Jan 20

R. KELLY – “Ignition (Remix)”

Popular76 comments • 9,679 views

#954, 17th May 2003

So here we are. In 2014, when I wrote the entry for “I Believe I Can Fly”, acknowledging the monstrousness of R Kelly, I had plans to make this piece some sort of grand follow-up. Here is a song that – when I started Popular – was the most beloved of its year. I’ve heard “Ignition (Remix)” in clubs; I’ve danced to it; I’ve watched threads online spiral into giddy delight over it. I expect it was played at my wedding. I expect I played it.

Will I ever play it again? I doubt it. I remember its creamy confidence, its conspiratorial, tale-telling joy well enough not to bother. To this day, any time I’m in a hotel lobby my brain jumps a track and “after the party, the hotel lobby” wanders into my mind. Not as a welcome or unwelcome guest, either, just a well-used connection whose spark lies somewhere below the conscious. “Ignition (Remix)” is part of the mental furniture.

But it can’t ever be more than that again. Its easy familiarity, its cosy pleasure are part of the problem – “Ignition (Remix)” was a song that captured the feeling of so-what-I’m-drunk, the happy state of being lightly toasted, rolling from place to place and finding they’re the best places, with the best people, in the best of all possible worlds, until the night ends. But then the night did end, and now it’s the morning and I want no more of it. To use a critical idea not so available in 2014 (let alone 2003), “Ignition (Remix)” is cancelled.

Perhaps unfashionably, I think the idea of ‘cancellation’ is a useful one on an individual level. It sidesteps the question which has always dogged conversations about our relationships with art made by bad people – does it make the art bad? – by creating a space in which the answer isn’t relevant. “Ignition (Remix)”, like Morrissey’s “Speedway”, is a song which, good or not, I have decided to put beyond use. I’m not claiming consistency, or asking anyone else to emulate me – it’s just what I’m doing.

This is less difficult to live by – another difference from 2003 – because of the internet, and not because the internet makes it easier for angry crowds to form, or victims to have their say (though it does). By simply holding up to the light the immense scale of musical production – the impossible number of songs, albums, and careers available for us to listen to – the internet brings home how very much good music there is, and how very little of it we will ever hear. That forced widening of perspective has all sorts of implications for how people relate to music – for me at least, it makes discarding artists a much less drastic proposition.

But all this theory is dodging an uncomfortable question. Lots of things have changed since 2003. But when “Ignition (Remix)” came out that year, almost everybody who was active in online music chat, me included, knew that there was a tape doing the file-sharing rounds of R.Kelly and a 14 year old girl. “Ignition (Remix)” isn’t a song that people soured on when they found out the truth – it’s a song which came out in open defiance of that truth.

Now, some people called out R.Kelly early on and wanted nothing to do with the song – credit to them. Why didn’t I? I could file through excuses but the truth has two parts to it, neither flattering. First, the deeds and misdeeds of celebrities didn’t seem as vivid as they do now – maybe because I was younger or more callous, but also because the cliched “separation of art from artist” was easier in those days. The art was what you lived with every day; the artist was still a creature of report and rumour.

But also, I kept the truth of the tape an open question because I didn’t want it to be a closed one. “Ignition (Remix)”, and the happiness it brought me, was a big part of why. In the conversations around why the industry protected R.Kelly, why promoters kept booking him and critics kept reviewing him, the assumption is that Kelly was too rich and popular to be touched. So he was.

But he became rich and popular – and was able to live as an abuser in plain sight – because he was extremely good at what he did: charming people, and writing songs that charmed people, just silly or knowing enough to disarm. Complicity was what he sold best. “Ignition (Remix)” does what a lot of great pop does – which is why it’s hard for me to stomach now. It holds the door open for you on a fantasy of a charmed life; playfully, so you might drop your guard, believe it, and look away.

No mark given.


  1. 1
    Todd on 4 Jan 2020 #

    You can only review the song in the frame of mind that’s you’re in, and it’s a frame of mind I share; I too once loved this song and when R. Kelly was canceled last year the stupid-ass lizard part of my brain briefly doubled down, I liked R. Kelly’s music more than ever, but that (thankfully?) faded and I’m just not comfortable listening to this anymore. But that said, I think it’s a shame I didn’t get to see what Tom Ewing would have said pre-cancellation; your writing on Michael Jackson and Gary Glitter was enormously helpful to me in understanding not only their music but the scenes surrounding around them.

  2. 2
    ThePensmith on 4 Jan 2020 #

    I’d never been an R Kelly fan prior to this anyway, and I was one of said people who wanted nothing to do with this, previous or subsequent releases of his from the off when I’d heard what he did back in 2003. That it didn’t seem to bother the record buying public back then and that they’ve only realised this in the last couple of years is something I still find very disturbing indeed. Regardless, it was a record I didn’t care for back then either, so I refuse to give a mark on this occasion.

    So in the absence of discussing this, I instead will concentrate on the four records that got locked behind it at #2.

    Week one: ‘Favourite Things’ by Big Brovaz, a sort of ‘My First Fisher Price Rap’ song centred around a sample from The Sound of Music, except ‘Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens’ are substituted here for ‘Gucci dresses and drop top Kompressors’ and a hell of a lot of bling. I’d argue that this and a memorable advert for Virgin Mobile starring Busta Rhymes (himself enjoying a huge hit with Mariah Carey around this time) is what bought ‘bling’ into common parlance among my age group because I don’t think it was used that frequently before then. I suspect its lyrical content probably wouldn’t have read well with the same audience five years later with the economic developments that occurred, mind. 4 for that one.

    Week two: ‘No Good Advice’ by Girls Aloud. And so, after the four week majesty of the Christmas number one debut, the angsty, aggressive silver Spandex and tin foil clad follow up, and middle finger to their critics who said they wouldn’t last. Miranda Cooper had actually written the bulk of this with Brian Higgins at Xenomania two years previously after the Moonbaby project was aborted by London Records. Kimberley Walsh has recounted in her subsequent autobiography that this caused a bit of initial friction between them and Brian, in so far as they weren’t comfortable with how he worked with recording; namely, learning and recording lyrics for as many as 18 different parts of choruses, bridges, middle 8s etc, and piecing together the end result at the very end.

    Her and Cheryl (who else?) were the nominated people to tell him ‘It’s not our sound’ and he basically gave them a bollocking and a 30 minute ultimatum as to decide whether or not to work with him further. Needless to say that passed without event, and you have the end result you hear today. Indebted to both Blondie and ‘My Sharona’, it was also the first pop song I’d ever heard the word ‘anaethetise’ being used in. And I subsequently discovered in the years that followed that Aqua’s Lene Nystrom – herself recording a solo album with Xenomania which GA would repurpose tracks from for their albums – co-wrote this one also. What more could you ask for really? 9 for that one.

    Week three: ‘Rock Your Body’ by Justin Timberlake. And so the triumvirate of JT runner ups from ‘Justified’ concludes with a slice of disco funk shamelessly lifted from ‘Off the Wall’ era Michael Jackson. Arguably, cancellation culture that you discuss above Tom has also rendered this one problematic, albeit not anywhere near to the same scale, thanks to this being the song Justin performed with Janet Jackson at the 2004 Super Bowl when ‘Nipple-gate’ happened, which effectively wrote off her career at the hands of TV and industry executives using her as a scapegoat for censorship, whilst he appeared to get away with his part in it scot free. Even taking that aside, it’s the weakest of his first three solo hits with hindsight for me, so 6 for that one.

