R. Kelly is probably deserving of a long-form New Yorker profile

The above clip is from last night’s Saturday Night Live; Lady Gaga was the host and musical guest, and she performed this jam “Do What U Want” from her new album (Artpop); the actual song features R. Kelly, who himself has a new album dropping in a month (Black Panties). Lo and behold, R. Kelly showed up, and — as you can see in the video above — Kelly and Gaga essentially simulated sex on stage. This next album will be Kelly’s 12th of a long and interesting career, and right now he’s collaborating with names like Gaga, Justin Bieber, and has even drawn the attention of Katy Perry (that collab might be coming soon). He truly might be the Teflon superstar.

My friends and I have this game — it’s not really a game, per se, because we don’t actively play it or anything — but the essential idea is, “Who is deserving of a New Yorker profile?” There are tons of great magazines in the world that do good long-form profile reporting (the best profile ever written may have appeared in Esquire), but the idea is that New Yorker profiles tend to be deeper, and longer, than what you can get in most magazines today. For a long time, my answer to this question was Jay-Z. One of my friends has said John Lewis.  I’ve also heard Pete Carroll, since the New Yorker does do sports profiles well.  The more I think about it, though, a profile of R. Kelly by a really good writer might be one of the more interesting things you’d ever stumble across; this is one of the closest long-form profiles you’ll find, and it’s not even complete.

To briefly recap: nearly 40 million records sold, a catalog of songs many can quote from, child pornography acquitee, chronic seducer of underage girls, hip-hopera maestro, probably the top R&B artist of the past three decades, arguably the most important musician (in some ways) of the 1990s and 2000s, and, oh … do you know anyone who hasn’t, at least once or twice, told you what happens after the after party?

He also loves metaphors and McDonald’s and had a fairly traumatic upbringing. This guy has done all this and achieved this type of fame and notoriety (good and bad) on top of once being the lead singer of Public Announcement. Remember ‘dem?

This guy is probably deserving of his self-delighted “Sexasaurus” (I think that’s the right word) title. Without him, there’s probably not an Usher in the same form, and without that, there’s probably not a Chris Brown (I could be wrong here and probably am, but … I believe those who mint artists of this nature tend to be people who like models they already understand). Another thing I kinda find interesting about Kelly goes back to that Interview Magazine link; he said something about it being really hard for him to find others he can relate to because he operates at a different level of creativity (I’m not entirely sure that’s the right quote, but it’s the gist of it). That came across like a parallel between R. Kelly and Kanye to me; they both could be megalomaniacs who believe they’re providing a massive gift to the world. Interestingly, they’ve worked together! Here’s a description of how it went down:

“Kanye sent me a track he was working on. I sent it back. He sent it back to me, I sent it back to him… until we had something,” Kelly recalls. “It felt good to both of us. He trusts my talent and I trust his talent. I knew Kanye way before he was known. We’ve always had fun in the clubs or wherever we were, just kickin’ it, but we never had a chance to get in the studio before and hook up like this, and I’m just glad we finally got that chance. I’m just very honored to be on this track working with him.”

Kanye should probably have been the more honored one; check out this list of R. Kelly’s No. 1 singles. This is one that always resonates with me (and probably most of the human race):

If you do enough Googling of R. Kelly, many of the posts/articles will begin with something like “I feel morally bad liking R. Kelly’s music…” or “R. Kelly disgusts me, but …” This isn’t uncommon with musical acts: Michael Jackson transformed popular culture in many ways, and there were always issues surrounding him. Chris Brown had the Rihanna situation (and more). Creative geniuses, I suppose, are often emotionally troubled people; maybe the creativity comes from a background of pain that also releases itself in other ways. I don’t know; I’m not a psychologist. But I do believe R. Kelly is one of the more interesting, complex pop culture figures of the past two decades. His talent has truly overwhelmed him.

Oh, and this:

Ted Bauer