GREENSBORO, N.C. – A defiant R. Kelly took the stage Friday night in North Carolina, in spite of efforts to silence him over his treatment of women, and had barely begun performing when the bone-rattling background beat stopped playing.
“I've been through a lot of (expletive)” this week, he said. He thanked his fans, “for y'all to fight for me all these years.”
He said someone had asked him to tone down his act. And then he launched into his sexually suggestive repertoire. At one point, he rubbed a fan's cellphone between his legs. He persuaded another to wipe his face and crotch with a towel.
Women's groups had urged the Greensboro Coliseum to cancel, days after Kelly was disinvited from a concert in Chicago. Spotify announced it would no longer stream his music in its curated playlists. Other streaming services appeared to be demoting his music as well.
Kelly denies abusing anyone and faces no current criminal charges, and his fans weren't giving up on their R&B superstar.
“I'm not going to tear him down, every good thing he does, because of something negative in his life,” said Clarissa Kelley of Lancaster, South Carolina.
The Greensboro concert was among the R&B singer's first performances since the #MuteRKelly movement accelerated boycott efforts in recent weeks, with help from the Time's Up campaign against sexual harassment and assault.
Protesters outside the Greensboro Coliseum criticized arena officials for declining to meet with women's groups that signed a letter citing the singer's “long term history of sexual misconduct.”
Kelly was acquitted in 2008 of child pornography after a video circulated appearing to show him having sex with a teenage girl. But as he continued to score hits and sell out stadiums, more women have come forward in recent years accusing him of sexual misconduct.