Margaret Hair: Why R. Kelly is brilliant, Ch. 2

— When the first five episodes of "Trapped in the Closet" debuted in summer 2005, R. Kelly was the smartest man in pop music.

Of course, he didn't know that.

He genuinely believed that the now 22-part soapy hip-hopera - about a handful of characters who alternately have affairs, cheat on one another and get shot - was a triumph, fine musical storytelling at its best.

Forget that the series involved some of the funniest, most chauvinistic lines ever to grace R&B (a genre that is full of those). And forget that the plotline soon spun out of control to include midgets, love parallelograms, multiple guns including the singer's Beretta and an old lady with a spatula.

Especially, forget that the music in this tome - a combination of drum-roll fade-ins and a one-bar melody - doesn't make any attempt to go anywhere.

R. Kelly can sing, and he knows it. His subject matter is usually on the blunt side (as in "Ignition Remix," where "bounce" rhymes with "bounce"), but isn't confined to sex and drugs (as in "I Believe I Can Fly," or anything else from Kelly's forays into gospel).

What makes R. Kelly so unwittingly clever is that he can sing about anything.

The first time I stated this claim - that R. Kelly, whose morals are about as sterling as the sheets of metal they put behind McDonald's deep fryers, was a genius - the response wasn't exactly favorable.

Specifically, one of the people in Greensboro, N.C. who read that column in the News & Record told me I should go buy a copy of the Bible. At a Wal-Mart.

The point of that article was: if R. Kelly knew how completely ridiculous the song is, he would have beaten the payola music machine completely. If he had sat around with a storyboard with rejected notes on top reading, "5a. Chuck has affair with right-wing circus acrobat" - notes not used, say, because they weren't crazy enough - his musical satire would have completely trumped anything Randy Newman or Weird Al Yankovic ever thought of.

(Yankovic's parody of the epic, "Trapped in the Drive-Thru," incidentally, is not funny.)

Kelly's work could have been a musical distillation of a genre's flaws - a song version of what the "Scary Movie" franchise and all its offshoots have tried to do, except actually funny.

That point was shot when it became clear that R. Kelly thought "Trapped," which uses the word "closet" approximately 87 times in the first four minutes, was qualitatively good and not just devilishly witty.

But chapters 13 to 22 of the saga - which I listened to online after they were released Aug. 28 - have totally broken with whatever shred of reality R. Kelly held at the end of chapter 5. Beyond cheating midgets, R. Kelly is still playing a game he knows he's won.

You could chalk it up to sheer insanity. Or maybe, if you're cynical, to stupidity.

But you'd also probably fall over laughing if you saw the DVD. Or maybe even gossip about what this crazy man could possibly do next with the story, now an indecipherable collection of horribly offensive stereotypes.

R. Kelly's final joke on the music industry, on the public that abhors him yet still listens to his silky smooth voice, is that he doesn't care if anyone listens or not.

Community comments

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(Anonymous) fish says...

Can't agree with you enough. Where to they find the reporters they put in charge of this column? I guess that we will just have to wait until this reporter can get a better job and move away from her first paying gig.

Posted 7 September 2007, 8:01 a.m. Suggest removal

(Anonymous) id04sp says...

Everybody in Steamboat who has ever cared enough about R. Kelly to actually know the title of one of his songs, please raise your hand.

Let's go back to tattoos and Alison Plean. They were, as God is my witness, more interesting.

I think I need a shower.

Posted 7 September 2007, 7:14 a.m. Suggest removal

(Brent Boyer) bboyer says...

id04sp and fish:
I must disagree. While perhaps R. Kelly isn't of significant interest to all of our readers, Margaret's columns are dealing with arts and entertainment topics, which is exactly the direction 4 Points needs to take. I think it's safe to say Margaret's columns will continue to deal with arts and entertainment issues both national and local, with a strong tendency toward local.
Please feel free me to contact me with any questions, concerns or comments.

Brent Boyer
Editor, Steamboat Pilot & Today
(970) 871-4221

Posted 7 September 2007, 1:47 p.m. Suggest removal

(Anonymous) freshair says...

R Kelly has about as much interest to Steamboat residents as ice fishing to Hawaiians. Rule #1 for ANY enterprise, know your market.

Posted 7 September 2007, 4:16 p.m. Suggest removal

(Anonymous) JazzSlave says...

The dumbing down of the culture continues apace.

Posted 7 September 2007, 4:47 p.m. Suggest removal

(Anonymous) panky says...

True. It sounds more like an article for a high school newspaper or a sophomore journalism class and I would absolutely expect to see it in the "Local" alternative paper.

Reading the Pilot used to be a great place to learn about the opposing sides of local issues. Not so anymore. Too influenced and biased to be a true reporting.

The letters here are much more telling of the way people are thinking.

Except it's too bad people are so quick to smack down a person that has a different opinion.

Do you suppose that's why we don't use our names anymore?

I don't think free speech originally meant saying just anything you want but with a bag over your head to keep others from knowing who said something so ignorant or so brilliant.

If your name were printed next to your words would you say something different?

Posted 7 September 2007, 6:05 p.m. Suggest removal

(Anonymous) bcpow says...

I think Jo Ann Palmer should do the the 4 points write up. Her off the wall commentaries tend to be the only enjoyable articles in 12 minutes of sunday reading.

Posted 7 September 2007, 9:54 p.m. Suggest removal

(Matthew Stoddard) kielbasa says...