    Week four: the remaining sextet of S Club bowed out with ‘Say Goodbye / Love Ain’t Gonna Wait For You’, essentially reduxes of ‘Never Had A Dream Come True’ and ‘Don’t Stop Movin’ but none the worse for all that. It’s month long of promotion following the Easter Monday announcement of their split on stage at their ‘S Club United’ tour with the Juniors – now being rebranded to S Club 8 – was marked with both promotional ‘farewell’ hankies sent out to the media, and a video for the former where they pack up a flat share and reminisce over their old videos and photoshoots surrounded by boxes that’s still one of that era’s best ‘We’re splitting up, let’s have a little cry about what’s gone’ moments. As a fan of theirs, it had been apparent since the way ‘Alive’ performed that things were heading that way, but that didn’t make it easier to accept when it was announced. But this definitely felt like an era of music I’d grown up loving was over. 7 for this one.

  3. 3
    ellboss on 4 Jan 2020 #

    I’ve been trying to construct my thoughts on this one since I saw Tom’s post on the Patreon. (Also, hi! I haven’t posted a lot to this community before and I’m a new-ish reader to Popular, I’ve known about it for about a year and come via the Stereogum series about the Billboard chart.)

    Actually to be fair, I’ve been trying to construct my thoughts on this for a lot longer – well before the documentary in 2019 – as Tom mentioned, these allegations aren’t new.

    I remember the New Zealand winter it came out – mainly because it so definitely sounds like a summer song (so hot and sticky, dripping with summer sweat – like Hot in Herre did about the same time the previous year). It was my first year of high school. (“Hey did you hear the guy that did I Believe I Can Fly’s new song”). I always loved it even long after it drifted out of the charts. The song simply gets into your ears and doesn’t leave and I rarely wanted it to.

    Fast forward about five years to university and I expressed my love for it so much around my new friends that it became a running joke between us when we’d socialise that this was “my song”, every time it came on at a bar my mates would find me and yell “It’s on, your song is on!”. That continued into work life, at parties etc. My Facebook cover photo for about 5 years was a playlist I made up on iTunes that had a 500 song playlist, every one of which was Ignition (Remix). Search through my facebook posts and there’s literally dozens of references to this song, jokes about it following a night out, petitions for it to become the US National anthem signed, parodies inserting in-jokes in our friends circle into the lyrics. I’ve performed it at karaoke more times than I care to, or indeed can remember.

    But I can’t in good consciousness go on and do that anymore. Everyone has, rightly, taken off the blinkers and realised what a piece of shit R. Kelly is. It took us far too long, blocking out the obvious evidence because the guy made a song we all liked. The last paragraph of Tom’s piece sums it up well – we were disarmed by this guy, who created a song that we believed made up for or excused his flaws. We were wrong then and doing so is wrong now.

    As I mentioned above, it’s a song that I felt linked to for so long. It’s gone from my playlists that I rotate around on my music streaming devices. It won’t be coming up on shuffle by accident. However, I’m not a perfect person. I might have a lapse and want to do what music does so well and transport us places. Transport me back to singing it with my friends the first year of university, or at a work party celebrating a major success together. It’s a song I might play with my earphones on, in the privacy of knowing no-one else can hear me play it, but is it coming on at my birthday party this year? No. Will I ever dance to it in public again? No.

  4. 4
    Mark M on 4 Jan 2020 #

    I don’t think I have much to add to what everyone else has said: it’s a song I loved, it’s a song I don’t want to listen to anymore, and the particularly problematic thing about the R. Kelly story is that the bad stuff didn’t come out long after he became famous (at least on this side of the Atlantic) – it was in the public domain almost from the start, and certainly by the time of Ignition (Remix). It’s a very different case from Michael Jackson, but while MJ’s ‘otherworldliness’ was used by his defenders, Kelly used his eccentricity (the whole Trapped In The Closet business) – almost as if to say, ‘I’m too weird to be judged by normal standards.’
    I hate the ‘what were we thinking?’ line – it’s pretending to accept responsibility now but giving your supposedly less-enlightened past self a pass – but, yeah, what the hell were we thinking?

  5. 5
    pink champale on 4 Jan 2020 #

    I’m much the same. I was vaguely aware of what was then generally euphemistically described as the “sex tape” but somehow didn’t (want to?) see it clearly for what it was or pay it that much attention and it didn’t impinge at all on my love for the song. It was only really with Tom’s “I believe I can fly” review and reading those links that I understood the reality and enormity of R Kelly’s crimes.

    But even that didn’t stop me listening to it. Like most people, my moral standards around this stuff are inconsistent and self serving – Glitter can go, since I’m not arsed about listening to him anyway, but I’ll be more inclined to take a line about separating the art from the artist if it’s a hardship for me to give up the art.

    However, I eventually found that I simply couldn’t listen to the song without being consumed by thoughts about what R Kelly had done. It’s not just the horror and the magnitude of his crimes, it’s that the song itself makes the listener complicit in what’s basically a description of the circumstances in which those crimes took – and probably still take – place. So yeah, I don’t listen to it anymore.

  6. 6
    PapaT on 4 Jan 2020 #

    The NME was IMO pretty awful in this era, but I still bought it occasionally and to their credit their review for this wasn’t cutting Robert any slack, if admittedly mostly through the style of the time by engaging in sniggering bad taste humour (“no mention if he prefers his ignition on older or younger models” etc.). They concluded that it was a standard R Kelly track (which I dare say was wrong) and predicted that in the current circumstances the public wouldn’t have much enthusiasm for it (which definitely turned out to be wrong).

    I hadn’t actually heard it at the time I read the review. When I did I can’t pretend it wasn’t one of the few #1s of the era I loved, and even as it slid down the charts it managed to find further ways to endear itself to me when it became the big hit of our prom.

    I recorded the guest comments for my friend’s wedding back in February last year. At one point this played and I commented that this might be the last year R Kelly would be heard in public. It’s looking likely.

  7. 7
    Dot Antwine on 5 Jan 2020 #

    RKelly is the man & screw whoever don’t like it. I will always listen to his music. Change the damn station if you don’t like his music…

  8. 8
    Tommy Mack on 5 Jan 2020 #

    I was never a fan of R Kelly, rock snobbery stopped me in his first flush and by the time I might have appreciated his music, the sex tape was common knowledge so I basically dodged a bullet on that one.

    This is updated and adapted from Patreon comments…

    I was chatting about great music made by terrible people with a mate recently. He made the point that there’s lots of great music around, it’s not, for example, MJ or nothing. I tend to take that line. I don’t consider, say, Michael Jackson or The Smiths off limits but I can’t imagine ever choosing to listen to them over someone who doesn’t come with so much baggage.

    What bothers me about the cancel culture is this: is it not a superficially woke way of sweeping this stuff under the carpet? The tabloid version of the abuser as monster. We don’t want to consider the music of abusers because we don’t want to confront the humanity of abusers: that these awful things were done by people like us, by people we looked up to so we either deny the acts or deny the art. I’m not saying I’ve got any better suggestions it just feels like a cop-out.

    Someone called Daniel Riefferscheid replies: I think it’s pretty legit for people not to want to contemplate the essential monstrosity of humanity when they’re listening to a fun Summer jam tho. So it’s cancellation or compartimentalization.

    Yeah, I agree with that. I’ll probably never listen to Michael Jackson again. But I don’t need to be told someone’s cancelled to make that personal choice. Isn’t there a hint of “let us never speak of them again” in the cancel culture? I can totally see the argument that we should stop celebrating art made by abusers but I’m less comfortable that everything they ever did ends up in some other box where we can not think about it. To clarify: I don’t want to listen to music made by abusers for entertainment and I certainly think we should stop pouring unchecked praise on their work but I’m uncomfortable if the response is to simply stop discussing them entirely.

