, Kelly sat down with Modarressy-Tehrani on December 23, 2015. During the interview, she asked the R&B singer if he had a healthy relationship with sex, as the lyrics in his songs are heavily sexual. Kelly immediately got defensive about the question and answered, "I did not come here to get interrogated. I didn't come here for a deposition." After condescendingly asking Modarressy-Tehrani if she knew what a deposition was, he continued, "This is not about R. Kelly. This is not about music. This is not about someone who works hard on his music, who has an album out. This is about trying to interrogate me, and this is about, you know, disrespect."

The interview did not last long after that. Modarressy-Tehrani asked Kelly what he had to say to his many fans who questioned if there was truth to his sexual abuse allegations, and he angrily talked over her, dodged the question, and stormed off set.

Gayle King's shocking questions sent Kelly over the edge

Throughout the mid-2010s, much of R. Kelly's past kept coming back to haunt him. In 2017, the #MuteRKelly movement was started by Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye with the goal of getting a number of entertainment companies to cut ties with the singer. By 2018, the #MeToo movement was gaining traction and helped to zero in on prominent celebrity figures who had gotten away with crimes of a sexual nature. All of this led to the January 2019 release of "Surviving R. Kelly," a Lifetime documentary series featuring victims of Kelly's crimes and the indictment of Kelly for criminal sexual abuse.

By March 2019, the singer took the opportunity to clear his name in an interview with Gayle King on "CBS This Morning." The interview was arguably tense from the beginning, as King asked him what lies Kelly thought were being told about him in general, specifically in the "Surviving R. Kelly" docuseries. Kelly claimed that all of the reports, including his association with a sex cult, him holding women hostage, and the several claims of underage sexual abuse, were all lies.

As King continued to ask Kelly more questions, he gradually became more upset with the pressure and emotionally exploded. He stood up, pounded on his chest, and tearfully shouted, "Y'all trying to kill me! You're killing me, man! This is not about music! I'm trying to have a relationship with my kids, and I can't do it. Y'all just don't want to believe the truth!"

He told GQ he was in love with Aaliyah

A major controversy that has lasted throughout R. Kelly's 30-year career was his relationship with Aaliyah. Kelly met Aaliyah through her uncle, Barry Hankerson, who was also his manager at the time. Aaliyah, who was an aspiring singer, began working with Kelly on her debut album, "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number," released in May 1994. At the time of the release, Kelly was 27, and Aaliyah was 15, and rumors immediately began to take off that the two were romantically involved. Outside of the questionable album title, many of the album's song lyrics (written by Kelly) were mature in nature, an unusual occurrence for a young singer who was only 15 at the time.

Promotion of the album only continued to fuel the rumors, as Kelly and Aaliyah appeared in numerous interviews together. The pair often denied that they were romantically involved and often referred to one another as very close friends. But months after the singer's debut album hit shelves, she and Kelly married in a private ceremony in August 1994. The marriage was annulled within months because Aaliyah was a minor then, and both she and Kelly vehemently denied that it happened.

Aaliyah died tragically in a plane crash in August 2001, and years after her death, Kelly admitted he loved the singer. In a 2016 interview with GQ, Kelly said, "I would say I was in love with Aaliyah just like I was in love with anybody else. But in a different, friend type of way."

The Surviving R. Kelly docuseries angered him

By 2019, R. Kelly's years of sex abuse scandals could no longer be swept under the rug. He had victimized too many, and people were ready to share their experiences with the singer with the public. Lifetime released "Surviving R. Kelly" in January 2019, and the six-part documentary series featured interviews with survivors of his abuse, as well as his business associates and family members, which played a huge role in the singer's downfall. It also dived into how several people in Kelly's innermost circle, from his managers to those with his record label, were complicit in not reporting the abuse they knew was occurring.

The reaction to "Surviving R. Kelly" was overwhelming, and close to 2 million viewers tuned in to watch the series. As his years of deception and abuse were being revealed, Kelly himself was outraged by the series. A source close to the singer told TMZ in January 2019 that he was "disgusted" by it, and that those involved in its production were those who had known him in the past that had a vendetta against him for years. "He's going to sue everybody who had anything to do with this," the source claimed.

The questionable '18 and over' concerts and adults-only VIP seating

R. Kelly's suspicious relationship with younger, underage girls traces back to the beginning of his career as a singer. In the early 1990s, Kelly collaborated with his group Public Announcement to release "Born into the 90's" in 1992. While touring with Public Announcement, members of the group were known to hold signs that intended to send a message to listeners of their music. Writer D-Money of SoulBounce recalled an experience he had while attending one of the group's early concerts, writing in an essay, "During their turn on stage, while performing the now-classic 'Honey Love,' members of Public Announcement held up signs that read something like 'You Must Be 18 and Over' or '18 and Over Only' while R. Kelly sang about doing grown-up things."

As Kelly's solo career took off following the release of "12 Play" in 1993, his lyrics became more vulgar. For example, the song "I Like the Crotch on You" features a lyric that reads, "Only if you're old enough, baby / 18 and over or 16 and under." These suspicious lyrics seemingly reflected Kelly's attitude, and he would later offer adults-only VIP seating at his concerts. According to a report from The New York Times, at an event in 2001, Kelly autographed a picture for a 17-year-old girl with his phone number next to his signature. When she called the number, he invited her to his hotel room, where he offered her $200 to undress and dance with him.

His public trial revealed decades of abuse

R. Kelly had been sued numerous times throughout the years and, for the most part, suffered very little consequence to the many lawsuits brought against him. By 2019, however, Kelly could no longer escape the pressure. In January of that year, "Surviving R. Kelly" was released, and the following month, he was charged with 10 counts of criminal sexual abuse. Three months later, in May 2019, there were an additional 11 counts, including aggravated criminal sexual assault — but the charges didn't stop there. In July 2019, Kelly was charged with another 18 counts, some of which included child pornography and kidnapping.

Kelly's case finally went to trial in August 2021, and evidence of his repeated sexual abuse was made public. There were several revelations during the trial, with the biggest coming directly from the victims themselves. One victim recalled that Kelly controlled every aspect of her life and forced her to get an abortion when she became pregnant in 2017. Another revealed that Kelly choked her to the point of passing out, while several victims claimed that Kelly knowingly infected them with herpes.

Following a six-week trial, Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was convicted once more in September 2022 on three counts of child pornography and three counts of child enticement. He was sentenced in February 2023 to an additional 20 years in prison, which a judge ruled could be served concurrently with his existing sentence.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault or may be the victim of child abuse, contact the relevant resources below: