To be fair, R. Kelly didn’t agree to a “10- to 15-minute” phone interview with a random midsize daily newspaper so that one of its reporters could badger him about long-ago allegations of sex crimes. (None of which led to convictions.)
No, the deal was we’d focus on his 2016 “Buffet Tour,” which swings through North Carolina next week, with stops at Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena on Thursday and Greensboro Coliseum on Friday.
But here’s the rub: Any responsible story about the R&B singer should include at least a mention of the infamous and widely reported 2002 charges that he engaged in videotaped sex acts with underage girls.
Any responsible interviewer, therefore, should at least ask a quasi-related question.
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Some make the argument that Kelly, 49, has tried hard to move beyond all this, so the rest of the world should give it a rest, too. I’d (try to) buy that.
And yet: In each of the first five concerts on his new tour, the “I Believe I Can Fly” singer has included a jaw-dropping bit of mid-show sketch “comedy” that at least seemed to reference the legal problems from his past.
Explains pop music/culture critic Jay Cridlin of the Tampa Bay Times, in his review of Kelly’s May 27 concert at Amalie Arena in Tampa:
“While pleading for a lady on ‘Honey Love,’ he howled: ‘All you have to be is 21, 21, 21 and older, and you can come home with me! You can play house with me! You can be the mother and I’ll be the daddy!’ It’s hard to imagine what he was going for here – laughs? winks? approval? – but it was a bafflingly inappropriate bit of banter. Not only did it fall flat live, it felt more uncomfortable the more you thought about it afterward.”
That makes it about the tour.
So this is exactly what I asked him, not quite nine minutes into our phone chat: “I also read in some early reviews of the show that there’s a moment when you kind of poke fun at the allegations from your past. I was wondering what kind of reaction has that gotten from fans, you know, and, um – ”
Kelly interrupts: “You gott – you gotta – you gotta pin – you gotta point what – to what you’re talking about. I don’t (a couple short words are unintelligible).”
Then, one second later, a publicity assistant who is on the line jumps in and says, curtly: “Next question, please.”
And that’s all he had to say about that.
Otherwise, though, he was affable and loquacious during our 12-minute chat.
On turning 50 next January: “I’m the Benjamin Button of 50. I’m not your average 50. I’m not your average guy at all, really, to tell you the truth. I know how to turn back the hands of time. I work out a lot. I’m in the best shape of my life. I feel good, and that’s the way it’s gonna be until it’s out of my hands.”
On the seven shows that had to be postponed due to “production issues” (three from April to June and four from May to September/October) – and what those issues were: “I’m such a perfectionist, and we rehearsed so hard, but I don’t care who you are, you’re not gonna be able to have a perfect show the first two, three nights. You gotta work out technical difficulties, kinks and things like that. Lighting cues, and spotlights (that are) supposed to go off at a certain time but don’t ... sometimes the dancers miss a few cues and things like that, and sometimes I even mess up my words and my lyrics and stuff.”
On getting the length of the concert to his liking: “I set out to make my show – as I always do – an hour (and) 45 (minutes) to an hour 55, and get out of there and be done. I don’t want to wear out my welcome, and I don’t want people to be sitting there falling asleep on me and being bored, talkin’ ’bout, ‘Man, I gotta get to my car. I gotta go!’ I don’t want nobody saying that.
“So the first night, actually, the show was almost three hours, and I couldn’t believe people were still sitting out there. I went backstage and asked my wardrobe (person), ‘How long have I been out on stage?’ She told me, ‘Almost three hours.’ And I had like 18 more songs to go! Eighteen more hits to go! But I had to cut it off. The next night it got shorter, and then the third night, in Chicago, I broke it all the way down to about 2 hours and 25 minutes. That’s the best I can do.”
If Kelly is looking for one other way to tighten up the production, I have a very simple suggestion – though if I make it, I suspect he might not be able to pinpoint exactly what I’m referring to ...
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, June 9.
Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, 333 E. Trade St.
Details: 800-745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com.