Jan 20

R. KELLY – “Ignition (Remix)”

Popular76 comments • 9,714 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. 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?

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 64
    Tommy Mack on 10 Jan 2020 #

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 68
    phil6875 on 28 Mar 2020 #

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

  9. 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.

  10. 70
    PHIL6875 on 3 Apr 2020 #

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

  11. 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?

  12. 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…)

  13. 73
    phil6875 on 19 Apr 2020 #

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

  14. 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.”

  15. 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.

  16. 76
    Gareth Parker on 3 Jun 2021 #

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

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