    I can’t claim any consistency: I don’t listen to Morrissey because I find his views ugly and risible but I’ll happily play the Phil Spector Christmas album despite his conviction for the most cold-blooded murder imaginable. He didn’t write or sing the songs, I guess and he’s in prison for his crime but that’s a pretty thin excuse.

  9. 9
    lonepilgrim on 5 Jan 2020 #

    I was vaguely aware of the song at the time but I’ve always been wary of the slick swagger it celebrates so that subsequent revelations about R. Kelly seemed like part of a continuum rather than a contradiction. As Tom says, there’s so much other good stuff out there that it is easy to move on to something else and leave this behind

  10. 10
    Chelovek na lune on 5 Jan 2020 #

    Not least having lived in post-communist countries in which “cancellation” of any kind of perceived deviant was the norm, I find the rise of “cancel culture” one of the most sinister, and indeed quasi-totalitarian, developments in the Anglophone West in recent years. Cancel not, lest ye be cancelled next , on grounds likely to be spurious as substantive, is my starting point…

    And to be frank if I were in the act of cancelling figures in popular culture for saying, or like R Kelly, doing actions of which I disapprove, even disapprove strongly, perhaps very strongly, I would have to cast my nets far wider than this contemptible sex criminal.

    (It also misses a key point: that the sometimes despicable values that individual performers incarnate and promote don’t exist – or obtain wide publicity – in a vacuum: if one wants to be effective and also consistent about it, surely the thing would be to cancel, not so much R Kelly himself, but the record companies, agents, promoters, radio and TV stations, concert venues, that helped gain him the status and wealth that he attained. Go hard or don’t bother. Challenge the broader culture that allows abusers to flourish, and the worldview and mindset in which they operate to be normalised.)

    At the time I did think it rather odd that ToTP would play the video, on at least one occasion accompanied by a comment explaining that the performer couldn’t be present in the studio (everyone knew why, and, sure, presumptions of innocence – also something cancel culture seems to object to – are fundamental to the rule of law that is essential, and indeed probably the key underpinning of , a free society), stated in a rather coy and inspecific way. And I must say I am not fully familiar with the exact cases and charges against him, and where exactly due process was at at the time this was number one.

    But yes, the whole question of good music made by bad people is a moderately complicated one. Am quite happy never to listen to Gary Glitter, but his music never meant anything to me (his Christmas song being semi-cancelled is a moderately sad loss artistically though). Michael Jackson? I never loved his music either, appreciated some of it sure, wouldn’t rush to listen to it in general, but neither would I switch off the radio or complain if one of his better tracks came on. Morrissey I have no artistic problem with, and indeed have several of his albums on my MP3 player. He’s always had provocative and contrarian views – some admirable, some not admirable. As indeed should be expected of artists who engage with ideas. Billy Bragg (whose political extremism is rather deeper, long-lived, ideologically committed – “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward” indeed – is that a call for Maoism and all that that entails, and if not, why use those words ? – and frankly sinister than anything Morrissey has been close to coming up with, and *who expresses his odious views in his lyrics*) likewise: his love songs have frequently been brilliant and sensitive (while revealing other flawed and narcissistic parts of his character), his political numbers, lyrically, utterly risable and loathsome. But expecting moral leadership from artists or performers of any kind – let alone pop musicians – is a hiding to nothing.

    tl; dl All humanity is flawed.

    R Kelly though? Hmm, I think “She’s Got That Vibe” and the earlier number one are the only previous tracks that stick in my mind at all: the first is a decent, only moderately sleazy, party track: the second is ludicrous and overblown. And I don’t think I recall any other of his tracks or cultural impact at all.

    Compared with the other two songs of his I do know, “Ignition Remix” is in a different league entirely. It’s a brilliant composition, that draws the listener deep into its world, the playful car noises, the hooks, the swagger, and drawl – “it’s the freakin’ weekend I’m gonna get me some fun” indeed – the point that several people have made about feeling the listener is made complicit with R Kelly underlines the point. Maybe is that the source of discomfort that leads people to promote “cancellation” – a sense that they too could be like R Kelly. And of course they could. Everyone could. The thing is to make sure that one is not.

    No less important: to endorse someone’s art does not of itself and in itself entail endorsing their person.

    A strong 8.

  11. 11
    Mark M on 5 Jan 2020 #

    Yes, it’s always complicated, and yes, I suspect nobody is ever completely consistent (I too listen to Spector productions). (And also, yes, Chelovek Na Lune points out, when you go beyond actual crimes, you slide towards the ‘you’re unacceptable because I don’t agree with you’ line*.)

    A couple of stray instances of continuing non-cancellation:
    a) The NFL have recently put out a list of the game’s greatest players as part of its centenary celebrations, and yes, the list does include OJ Simpson.
    b) Among the typefaces available on the Mac I’m writing this is Gill Sans, and Eric Gill’s private life makes most of the people mentioned above look almost harmless by comparison.

    *For the record, I don’t think Billy Bragg has any Maoist leanings at all, rather Waiting For The Great Leap Forward is a jokey title in very bad taste.

  12. 12
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Jan 2020 #

    It’s a shame that said song has no lyrics, and so we are unable to shine some light on the strength of Billy Bragg’s belief in the economic and social campaign by the Communist Party of China from 1958 to 1962.

    Presumptions of innocence are absolutely fundamental to the question of whether the law should send someone to prison – I tend to look askance at anyone over the age of 20 who insists they are an iron law outside of that.

  13. 13
    Tommy Mack on 5 Jan 2020 #

    #10 Chelovek Na Lune – what odious views has Billy Bragg expressed in his lyrics? My impression is that if he was guilty of anything, it’s cherry picking the noble bits of socialism while side-stepping the atrocities committed by Marxist regimes.

    I kind of wish I hadn’t mentioned Morrissey because obviously there’s a world of difference between spouting crypto-racist nonsense and sexually abusing minors. I imagine I probably will end up listening to The Smiths/Moz again at some stage whereas I doubt I’ll ever listen to MJ again. Fwiw I think it’s only Morrissey’s British fans who are shunning him. I don’t think anyone else is particularly interested in what political party he endorses.

    The point I was trying to make by mentioning him was that I’m not likely to listen to him, not because I think what he’s done is so awful (As Chelovek points out, most popstar politics is pretty vapid, whether you agree with it or not) but because there’s lots of other good music, lots of other good music that does similar things to Moz/The Smiths even and doesn’t have the same baggage attached to it.

  14. 14
    EG on 5 Jan 2020 #

    Joe Meek is the acid test.

  15. 15
    Brian B. on 5 Jan 2020 #

    I’m in the lucky category of “Never liked R. Kelly’s music, found it easy to dismiss him as a terrible person” — I love Weird Al’s “Trapped in the Drive-Thru”, but the remove from R. Kelly is wide enough to make that no problem for me.

    Michael Jackson is harder for me, because I do like his music; I still hold out hope that the sexual allegations are false (the recent documentary told an already-known side of the story and with excessive authority), but the best-case scenario still has him relating to children in deeply weird and problematic ways, including dangling one out a window. I haven’t canceled his songs in my life, but only because I’m able to compartmentalize easily, and because I don’t think my sons know anything about him as a person.

    For me the hardest one is Morrissey — because his 2017 record is, in my opinion, brilliant, the best he’s ever written/ recorded, AND because it’s a highly political record of intelligence and sensitivity. Seriously, there’s no way to guess from ‘Low in High School’ that his interview/ Twitter politics are offensive, hateful, and stupid; I don’t know how to reconcile the two. With the result that I ended up buying the album because I don’t want to encourage the public figure, but I do want to encourage the songwriter. I just can’t parse how they share the same body, brain, and bank account.

