Psychologist says R. Kelly's music is spiking right now because of a ‘fascination with the morbid’

After a documentary revealing more allegations of sexual abuse against minors, sales of R. Kelly’s music have mysteriously spiked. Two experts in psychology unpack why. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
After a documentary revealing more allegations of sexual abuse against minors, sales of R. Kelly’s music have mysteriously spiked. Two experts in psychology unpack why. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

Allegations that singer R. Kelly sexually abused and assaulted women and young girls have swirled for years, but recently became even more prominent with Lifetime’s docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly. In the documentary, which aired last week, several people provide compelling testimony that suggests the singer not only sexually assaulted young women and girls, but abused them for decades.

The Internet has expressed a collective revulsion with the allegations, with many suggesting that it’s the lack of protection for black women that allowed an apparent child rapist to thrive for decades.

But the immediate response, it seems, wasn’t all negative. According to a report from The Blast, Spotify sales of Kelly’s music increased 16 percent after the first episode aired — and continue to climb. The news was confusing and upsetting to many people. Among them: Jada Pinkett Smith, who shared a video on Twitter about it.

“So I got an article this morning about how R. Kelly’s music sales and his streams have spiked substantially since the release of Surviving R. Kelly docuseries,” she said. “And I’m having a really difficult time understanding why. But I think it’s important to understand why. I really would like for you guys to help me understand what I’m missing. Even if I’m missing something that I don’t necessarily agree with. I just want to understand what I’m missing.”

Many have echoed her outrage on Twitter.

The big question everyone keeps asking is why. Why would people go out of their way to support someone with so many serious allegations of abuse against them?

While Kelly’s music is catchy, the recent downloads likely don’t have anything to do with that, licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “More people are downloading R. Kelly’s music now because of the curiosity that this publicity has generated,” he says. “From a social perspective, people love controversy and gossip, and downloading his music is a way that people can get into the controversy.”

Gail Saltz, MD, a psychiatrist and author of The Power of Different, agrees. “I think it’s more likely that people are fascinated with the horrible story of R. Kelly, powerful person with seemingly everything doing terrible sexual things and victimizing those without power, a sadistic and masochistic fascination and voyeurism that draws people to listen to his music to be involved further in observing the story,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s like people wanting to watch car wrecks, or other horrible scenes — a fascination with the morbid.”

Some people may also be trying to “play detective to see if there are clues to his alleged abuse or hidden messages about his character or crimes,” Mayer says. And finally, there’s what Mayer calls a “forbidden fruit” element to this: People often want something that they know they shouldn’t have. “Think of the people that buy artworks from [serial killer] John Wayne Gacy,” Mayer says. “It’s creepy, but thrilling.”

Overall, Saltz says people “aren’t thinking” when they’re downloading his music right now, given that it’s ultimately just giving him more money.

In 2002, Kelly was charged with 21 counts of child pornography after he allegedly videotaped himself having sex with an unidentified underage girl. The case went to trial in 2008, and Kelly was acquitted. In April of this year, Kelly’s lawyer, publicist, and assistant reportedly quit, although his publicist told Rolling Stone that her departure wasn’t related to allegations against the singer.

Kelly has not directly addressed the allegations raised by the documentary.

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