R. Kelly is one of the most perplexing figures in contemporary pop music: a shameless purveyor of single-entendre bedroom R&B that could make Barry White blush; the author of the quasi-gospel inspirational mega-hit "I Believe I Can Fly"; and the creator of the ridiculous (and sometimes awesome, and apparently ongoing) hipster-approved infidelity pop epic "Trapped in the Closet" and professional associate of indie-folk weirdo Will Oldham.
Kelly was also charged, in 2002, with having sex with (and urinating on) a teenage girl--a charge that earned Kelly none of the opprobrium that Chris Brown deservedly got after his arrest for beating Rhianna, and which the singer beat essentially by using the "it wasn't me" defense (even though the alleged act was on video). For me, it's a shadow that Kelly will probably never get out from under--as much as I love "Ignition (Remix)," I can't ever hear it without thinking of the dark side of Kelly's obsession with sex. That he was acquitted is an important fact. But the fact that the evidence against him was as compelling as it was is inescapable, too.
Shadows or not, Kelly's a phenomenon--an irresistibly charismatic performer, a masterful singer, an artist of idiosyncratic but undeniable talent, and a personality whose celebrity offers plenty to think about. I'll try to untangle some of those complexities over the next month, because Kelly's Single Ladies tour is coming to the Tennessee Theatre on Tuesday, Dec. 4.