    (As a baseball fan, the equivalent is not knowing whether to want Curt Schilling to make the Hall of Fame because he’s a brilliant pitcher whose career has been mysteriously and unfairly underrated by the voters, or to miss it because he’s a conspiracy-nut Republican who’s called for the assassination of journalists and leftists. There are a lot of terrible humans in the Hall, but still….)

  16. 16
    Chelovek na lune on 6 Jan 2020 #

    #14. Indeed. He and Spector at the very top of the tree in this matter.

    I think Bragg started out as naive (in a fairly commonplace sort of way in some leftist sets), rather than intentionally malevolent. I agree he’s no Maoist, but “WFTGLF” (as a concept, as a chorus, and indeed in some of its lyrics outside the chorus) is such an enormous miscalculation that it does rather draw to the fore the authoritarianism that is endemic on much of the far-left. (I was personally somewhat horrified to see that it was exactly the tune to fill,and with great enthuisasm, the dance-floor at a Labour Students conference I attended, just pre-Blair, indeed at a Student Union whose authorities had made attempts to erase all reference to Shabba Ranks tracks from the compilation CDs on their jukeboxes, albeit short of removing the tracks themselves)> Yes, maybe “odious” is too strong, lyric-wise – just trying to think what else, but there did (pre-1991) seem to be a general trend of him to take the Soviet model as more admirable than any Western model. “Help Save The Youth of America” seemed to end in a way that could at least be interpreted as celebrating in the bombing and burning of several US locations. And if there was to be any criticism of the actual (if decaying) totalitarian states to be offered he appeared to regard as a better model for the UK to follow, it was, well, at most, tacit. So actually on further consideration I think I am more or less in agreement with Tommy Mack here. Maybe (and also like Morrissey) the evident presence of a sense of humour and charm adds some levity.

    The online revolution means that things that used to be – and with good reason- hidden have become public. I used to think that political blogs (and what later became comments below news stories or experiments like Comment Is Free – the second part of that quote evidently being overlooked) were like, often rowdy, pubs. But more and more it seems like aspects of social media that have effectively supplanted them are more like the walls of particularly degraded pub toilets. And the way to deal with all of this exposure to – really, shit – still remains unclear (which is evidently one reason why the concept of “cancellation” has come about – perhaps understandably): what is the balance between censorship/regulation/turning a blind eye/switching off all together?

    (It must be said as an aside that in this context, John Peel passed away at exactly the right time)

  17. 17
    Tom on 6 Jan 2020 #

    Re. Cancellation – I tried to stress in the piece that I find it useful as a tool for the individual, a way of sidestepping the (usually tiresome) debates about the art and the artist. While I’m as susceptible to groupthink as any other human being, I don’t particularly like seeing it in action, though ‘cancel culture’ hardly has a present day monopoly on it.

    (As an aside I’m a bit doubtful whether “cancel culture” operates in the way the press assumes it does – successful ‘cancellations’ seem extremely rare, and the concept gives a lot more power to a ragtag crowd of noisy extremely-online people than they actually possess. Comparisons with totalitarian regimes seem a stretch, as cancel culture is not backed by state power or physical force. I’m not even sure there’s a chilling effect – in fact, in general the attempt to ‘cancel’ provokes a backlash in turn. For some people, controversy seems to magnify the genius of artists, and a lot of people love a redemption arc, in life as in fiction.)

    What I’m talking about at the individual level is simply excising something from your life when the noise around it (the negative associations) overwhelms the signal.

    Todd at #1: I tried to make sure the review weaved in the stuff I loved about the song pre-cancellation! I don’t know if I’d have had too much to add to that, other than calling out some particularly well-crafted bits.

  18. 18
    Tom on 6 Jan 2020 #

    Tommy Mack at #8 – obviously if I thought people ought never to mention or discuss R Kelly I would not have written a longish blog post about him with an open comments thread. :) I would just have skipped the entry, and people would – rightly I think given my general approach – have complained.

    Forcing oneself to doggedly listen to music with uncomfortable associations seems just as artificial an approach as avoiding it – probably more so. And it’s ultimately just as reliant as “cancel culture” on an assumed external arbiter of yr ways of consuming art, the only difference is the projected culture-cop is judging you for not being open-minded enough rather than not being morally pure.

  19. 19
    Alan on 6 Jan 2020 #

    Act I most miss listening to: Crystal Castles. Just haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. Moz is too ingrained. Indeed I listened to Speedway the other day :-(

  20. 20
    PinkChampale on 6 Jan 2020 #

    I’m not an expert on his work (though Sexuality is a strong contender for worst record ever made) but based on his public persona the idea of Billy Bragg as a far left extremist seems fairly ludicrous. He’s certainly guilty of maintaining a pathetic hope that Corbyn was something other than the catastrophe he clearly always was for longer than you’d think possible. But that came from a wooly liberal rather than “far left” place, and he’s hardly alone in it.

  21. 21
    will on 6 Jan 2020 #

    My question is where do you draw the line? There is a world of difference between say the Lostprophets, whose singer was/is a convicted pedophile and Morrissey, who holds some pretty repellent views but, as far as we know, is guilty of being nothing more than a right wing bellend. Where do you put Spector on that scale? Or Lennon, who, as he admitted on Getting Better treated some women appallingly? (Will future re-issues of Rubber Soul omit Run For Your Life?) If you follow this to its logical end then you end up with a bookshelf and record collection filled with nothing more than ‘approved’ liberal artists. And personally, as a left liberal myself, I don’t want to live in that sort of world.

    Ignition made me feel queasy at the time – we all knew about Kelly’s predilections for young girls in 2003, didn’t we? – but it wore me down and ultimately I found it irresistible. Like Do Ya Wanna Touch? or Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough. They’re all guilty pleasures, for sure, but it seems ridiculous to pretend that they – and the people who made them – never existed.

    Re 16: I’ve always read Bragg’s Waiting For The Great Leap Forward to be an activist’s response to the Tory victory of 1987 and the title nothing more than a cheeky (if perhaps in hindsight ill-judged) reference rather than some tacit approval of Maoist state slaughter.

  22. 22
    Tommy Mack on 6 Jan 2020 #

    Tom @ #18 Yes, obviously! Sorry, I should have made it clear that I didn’t mean any of that as a criticism of your article which does an admirable job of addressing the music and the appalling deeds, each in the context of the other.

    I think we’re in agreement (along with most – all? – of the commenters) that it’s for the individual to discard (a more useful notion than cancel) that which they find no longer palatable. That’s the point I was trying to make in saying I won’t listen to Michael Jackson any more because it will be impossible not to think about his alleged crimes and at the bare minimum, creepy and harmful behaviour but I probably won’t listen to Morrissey any more either because I’ll end up thinking about what a prick he’s become. (Notably they’re both performers who’s persona is at the heart of their music, as R Kelly’s is on ignition, so much harder to ignore than some of the other stuff mentioned.)

    That said, while “cancel culture”, like PC culture, isn’t the iron rod the tabloids like to pretend it is, I have seen plenty of discussion online (not on here!) where people are essentially telling other who they should listen to or discuss and that is what I find counterproductive. (I have definitely been guilty of this hypocrisy in the past, wondering ‘how can people possibly listen to Chris Brown any more?’ while still playing Beatles, Joy Division, James Brown. I guess it makes some difference if the abuser in question is dead but still there’s still an element of ‘my great music > objective morality > your rubbish’.

  23. 23
    Tommy Mack on 6 Jan 2020 #

    #14 & 16 – Yes and most of the discussion about Joe Meek paints him very much as a victim of his demons, institutional homophobia, people ripping him off, all of which is no doubt true but he did also murder two innocent people before killing himself, which is generally treated, at best, as a footnote to the story of the mad maverick genius.

