“Is this camera on me?”
R. Kelly’s line, in the midst of his 80-minute interview with CBS’s Gayle King about his expenses of sexual abuse, was the opening lyric of one among the most weird and unhinged performances of the R&B singer’s profession.
He shrieked into the digicam: “You’re killing me, man!” He smacked his fist into his palm. He beat his chest. He paced and stabbed the air and appeared as if he would possibly lose bodily management. (Ms. King later mentioned that she didn’t fear that the singer would hurt her, however she thought that “I might get accidentally clobbered.”)
He stored on rambling at the same time as his handlers tried to appease him and reapplied his make-up, as if administering to a boxer between rounds.
The apparent query, after Mr. Kelly’s Tuesday meltdown replayed for days, lastly changing into a CBS prime time particular Friday night time, was: Why would he comply with this? How might he think about this would possibly presumably assist him?
But you may infer the motivation from that “Is this camera on me?” Whether consciously or by behavior, Mr. Kelly noticed the probability to show an interview right into a solo present.
Earlier this yr, the Lifetime docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly,” which laid out an intensive case that Mr. Kelly preyed upon girls and underage ladies, confirmed how he used the intimate funding of fandom to flee penalties. (Mr. Kelly has denied all sexual abuse allegations.)
There was an viewers on the market — followers who had heard his songs at weddings and graduations — and if he might summon up a barnburner of emotion, perhaps he might get the crowd on his aspect another time.
He believed he might flee.
But a network-TV interview whilst you’re dealing with felony expenses is just not the similar as performing a tribute ballad at Whitney Houston’s funeral. (Last month in Chicago Mr. Kelly was charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse; he has pleaded not guilty.)
The raging, self-pitying R. Kelly on this stage only recalled the threatening, controlling R. Kelly described in “Surviving,” which CBS’s special drew heavily on (including an interview with its producer Dream Hampton).
Mr. Kelly’s breakdown got most of the attention, but we shouldn’t overlook what Ms. King did. Rather than match his volume, she addressed Mr. Kelly, whose first name is Robert, calmly and firmly, the way you would a tantrum: “Robert. Robert.”
Just as important, she recognized that Mr. Kelly was trying to use the interview to claim a soapbox. “Robert, we have to have a conversation,” she said, as he continued to hold forth, looking past her into the lens. “I don’t want you just ranting at the camera.”
Her impassive body language said it all. She was not going to engage on his level; he would have to come to hers. She was not going to indulge another man talking over and around and to the side of her, trying to shout and aggress and ugly-cry his way out of trouble.
The editing of the segment underscored her point, cutting to a longer-range side view to deny Mr. Kelly the direct-to-camera soliloquy he was trying to have. The image of him, shot from a low angle, aggrieved and slashing the air, revealed Mr. Kelly’s desperate isolation like a portrait tableau.
Friday’s special didn’t reveal new moments from the interview as stunning as the ones already replayed all week. (In one new clip, Mr. Kelly explained his visit to McDonald’s after posting bail, offering perhaps the least-wanted endorsement in America: “When it comes to McDonald’s that M stands for Mom.”)
It also excerpted Ms. King’s earlier interview with two women, Azriel Clary and Joycelyn Savage, who denied that Mr. Kelly was keeping them captive in his home — though, as Ms. King noted, Mr. Kelly was present for the entire interview, coughing loudly and making his presence known.
Maybe more valuable, the special provided context for the viral clips: the history of the abuse and “sex cult” charges against Mr. Kelly; interviews with accusers and their family members; background from experts and the Chicago music journalist Jim DeRogatis, who pursued the case for two decades.
These sections, as “Surviving” did at greater length, got at the question of how an accused abuser could escape consequences for so long.
But you could also look to Mr. Kelly’s all-too-familiar responses in the interview. The multiple, detailed accusations, he said, were “rumor,” the women were “lying” and “scorned.” His fury may have been jaw-dropping — but all this had worked for him, and other men, before. Last fall, his future clouded by a sexual assault charge, Brett M. Kavanaugh roared his way onto the Supreme Court on national TV.
The face-off, between the wrathful Mr. Kelly and the stoic Ms. King was a clash of temperaments. But it was also a collision of eras: the moment of the reckoning coming face-to-face with decades of impunity. At one point, Mr. Kelly asked about his accusers, “Why now?”
“Because we’re in a different time where women are speaking out,” Ms. King said.
The times may have caught up with R. Kelly. Maybe his loss of control was a recognition of that. But at other times, he spoke like he believed he had history on his side. “I guarantee you,” he told Ms. King, “that I’m going to come out of this like I did before.”