R. Kelly's soap opera gets weirder
November 13, 2005
BY JIM DEROGATIS Pop Music Critic Advertisement
Chicago R&B superstar R. Kelly has done it again.
Just when it seemed as if "Trapped in the Closet," his ever-expanding, sex-obsessed "ghetto soap opera," couldn't get any stranger, Kelly has released a DVD of the first 12 chapters of the epic, including seven new installments available only on video.
The weirdest of the new twists and turns involves a white Southern woman cheating on her African-American husband with an African-American midget who defecates in his pants when the cuckolded spouse, a city police officer, pulls his gun.
As in the past, Kelly sings the roles of all the characters himself with an impressive show of vocal bravura. Different actors lip-sync in the video, while Kelly plays the role of one cheating "player" (Sylvester) and the narrator.
Three years after he was indicted on child pornography, R. Kelly is still waiting for his day in court on charges that could put him in jail for 15 years.
But in an episode of the satirical animated series "The Boondocks" airing at 10 p.m. today, the R&B superstar is finally acquitted.
As Kelly's supporters dance in the courtroom, the show's 10-year-old star chastises the jury. "You wanna help R. Kelly?" former Chicagoan Huey asks. "Then get some counseling for R. Kelly. Don't pretend the man is a hero."
The brainchild of African-American cartoonist Aaron McGruder, "The Boondocks" plays hot-button issues of race for laughs.
Kelly, who is drawn wearing the bandit's mask he sported at the Grammys last February, is prosecuted by a black D.A. aghast that the singer, as "The Boondocks" depicts it, videotaped himself urinating on a 14-year-old black girl. He is defended by a white lawyer -- a caricature of radical defense attorney William Kunstler -- who does not hesitate to play the race card.
After noting that Kelly won an NAACP Image Award, the defense attorney claims "the system" is afraid of the singer.
"They're afraid because they see the power for good this man wields through his music. They don't want R. Kelly to be free because they don't want you to be free. Maybe R. Kelly did urinate on this woman, but America urinated on R. Kelly."
Kelly launched the first five video chapters of "Trapped in the Closet" with considerable fanfare on MTV, VH1 and BET in July. Many reviewers praised his ambition and the nearly unprecedented song structure of the complicated operetta.
The New York Times called it a "tour de force," while Blender magazine branded it "a brilliant triumph." But the saga has done little to generate record sales.
Promises 10 more chapters
Eighteen weeks after its release, Kelly's last album "TP.3 Reloaded," which includes the audio tracks of chapters 1-5, is only certified as platinum, with sales of 1 million. In comparison, fellow Chicagoan Kanye West has sold 2 million copies of his new album in 10 weeks.
Some music industry observers say "Trapped in the Closet" is a novelty whose appeal is quickly wearing thin. But Kelly says he has written another 10 chapters and intends to keep going.
The producer and co-director of the first 12 video chapters, Ann Carli and Jim Swaffield, are considering whether the saga will continue on DVD or as a feature film.
"This is a different kind of song, and we knew that it needed a different approach," Swaffield said. "We approached it more like filmmakers than video makers."
Swaffield, who has worked on videos for Britney Spears, A Tribe Called Quest and others, shares directing credit with Kelly. The musician conveyed the story and his vision for the project by singing and acting it out in the Chocolate Factory recording studio in the basement of his Olympia Fields mansion.
The filmmaker said "Trapped in the Closet" is primarily an attempt at soap opera-like storytelling, with drama, intrigue and comedy. But he added that the videos also have a deeper meaning.
"Obviously, this is told in a hyperbolic, more soap-opera-y way," Swaffield said. "But the gist of it is that everyone has their things in the closet lurking behind [them]."
Real-life soap opera, too
Fans will no doubt examine the epic for clues about Kelly's troubled personal life. In one revealing new scene, Kelly as Sylvester and the woman who plays his wife laugh about their respective acts of adultery, indicating that they tolerate cheating on one another.
Kelly's real-life marriage made news in September when his wife and three children moved out of their home. Charging that the singer had slapped her, Andrea Kelly obtained a restraining order against her husband from a Cook County judge.
A few weeks later, Andrea Kelly dropped the restraining order, and her divorce attorney told the Sun-Times the couple is "trying to work out their marital problems rather than proceeding in domestic violence court."
The Sun-Times also has reported that R. Kelly has used his fame and influence as a pop star to have sexual relationships with underage girls. In June 2002, he was indicted on charges of child pornography after the newspaper received a videotape that appears to show him having sex with a 14-year-old girl. No trial date has been set.
Swaffield said the charges did not seem to affect the star while working on "Trapped in the Closet." The director added that he had no qualms about working with Kelly while the trial is pending.
'Going through my own struggle'
"I really felt like I'd been given a rare opportunity to work with someone who was gifted, driven and prolific on a project that he truly loved and was doing out of sheer excitement and love," Swaffield said.
During a recent interview with the Associated Press in which he discussed his contributions to several recordings benefitting victims of Hurricane Katrina, Kelly maintained his innocence and said the charges continue to weigh heavily on him.
"I'm going through my own struggle, my own hurricane in a way," Kelly said. "I believe in overcoming, and if I can do it, I wanna be that light so people can see me and feel they can be inspired and say, 'You know, R. Kelly can get through this, I can get through this, so we can actually go through this together.' "