    Will @ 21 – didn’t Paul McCartney write and sing Getting Better?

    Pink Champale @ 20: worst lyrics ever, Johnny Mate’s guitar jangle is quite fun!

  24. 24
    Mark M on 6 Jan 2020 #

    Re21: There’s a difference between hideous crimes (and alleged hideous crimes) and opinions. I think the discussion about R Kelly should be a separate one from the one about Morrissey*.

    One point of distinction between living alleged/convicted harassers and abusers and deceased ones is that MJ or Eric Gill or John Lennon are no longer profiting when we consume their work, while every radio play or stream makes a (however tiny) contribution to Mr Kelly’s wealth.

    *Which is why, re15, I think Schilling should be in Hall of Fame, while sympathising with media outlets who choose not to hire him.

  25. 25
    Tommy Mack on 6 Jan 2020 #

    Yes, I’m sorry for bringing Morrissey into this although as I say above, I was trying to make a point in doing so.

  26. 26
    will on 6 Jan 2020 #

    Re Tommy @ 23 – He did the bulk of it but I was always under the impression that it was Lennon who contributed the line about being ‘cruel to my woman’, though I could be wrong…

  27. 27
    Tom on 6 Jan 2020 #

    #25 Morrissey is in my post too so it wasn’t your fault!

    I included “Speedway” deliberately because I wanted to be as honest as possible – that there’s no consistency or standard being applied, simply a case by case engagement with the question, as I put it above, “Has the noise eclipsed the signal?” And even that’s often semi-conscious.

    This is why I’m inclined to ignore whataboutery – I’m not applying logic so Will’s notion of a “logical conclusion” doesn’t seem especially interesting to me (sorry Will!).

  28. 28
    James BC on 6 Jan 2020 #

    Surely we can leave Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough out of it? Michael at that time was a young man, coming off a rough childhood by all accounts, but I don’t think there’s any allegation against him before he started losing his mind in the painkiller-addiction years somewhere between Thriller and Bad.

    When I put Off The Wall on, I’m maybe sad about what such a talented person turned into, but to think “I am listening to music made by a bad person” is just inaccurate.

  29. 29
    Tommy Mack on 6 Jan 2020 #

    #23 Johnny Mate should read Johnny Marr. Cancel culture has got so out of control that even people associated with Morrissey have their names censored by the secret police in your phone.

    (Although I would love to hear the 3rd division proto-Britpop of Johnny Mate)

  30. 30
    Alan on 6 Jan 2020 #

    @28 – this appears to be the tacit Pick of the Pops/Gambo approved approach

  31. 31
    Smilin' Peter on 6 Jan 2020 #

    I seem to remember that in about 1994, the Beeb received laids of complaints about R Kelly’s performance on Totp of ‘Bump and Grind’. On account of it being too raunchy for teatime telly.

    Having just seen it again, though, I’d guess the complaints were about some of his backing dancers’ antics rather than anything that R did.

  32. 32
    Edward Still on 6 Jan 2020 #

    To me the difference between 2003 and now is the notion of Innocent until proven guilty. I think, perhaps naively, that this should hold true in the court of public opinion as much as anywhere legal. I haven’t much issue with MJ songs today for the same reason.

    Anyway I agree 100% with Tom’s review. One of my all time favourite songs which I’ll never knowingly play again. Would’ve been a 10, possibly my highest 10 to popular date.

  33. 33
    Tommy Mack on 6 Jan 2020 #

    Will @ #26. You’re right, which makes a lot more sense, since it’s true of Lennon and thinking about it, it is squarely in his confessional style compared to Paul’s more detached observation.

  34. 34
    James on 7 Jan 2020 #

    It is fairly simple from my point of view. I’ve long been on record considering R Kelly a genius. A genius who can make some utterly phenomenal music (“The World’s Greatest” is my favourite song of self-worth) and some complete tripe at the same time.

    I will always love listening to the non-tripe stuff, and do regularly.

    I have zero interest what he does with his penis and where, but if the authorities disagree it is entirely a matter for them.

  35. 35
    Paulito on 7 Jan 2020 #

    Other contributors (particularly James BC @28) have touched on this, but I think it’s important to draw a distinction between (a) acts whose key work was done long before they committed their crimes and (b) those who carried on their criminality at the same time as they were producing their most notable work. Imho it’s daft to torment oneself, or to chastise others, for enjoying the genius music that Phil Spector produced some 40-odd years before he committed a homicide. Yes, he was always a somewhat sinister individual, but he wasn’t a murderer when he produced “Be My Baby” and I’ve no reason to think he was capable of murder at that time either. He became more unhinged as time went on and eventually developed a form of full-blown paranoid psychosis. That’s an awful shame (most of all, for poor Lana Clarkson), but it will never spoil my enjoyment of the magic he produced in his prime. Why should it?

    I’d make a very similar argument about Joe Meek, who was suggested as an “acid test” above. The man who created such glories as “Telstar” and “Johnny Remember Me” was undoubtedly an oddball (the thin line and all that). But the Joe Meek who, some years later, killed his landlady and himself (there were no other victims btw) was clearly someone who had collapsed into catastrophic insanity. Again, that’s very sad, but it doesn’t make me hate him or find his work unlistenable.

    At the other end of the spectrum are individuals like Glitter, Ian Watkins and, yes, R. Kelly – calculating sociopaths who from the outset used their music, and specifically the celebrity it brought them, as a vehicle to abuse children. That irrevocably taints their music (not much of which is any good, thankfully).

    MJ is a more awkward proposition because some of his music – particularly his late 70s/early 80s output – is superb and yet there has to be a suspicion that he was always a wrong ‘un. I (like others) prefer not to believe he was a predatory child abuser and, in the absence of definitive evidence, I cling instead to the hope that he was – sad as it may be – an emotionally retarded and mentally imbalanced naïf who tried to create a fantasy world where he could live out the boyhood he never had. There’s certainly plenty of other evidence that he became more and more detached from reality over the years. Either way, my sense is that the MJ of the 90s and beyond was simply not the same guy who gave us Off The Wall and Thriller. For that reason, I can still enjoy those albums.

    I agree with other contributors that Morrissey shouldn’t be lumped in with any of the above. He’s not a criminal; he’s just someone with views that many people find unpalatable. (For what it’s worth, I think he’s misguided more than malicious. I also think he’s a different person to the Morrissey of 35 years ago and, again, I don’t feel any guilt in enjoying the music he made back then.)

  36. 36
    Shiny Dave on 7 Jan 2020 #

    This was always going to be an all-time great comment thread. I don’t know how much I can add.

    (One bit of context I can add, regarding comments #11 / #15: for commenters who aren’t aware of this, there’s quite a difference in philosophy here. Baseball’s Hall of Fame states that “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” The Pro Football Hall of Fame explictly prefers to focus on the on-field accomplishments, and that seems to have carried over into the lists produced separately by the NFL around its centennial.)

    What I will say is I didn’t see the no-mark coming – Tom mentioned Dunblane as “as close to an unmarkable record as I’ll see,” and that review came in January 2014, a few weeks after the interview that Tom linked to in the “I Believe I Can Fly” review that was AFAICT the defining moment in bringing wider attention to the accusations. I agree with the decision, I just didn’t see it coming for that reason.

    And that I’m genuinely amazed from this distance that R. Kelly shrugged the accusations off in the specific context of a mid-2000s America where social conservatism and moral panic was very much not in retreat, was in fact the primary driver of the only GOP popular vote plurality in a post-Cold War presidential election to date. And an early version of “cancellation culture” was well and alive and already trying to destroy the career of the Dixie Chicks for questioning the Iraq war. How did that society not cancel R. Kelly?

