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.


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  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

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