“Free Kells!” people shouted as R. Kelly was being released from jail Monday, three days after being charged with criminal sexual abuse.
Kelly stands accused of sexually abusing four individuals, three of whom were under the age of 17 at the time of the alleged crimes, which took place between 1998 and 2010. Prosecutors say Kelly’s youngest victim was 14 when the singer began sexually abusing her. The charges came on the heels of the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” which, over the course of six episodes, claimed to describe decades of sexual misconduct allegations, which Kelly denies.
But for a particular type of fan, Kelly and his reputation are being wrongfully dragged through the mud. One Facebook page, R. KELLY’S SINGLE LADIES, is an outpost for this intense devotion. With over 11,000 members, it appears to be among the larger R. Kelly fan groups on the site, and it provides a window into the emotions of people who stand by a celebrity, so to speak, even in the face of serious criminal accusations.
A group of mostly women post adoring messages about Kelly with emoji hearts and cartoons that say, “I love you.” Some have nicknames for the singer like “Boo Bae.” They share pictures and GIFs from the singer’s music videos and write comments like “He’s the King.”
“Bae has a sexy walk on him... welcome home,” one woman wrote underneath a photo of Kelly after he was released from prison. “That’s right Kellz keep smiling,” another wrote, on a picture from a trip he took to a Chicago McDonald’s shortly after.
A woman who said she was a friend of R. Kelly’s posted $100,000 for his bail, according to local reports.
Brittany Martin is an active member of the group and a self-described big R. Kelly fan. The Waterloo, Iowa, chef said she owns every R. Kelly album and listens to his music regularly.
“Whenever we have a gathering, Kelly is being played,” she said. “When I do have a wedding, ‘Marry Me’ is the song I plan to walk down the aisle to.”
She said she was not swayed by the charges levied against the singer in court, nor the accusations made against him in the Lifetime documentary that appeared to help kick-start the criminal case. In a phone interview, Martin said:
She echoed Kelly’s comments that the charges amount to a “lynching” and said she felt the same way about Bill Cosby, who was convicted last year in a sexual assault case.
She said there were conversations in the Facebook group about an effort to pay for Kelly’s bail, including a GoFundMe page that was later removed after it was found to be fraudulent, she said. GoFundMe did not respond to a request for comment.
“If he didn’t get out, he was going to get at least $1,000 from me,” Martin said.
William Lee, a reporter at the Chicago Tribune, said a court clerk told him calls had poured in from fans who wanted to help him post bail.
Support for celebrities who are accused of crimes and other types of wrongdoing is not new, according to James Houran, a psychologist who has studied celebrity culture. It has been a component of some of the major celebrity trials over the past couple of decades. Michael Jackson’s trial on charges of child molestation provided numerous examples of this, he said.
“It’s quite predictable,” said Houran, who works for AETHOS Consulting Group. “There are certain levels of celebrity worship, where people start to feel attached to celebrities — they feel so attached that their own personal identities start meshing with that of their favorite celebrity. So what that means is when something good or bad happens to their favorite celebrity they feel as if it happens to them.”
Houran said the phenomenon by which mass murderers receive love letters in jail is similar; through their media exposure, they become celebrities.
He said some surveys estimate that about a third of the general population engage in dysfunctional or nearly dysfunctional levels of celebrity worship.
“You’re talking to otherwise normal healthy people that for a variety of reasons have been pushed along this continuum and now are at a point where they are absorbed almost to the level of addiction and obsession,” he said. “The celebrity is helping to make this person’s identity whole.”
Valencia Patrice Love, the woman who reportedly posted Kelly’s bail, could not immediately be reached for comment. She told Fox 32 reporter Tia A. Ewing that she was Kelly’s friend and that the money she posted was not hers.
“He told me he was innocent, if he did it he is wrong,” she said, according to a transcript Ewing posted online. “I wasn’t there, you wasn’t there, give him the chance and allow him to prove his innocence. He’s not a monster."
A video showed R. Kelly being observed by fans as he ate at a McDonald’s. He acted surprised when one asked him why he was not wearing the blue jacket he had been seen in earlier in the day.
“I was sitting outside your studio!” the woman yelled at him.
“We watching every move man,” another said.
“I was in that Cherokee,” the first woman said. “I’ve been watching you all day.”