  37. 37
    Tommy Mack on 7 Jan 2020 #

    The point I’m reaching for is that most of the artists mentioned exist for me (and I think a lot of the other commenters) in a middle-ground between “innocent until proven guilty, crank that shit” and “burn it all and let us never speak of him again!” If I wake up one day and I’ve just got to hear Don’t Stop TYGE or You’ve Got Everything Now, I’m not going to beat myself up over it but in a normal “what shall I play today?” quandry, the answer, more often than not, is going to be someone who doesn’t come with baggage, be that baggage problematic (MJ) or merely irksome (Moz).

  38. 38
    Andrew F on 7 Jan 2020 #

    I mean, there’s an argument that where we’re discussing unpleasant views rather than crimes*, it’s easier for things to slip past – in the light of present Morrissey, it makes it possible to revisit Bengali in Platforms, or Panic, and listen to what minorities are saying about them – and what they’re were saying about them then.

    *again the criminal aspect isn’t the most useful here, as one of the common threads is the ability of those in power to swerve such a thing – bringing it back to R. Kelly, one of the more eye-opening details in (I think) the first Jim DeRogatis article about him was that a case that was to go to court collapsed because the main witness wouldn’t testify, at the same time that Kelly had paid for her and her family to go on a long holiday in Europe.

  39. 39
    Tommy Mack on 7 Jan 2020 #

    The other thing with R Kelly, seldom mentioned, is that, I think I’m right in saying, all of his victims were black. You can bet your life that if Kelly, a black man, had laid a finger on a white girl, America would have treated him rather differently.

  40. 40
    Implodingme on 7 Jan 2020 #

    This is easily a 10, being woke doesn’t change the fact that this is, and always will be, a banger.

  41. 41
    PinkChampale on 7 Jan 2020 #

    I think a lot of peoples’ points are that being a vaguely decent person DOES, for them, change the fact that this is a banger.

    Or at least, it’s R Kelly’s fault that I no longer think this is a ten, not mine.

    Or to be more specific, I stopped liking it as much once I realised it was a song about raping children.

  42. 42
    weej on 7 Jan 2020 #

    Hm, I have lots of thoughts about this, sorry if they are a bit of a jumble, but here we go anyway.

    First the context here – I had never been a fan of R Kelly, but when this came out I was as detached from UK (& even US) pop culture as I’ve ever been, living in Prague with my first ever proper girlfriend and only consuming pop music via the occasional world service show – so when this came out and was such a huge hit I was confused, wasn’t this guy on trial for something awful? And the song was about getting drunk and doing inappropriate things? And the album was called “Chocolate Factory”?! I just sort of passed it off as something I didn’t understand yet, but now I live in the UK again it only seems more inexplicable. My full understanding of what R Kelly really was was from the article linked in the IBICF post, and, really why were people still listening to this? Still feel I don’t really have an answer.

    A few years ago I read an review of Chris Brown which just said “Don’t listen to this, he beats women” and wrote a long article which I have since deleted and won’t be putting back up. The jist was, though, (a) that there are a lot of very problematic people in music, and if you are taking a stand you should be consistent and (b) that the work was tainted only if the terribleness was reflected in the music (and gave examples of Lennon, James Brown, Chuck Berry vs Skrewdriver) – what I didn’t take into account though was (c) abusers profiting from their “dangerous” public personas and (d) there is lots of other music you can choose to listen to if you feel like it.

    Is the work of Michael Jackson retrospectively tainted? As a 9-year-old I was a massive MJ fan – this was around the time Bad was out and I listened to the tape endlessly and went to the cinema to see Moonwalker, I even read his autobiography. MJ was at that point the coolest person I could ever imagine, and it feels now that this was deliberate – he was, perhaps by design, the coolest person a 9-year-old boy could imagine. This is what I hear and see if I revisit him now, a grooming of the general public. At work I deal with safeguarding and one thing we are told repeatedly is that the people being groomed are often the adults, who are being persuaded that this person is harmless around children, this fits the overgrown child persona of MJ as much as it does the eccentric jester Savile.

    For Gary Glitter – think this has been discussed elsewhere, but his creative input into his music was fairly small, and it’s a shame the people really responsible have had it tainted like this.

    I agree with tommy mack @8 that there is danger of sweeping this stuff under the carpet and not addressing the underlying issue – but for me this issue is that we allow celebrities a certain amount of leeway which means they are used to getting anything they want. For people with a motivation to do bad things anyway this is an absolute disaster, and we really need to stop putting artists on pedestals just because they create things we like.

    Regarding “cancel culture” then – for celebrities I agree that it quite often has very little effect in the final analysis. On the other hand members of the public who get caught up in feeding frenzies on Twitter quite often do not deserve the shocking treatment they get – Jon Ronson’s book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” is good on this and I really am not sure why it isn’t talked about more.

    Re #19 – agreed, I miss Crystal Castles too, Magic Spells was one of my favourite bits of music of the 2000s and now I can’t even bear to listen to it. But I can always listen to something else.

  43. 43
    Andrew on 7 Jan 2020 #

    I find the standards we apply to ‘cancellation’ fascinating.

    There is no clear difference between the severity of the Michael Jackson allegations and the severity of the R. Kelly allegations. Both are extremely serious, but different. The different genders, and races, of the alleged victims (and how both play into who as a culture we allow to see as victims). Michael Jackson’s alleged victims were younger, which one could argue makes the accusations against him more severe. However, R. Kelly’s alleged crimes involve aggravating violence, cult-like rules and effective kidnap/imprisonment.

    On culpability: both had troubled childhoods involving suffering different forms of abuse (parental violence for Jackson; sexual abuse for Kelly). This might partially explain but it cannot excuse what has been alleged. I have been a fan of MJ most of my life but that line “he was just a confused man-child” is pretty wretched as an argument, much as I understand exactly why many fans (or former fans) of the man and his work might have felt compelled by it, and invested in it – as a form of mitigation, distancing, denial.

    Both have been alleged to have manipulated their victims and tried to silence them. With money, with implicit and explicit threats. See Dan Reed’s Leaving Neverland, and Dream Hampton’s Surviving R. Kelly for details.

    Both produced output of musical genius at their peaks, and I honestly think for most music lovers when we feel an emotional loyalty to an artist (or to their work) a vast array of double-standards are applied, illogical conclusions arrived at and blind eyes turned.

    If Pol Pot had made Off the Wall, we’d still be listening.

  44. 44
    Tom Ewing on 7 Jan 2020 #

    We don’t demand logic, consistency, etc. when people’s emotional reaction to music is love or hatred – why should disgust at the musician require it? This is the point I’ve been making throughout, really – we should consider ‘cancellation’ as an individual, visceral reaction, like almost any reaction we have to music or musicians.

    Of course we can look at those reactions and see patterns in them – they aren’t entirely random, you can usually see a fluid kind of standard emerging in anyone’s responses. But this urge to try and codify it as if it was a watertight defense or prosecution standard… I’m fascinated by how the conversation always ends up going in that direction, really.

    This isn’t to say this thread hasn’t been interesting and full of good points, of course.

  45. 45
    Tommy Mack on 7 Jan 2020 #

    I think disgust is a big part of it. We’re appalled by Phil Spector, Joe Meek, John Lennon, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ian Curtis but we’re not disgusted. Abuse of children is abhorrent but furthermore is viscerally disgusting and we feel not just anger but revulsion towards the abusers.

    Obviously if their music means a lot to us, we either have to leave it behind or go through some sort of mental gymnastics (innocent until proven guilty, the art not the artist, hadn’t turned bad yet)

  46. 46
    Tommy Mack on 7 Jan 2020 #

    Although Chuck Berry was implicated in abuse of a minor so again, no particular logic.

