Friday, September 7, 2007
Steamboat Springs 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.