We all have what I like to call "musical unmentionables." Music strictly for the privacy of our own homes, most likely listened to with headphones on so the neighbors don't overhear our dirty big secret.
Perhaps you still rock out to Limp Bizkit, or dance in your underwear to Wham. Or, if you're like my older brother, you have a Queensryche tattoo that prevents you from wearing tank tops.
Me, I really love Counting Crows. I think Linkin Park is turning out to be a pretty good band. I bought a CD single of Christina Aguilera's "What A Girl Wants" and told my friends that an ex-girlfriend accidentally left it. I think that Extreme's "More Than Words" is one of the best pop songs ever written.
Yet when I reveal openly that I think R. Kelly is a musical genius, friends look at me as if I just pissed on some teenage girl. Most people have an opinion on Kelly despite having never listened to his music. These opinions usually fall into one or all of the following categories:
* He's unoriginal. What R&B artist isn't? Whatever Mary J. Blige's drama is, Aretha already covered it. Whatever Usher is confessing this week, it's unoriginal sin to the Rev. Al Green. Kelly's music harkens back to the days of vintage R&B, and his voice sounds like a mixture of all the great singers. What separates him, though-and where he's most often criticized-is that he combines the best of both worlds: the streets and the bedroom.
* He's melodramatic. This argument usually comes within the context of discussing Kelly's most recent video epic-the multi-chapter musical soap opera, "Trapped in the Closet." Trapped is ridiculously engrossing, yet people continue to diss it as mere self-indulgence. To this I can only quote Russell Crowe: "Are you not entertained?"
Why do we criticize Kelly for making such a titillating piece of melodrama, yet shower someone like Neil Young with accolades when he stages pompous tripe like 2004's Greendale? Not only is the music some of Young's worst, but he also actually made it into an equally horrendous theatrical production in which the actors would lip-sync over Young's vocals (sound familiar?). "Genius," critics proclaimed. Seriously, it's about as fun to watch as home videos of your aunt's trip to Nebraska. And speaking of home videos...
* He's a pervert. Was it really that surprising? The guy married Aaliyah when she was 14! Now suddenly everyone's shocked that R. Kelly has a Lolita complex and a predilection for golden showers. And he's not alone. Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin. Chuck Berry filmed unknowing women going to the bathroom. Tupac Shakur did jail time for rape. Rick James kidnapped, sexually assaulted and burned a woman with a crack pipe. Michael Jackson danced on top of a limo at his molestation trial. What does any of this have to do with their music? I'm not gonna throw out my copy of Thriller or Street Songs just because the guys who made them turned out to be creeps.
Sure, he's a creep. But R. Kelly's is a genius at making the old seem new again. Or, as Neil Young put it on Greendale, "Some people have taken pure bullshit and turned it into gold."
R. Kelly performs at Copley Symphony Hall on May 5. Doors open at 8 p.m. $52-$72. 619-235-0804.