  47. 47
    weej on 7 Jan 2020 #

    Tom @44 – yes, agreed about this, but the line between “I don’t like to listen to this”and “I am telling other people not to listen to this” is blurred when the music is used in a social or commercial context, and there are plenty of those contexts to be navigated. Two examples recently – a CD at a kids’ party with Rolf Harris (is it bad parenting to play this?) and the use of Rock & Roll Part 2 in the film Joker (will GG profit financially from this?) – I don’t know if I really have answers in either case, but they both go beyond the personal to our responsibility as a culture.

  48. 48
    Tommy Mack on 8 Jan 2020 #

    IIRC, Gary Glitter sold his publishing stake back to his record label so doesn’t receive any payment for the use of RnR pt 2 in Joker.

    Apparently, the new Glitter Band singer still uses the stage name and persona of Gary Glitter, saying ‘Gary Glitter is a character which shouldn’t be tainted by what Paul Gadd did’ which seems a bit of a stretch to say the least.

  49. 49
    Paulito on 8 Jan 2020 #

    @45 what appalling things is Ian Curtis supposed to have done?

  50. 50
    Lee Saunders on 8 Jan 2020 #

    A fantastic thread. I haven’t contributed until now as a concession to the realisation to what extent my personal ignoring or not of questionable artists is, as #5 put it, “inconsistent and self-serving”. I can easily, and very happily, ignore Kelly and Glitter, those who has mentioned used their celebrity and power to do evil things seemingly from the get-go. I don’t want to only listen to music by people who never put a foot wrong but for everyone else who is in either the hell or limbo of this topic, I’m either okay with some of them or with others more slightly uncomfortable listening, but listening anyway at a bit of a distance.

    I’ve always been fine with Meek, not least because I believe his last five minutes or so to be a man practically beyond the realms of depression and very clearly not the same Joe Meek that made a living making music (I also believe the murder was an accident, or at least want to believe it was).

    Morrissey is someone I feel more disappointed with than anything, that a seemingly well-read, clever man has turned out so dumb. I’ve had no interest in listening to him since the antics that pushed too far into the red for many (except Alsatian Cousin, where I focus on Vini and Street’s nervous noises and don’t really think about the man singing), but this isn’t a conscious shutting his music out of my life so much as a passive ‘yeah I’m not in the mood’. On a similar note, I’ve generally been fine with Spector, making his masterpieces decades before the murder, although learning of his frankly psychopathic treatment of Ronnie in the 70s has made me more weary. I am fine to listen to Born to Be with Your or All Things Must Pass, as he is not the artist, my head tells me, and maybe that’s what I feel I should go on. I don’t like to think I’d change my mind on that; even so, I can’t tell the future or how I could be feeling at another time.

    Michael is perhaps the trickiest one for me. I didn’t want to listen to him for ages, and I haven’t even seen the documentary. Then one day I stick on Dangerous and find myself drawn back into the paranoid dissonance that defines almost each corner of his 90s work. And then back to his music before the crimes allegedly began. I don’t want to believe he was evil, and it would be hard to shut him out of my life, but maybe I’d want to stop listening to him again if I do get round to seeing Leaving Neverland.

    And these days when I listen to Led Zep a voice in my head sometimes goes “but that’s Jimmy Page,” whose apparent dark side I admittedly know little about other than distressing passing comments from friends. Its maybe just as well that my two favourite Led Zep songs – the final two on their final album – don’t feature him much at all.

  51. 51
    Chelovek na lune on 8 Jan 2020 #

    This is a good thread, and it’s interesting that there is almost a clear consensus here.

    One thing that I think has changed incrementally in the last few decades (and which has surely been a factor in the kind of conservative backlash that has resulted), and at the risk of sounding like Peter Hitchens, a substantial breakdown in moral or societal norms, or even, in some circumstances, the sense that such a thing should exist – with the overt promotion of violence and extremely sexualised content (and often, associated misogyny) in a way becoming widespread in elements of popular culture that would have been unthinkable in the recent past (again, the internet has something to do with this, but so do other media) .

    I’m not sure this is the very best track to flesh out this discussion on (but couldn’t – from the top of my head – name a subsequent bunny that would suit it better) – but it seems illustrative that a path had been trod from a situation when, in 1988, NWA (I think it was Ice Cube specifically), who for all their image of toughness, etc, had certain limits to their behaviour, had sufficient self-awareness, on “Gangsta Gangsta” , to pose their listeners the question “do I look like a motherf–kin’ role model?”, to a situation, last year, where we had a top 20 hit called “Murder on My Mind”, performed by someone who was, at that very time, facing charges for murder….

  52. 52
    Tommy Mack on 8 Jan 2020 #

    Paulito @ 49: In her memoir, Touching From a Distance, Debbie Curtis details physical violence and lots of controlling behaviour. I think the real physical violence perhaps only started once he was in the throes of mental illness and extreme side-effects of his epilepsy medication but from what I recall, he was an abuser from the outset.

    And of course, there was the flirtation with the far-right though tbh, it was Barney Sumner who was the real Nazi fetishist in Joy Division.

  53. 53
    James BC on 8 Jan 2020 #

    Just getting away from the sex cult stuff for a minute, is this the first hip hop/rnb remix to hit number 1? Meaning the bewildering 00s concept of a remix that’s actually a completely different song with the same title. I’d be very interested if anyone could shed light on the origin of that.

    The apogee of the form for me is J-Lo’s Ain’t It Funny “remix”, which is a completely different song in a completely different style that includes not one single note or line from the original, and according to some accounts is largely sung by Ashanti and not J-Lo. Great stuff from Murder Inc, and it’s a shame none of their signature tracks seem to have quite made number 1.

  54. 54
    Andrew on 8 Jan 2020 #

    Bizarrely, Kelly actually wrote the ‘remix’ before writing the ‘original’: https://www.gq.com/story/r-kelly-confessions

  55. 55
    James BC on 8 Jan 2020 #

    That’s fascinating. The same article also suggests Kelly himself originated the remix-as-entirely-different-song concept, so if true, that answers that. Puff Daddy would possibly be the other claimant – he did call an album “We Invented The Remix” after all.

  56. 56
    Matthew on 8 Jan 2020 #

    Within the popsphere, the remix-as-a-completely-new-song should be credited to Mariah Carey.

    Check out the original version of Dreamlover and the Def Club house remix she created with David Morales back in 1993. Mariah continued with this formula for the lead singles of her next few albums (Fantasy in 1995, Honey in 1997 and Heartbreaker in 1999). This set the standard for people like JLo who was probably encouraged by the head of her record label, who just so happened to be Carey’s ex-husband who was trying to blackball Carey at the time.

  57. 57
    Andrew F on 9 Jan 2020 #

    #56 – I think I remember an interview with Alex Patterson out of the Orb (tho I can’t find it), who when asked on his extremely loose remixes, admitted that at least one of them was because he forgot he was due to do a remix, so just handed over a brand new track.

  58. 58
    rydeen on 9 Jan 2020 #

    #57 Aphex Twin apparently did the same thing with either The Lemonheads or Nine Inch Nails (iirc the remix in question is on 26 Mixes for Cash), though in his case there was an element of couldn’t be bothered to even listen to the original as much as just forgetting abt being on the hook for a remix.

    Given that multiple unconnected people were doing this throughout the nineties, it feels this was culturally just something in the air, bubbling away in the background until it broke through around this time.