So far, I think Margaret is doing just fine. R.Kelly may not be the most relevant to Steamboat, but nobody mentioned anyone so far that is more relevant. I'm not ready to write her off yet. At least she is showing that she can write well, and also review something- not just a bar-napkin write up filled with inaccuracies such as in the past.

I miss Alison, but so far, I'm glad Margaret took over instead of Autumn coming back.

Posted 8 September 2007, 8:32 a.m. Suggest removal

(Anonymous) id04sp says...

I think the last "artist" who was genuinely reflective of Steamboat Springs was Bob Marley. The Ganja Man had a loyal following among potheads who were, apparently, not at all bothered by the fact that most of the music lacked anything except a distinctive and repeated and repeated and repeated rhythm. After a while, it got to be like the diesel trucks idling across the street at B&K.

We should have two theme songs: "We're In The Money" and "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime (for affordable housing)?"

I appreciate your direct response, Brent, and like the job you're doing. Just take a bit of advice from a person over 40 who actually pours more than minimum wage into the community, and realize that display ads flanking such out-of-scope drivel will likely be ignored by most of us.

WayDownSouth, uh, since when did a community swap sheet become a training ground for future Pulitzer Prize winners? Have you not noticed that the reporters sometimes struggle to follow even the rudimentary rules of grammar? Why expect me to appreciate 9th-grade level prose published in the Pilot?

Successful writers have something that the unsuccessful do not; an audience. There are probably millions of novels sitting around that would beat most of what's on the shelf at Off The Beaten Path if only the publishing world was not being run by accountants instead of savvy editors.

Most daily newspaper writing these days is about little more than filling up the back side of the page with the mattress ads. There was a time when journalists were expected to have a good general education so they could understand complex subjects. Now it's all about posing the dumbest questions that the least-informed person in our society might ask, and attempting to answer them without the writer confusing HIMSELF. One of my favorites was the "napalm train" controversy a few years ago that involved less than 2000 pounds of jellied gasoline. That's about 330 gallons. It turns out that the average tanker truck delivering gasoline is hauling 10,000 or more gallons of the stuff, and poses a far greater threat to the public than 2000 pounds of napalm sitting in a railroad tank car.

What's my point? My point is that a reporter who doesn't have a comprehensive general knowledge of the world around us is not equipped to ask the right questions to find out what's going on. Writing is the LEAST of a reporter's duty. Understanding is the key, and then communication comes in. Jimmy Olsen had Perry White to keep him straight, and Perry cared about being accurate. Maybe caring about accuracy was fiction, too.

If not for the defunct Dave Chappelle Show, I would not know who R. Kelly is. Thanks to the now defunct Dave Chappelle Show, I know that R. Kelly was arrested for some kind of lewd conduct that included urinating on a young girl.

Oh, that reminds me . . . gotta pick up a copy of the Sunday Pilot. We've got a new puppy.

Posted 8 September 2007, 8:47 p.m. Suggest removal

(Anonymous) WayDownSouth says...

I have tried not to post on this site because I think the comments are usually mean spirited, but I just can't hold back anymore. What a way to welcome someone new to our town - with snide comments. I think she has done a fantastic job. I routinely see people posting about how dumb the Pilot reporters are and how terrible the paper here is. These people get paid next to nothing so you can learn a little something extra about your town. I once lived next to one of the reporters and knew them well. I could tell they didn't feel appreciated by the community and they left. How about we just run all the reporters, service workers, those who volunteer for our schools, cops, firefighters, and auto mechanics out of here so every second homeowner can just bask in their self-righteousness. For a county of 20,000 people, I think we've got a pretty good core group of people here. If only we could make them feel welcome.

Posted 8 September 2007, 10:56 a.m. Suggest removal

(Anonymous) JazzSlave says...


There's a terrific locally-run store on Angler's Drive with an excellent selection of cheese to accompany that whine.

The Tazmanian Bleu is nothing short of spectacular. It goes quite nicely with scotch, if you're so inclined.

Posted 8 September 2007, 3:39 p.m. Suggest removal

(Matthew Stoddard) kielbasa says...

Does that cheese go with the whine the people complaining about Margaret are using? Did you offer it to them?

Posted 8 September 2007, 3:43 p.m. Suggest removal

(Anonymous) JazzSlave says...

Nope. Only to those who endorse Margaret's assessment of R. Kelly's intellect. But thanks for asking!

Posted 8 September 2007, 3:55 p.m. Suggest removal

(Matthew Stoddard) kielbasa says...

So who do you consider "relevant" for music in Steamboat? Did you offer to write a column about that person/group for the 4 Points? Remember: while Lawrence Welk was a wonderful band leader and Wynton Marsalis is a great trumpeteer, most of Steamboat has probably updated and broadened their tastes a bit.

Since you question her assessment of R.Kelly's intellect when it comes to his music, have you then listened to his music in order to offer a rebuttal? Looking forward to that article!

Posted 8 September 2007, 4:03 p.m. Suggest removal

(Anonymous) JazzSlave says...

I am not a columnist, nor do I play one on tv. Does one need to be credentialed in order to express an opinion, or to criticize the author of published material?

I was still on the air when I Believe I Can Fly was a hit, and did a telephone interview with Kelly at the time ('96 or '97, I think). I found him inarticulate and not very quick. Whether because he was having a bad day, or resented his label forcing him to talk to a jock he'd never heard of, or was on something, who knows.

Which is neither here nor there. Anyone who can write such a fawning mash note to R. Kelly based solely upon his patently sophomoric lyric writing is trying WAY too hard.

Posted 8 September 2007, 6:10 p.m. Suggest removal

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