  59. 59
    AMZ1981 on 9 Jan 2020 #

    I don’t have much to add to the main issue being discussed in this thread. I’m guilty of a double standard myself in that when I revisit the cheap 1970s compilations I cut my music nerd teeth on I skip over Gary Glitter but occasionally revisit Michael Jackson’s albums. Incidentally one name that hasn’t come up yet (apologies if it has) and who is actually trending on social media on the day of writing (due to a provocative tweet) is Boy George who was jailed for assault and kidnap of a male escort, an incident now almost completely forgotten.

    Anyway I had very little time for R Kelly but when Ignition hit big I liked it. 2003 was a year where the crossover number one single returned and this was a massive seller that expanded well beyond its core fanbase. It’s worth noting that he was an erratic hitmaker and this was his first non ballad top ten hit since Bump and Grind almost a decade before.

  60. 60
    Chelovek na lune on 9 Jan 2020 #

    The earliest unrecognisable remix I can think of in the pop realm was deeply uncool, not very good, and a commercial flop, c. 1990: Brother Beyond’s “The Girl I Used To Know”. Outwith dance-pop, Andy Weatherall had of course been engaged in radical remixery with the likes of Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and That Petrol Emotion. While the rebirth of “Looking Good Diving” as “Buffalo Stance” is not dissimilar.

    I await confirmation that the Brother Beyond remix was a key influence on “Ignition Remix”

  61. 61
    Mark M on 9 Jan 2020 #

    Re assorted: the Aphex stuff is creating something distinct and only passingly related but in a different genre – and he’s very much an outside force brought in for his lack of familiarity with the original. Mariah and her collaborators normally retained elements of the original song while shifting genre. With Loaded, Weatherall created a whole new song using chunks of the original.

    With J.Lo, though, you get the idea of her singles competing each other: although assembled from different roots, the results are fully constructed pop songs, rather than the remix being a deconstruction a la Mariah’s Heartbreaker. With the utterly unrelated Ain’t It Funnys, it’s pretty much A/B testing: which do you prefer – J.Lo as cod-flamenco romantic or, well, Jenny from the block? (Both, said the British public, as A got to 3 on the chart and B to 4).

    And then we’ve got skeazy RK writing two songs that are essentially in the same genre, although (Remix) is more of a party tune, so you’re taking out the market research element and having him competing against himself – just because he could?

  62. 62
    Steve Mannion on 10 Jan 2020 #

    A few times in the 90s you’d hear a particular mix of an RnB single in the Top 40 rundown and presume it was the ‘original’, often for years. When SWV’s first single ‘I’m So Into You’ charted all I remember ever hearing (in the chart show at least) was Allstar’s Drop mix rather than Teddy Riley’s ‘A side’ version. With other hits it was a lot more obvious when the remix was entirely responsible for the song’s resurgence or newfound impact e.g. Bobby Brown’s ‘Two Can Play That Game’. A less obvious case might be Tina Moore’s ‘Never Gonna Let You Go’ of which the Kelly G ‘Bump N’ Go’ mix retains all of the original’s vocals over a terrific 2 Step template. Unlike the original and other mixes this version only recently turned up on Spotify thanks to the fine work of popmusicactivism.com

  63. 63
    weej on 10 Jan 2020 #

    My main experience of Two Can Play That Game was VVM’s version “Two Can Play That Gammon” – still cannot hear the original without expecting the fuckedness to begin.

  64. 64
    Tommy Mack on 10 Jan 2020 #

    When did ‘remix’ start to mean the 2010s version with new verses by guest vocalists?

  65. 65
    Lee Saunders on 11 Jan 2020 #

    One of the strangest phenomena for me is where, in the 90s age of CD1/CD2 singles, the CD2 singles would in fact be led by a remix that sounds nothing like the original, with the original nowhere to be found. Poor unsuspecting passive fans hearing The Chemical Brothers’ Life Is Sweet or U2’s Last Night on Earth on the radio, for instance, and going out to innocently buy the CD2 singles would have been very puzzled.

  66. 66
    General Bounce on 11 Jan 2020 #

    I’m no fan of ‘cancel culture’ in the slightest but what I’ve always found difficult about R Kelly is that his more sexual records almost always seem to be rubbing the public’s nose in the fact he preyed on young girls. What else are we supposed to think about songs with titles like ‘I Think You Are Ready’ and ‘Home Alone’ given what we know about him now?

    ‘Ignition’ was always a sleazy song to me from day one given the fact its so obviously about sex and how much we knew about him back then so I’m more than happy for this to be cancelled.

  67. 67
    Coagulopath on 14 Jan 2020 #

    It makes me think of Michael Jackson.

    His songs are so huge and so much a part of our culture that it’s hard to comprehend that a *human* made “Billie Jean”. It’s like how you don’t realise that the MacDonalds arch was made by a graphics designer.

    These things just…exist. The way hydrogen atoms exist.

    This might be why people are disinterested in musicians being bad people – they’re hardly aware of musicians being people in the first place, because their art has dwarfed them into nonexistence. Roy Orbison is a massive, Caruso-like voice saying “pretty woman!” and nothing else. He doesn’t have a real life, and as soon as you turn off the radio, he stops existing.

    The internet may have changed things: once, all you knew of pop stars was how they looked on their CD covers and MTV videos. Now you can go on Instagram and see selfies of unshaven faces and unmade beds.

    It’s increasingly hard to forget that they’re people.

  68. 68
    phil6875 on 28 Mar 2020 #

    Has R. Kelly been found guilty of anything yet? Shouldn’t we wait until he has been?

  69. 69
    weej on 28 Mar 2020 #

    no, you can have opinions about people without them being convicted in a court of law.
    these things should not be confused.

  70. 70
    PHIL6875 on 3 Apr 2020 #

    But all the opinions are assuming he’s guilty, slightly unfair and definitely presumptuous.

  71. 71
    Andrew F on 3 Apr 2020 #

    “failing to observe the limits of what is permitted or appropriate” is an odd angle to take in defense of someone who fucked kids, though?

  72. 72
    Mark M on 18 Apr 2020 #

    Re 11 and assorted: On the subject of problematic figures who seemingly (stubbornly) aren’t fading into the shadows of history, it feels like Allen Ginsberg gets almost as much screen time as Mr Zimmerman in Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese*. Someone even chucklingly remembers Ginsberg chasing him around because (this is a paraphrase) ‘we all knew he liked pretty teenage boys’.

    Oh, Allen, you lovable old perv, you!

    I’m guessing the Bob & Marty line goes something like:
    1) He was both our hero and our chum, and we’re not letting 21st-century hang-ups mess with that.
    2) Anyway, the guy stood trial for the right to talk freely about who he was and was a pioneering figure in the gay rights movement, so shouldn’t that balance out his dodgier views (and probable actions?)

    That’s a no from me, at least.

    *The film itself? One strictly for the many Dylan superfans, I feel: it contains three terrific musical moments (only one Dylan-centred), but it’s really, really, really long and framed with utterly unfunny spoof history (woven confusingly into real history – to the point where I even started to wonder if all that Ginsberg footage was real or whether he been played by David Cross…)

  73. 73
    phil6875 on 19 Apr 2020 #

    If R Kelly is found innocent in a court of law will everyone retract their ‘opinions’?

  74. 74
    Andrew F on 20 Apr 2020 #

    “no, you can have opinions about people without them being convicted in a court of law.
    these things should not be confused.”

  75. 75
    Barry Kevin Matthews on 9 Apr 2021 #

    #20 pinkchampale
    It’s all very well going on about how catastrophic Corbyn was meant to have been, but your boy Starmer’s hardly pulling up any trees as Labour leader; but then again you can always flounce off and blame JC, when Sir Keir loses the Hartlepool by-election.

  76. 76
    Gareth Parker on 3 Jun 2021 #

    A slick and enjoyable single to my ears. 8/10.

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