After months of stories about him running sex cults in Chicago and Atlanta, R Kelly has responded to the allegations in the most R Kelly way possible: by releasing a 19-minute ‘confessional’ track called I Admit. But how does it hold up against the current king of tone-deaf, shameless semi-fictional confessions: (If) I Did It by OJ Simpson?
There are a number of tried and tested ways for a celebrity to address allegations of wrong-doing. You’ll have seen many of them for yourself.
There’s the humble press conference on the driveway of the family home (usually when a politician has been caught having an affair with a stripper/constituent/undercover journalist).
There’s the exclusive weepy tell-all interview (usually just before a stint in rehab, when a celebrity has been collared getting stuck into the coke or driving on the lash).
Then there’s the grouchy full-on press assault (usually a Yewtree type, who comes out with his fists swinging, determined to defend his right to molest his co-workers).
But the most ambitious of all is the confession-as-art.
An extremely rare collectors’ item, the confession-as-art is created by only the most shameless and narcissistic of celebrities. Taking accusations of criminal activity (even stuff as heinous as murder and rape) and turning it into marketable product requires some almighty stones.
This week R Kelly added his name to that rather inglorious roster, with a 19 minute ‘song’ called I Admit – addressing the numerous allegations of sexual coercion and child abuse that have been circling him since 2000.
The previous high watermark of confession-as-art was OJ Simpson’s supposedly ‘fictional re-imagining’ of the night when his ex-wife and her acquaintance Ron Goldman were brutally slashed to death in her house while her children were asleep upstairs – the book (If) I Did It.
His acquittal in that court case was contentious enough without Simpson then deciding to take a million dollar advance from HarperCollins to write a book with the subheading “Confessions Of The Killer” – in which he details how he ‘hypothetically’ might have viciously murdered the two people that he got away with viciously murdering.
But which of them is worse? Not just in the moral sense, but in the why-the-fuck-does-they-even-exist artistic sense.
There’s only one way to find out…
Quickest To Brag
Celebrities don’t write these sorts of things in order to give a truly dispassionate account of the facts. They do so to push their own case. But which of the two gives up the pretence quickest, dropping any appearance that they’re attempting to sound balanced or contrite, and resorting instead to bragging about their career achievements?
In OJ Simpson’s 200-page book, he skips straight over the juicy murder talk to start reeling off facts about his football records and advertising contracts within the first 200 words. The top of page two. The book’s fourth paragraph. The very first confession of the killer? That, damn, he was a pretty good running back.
200 words is pretty quick out of the traps, but R Kelly doesn’t even manage to hold out that long. Three lines is all it takes for him. The first two lines look like he’s on the verge of a bit of reflection and introspection (“I admit I done made some mistakes / And I have some imperfect ways”) – but guess what those mistakes and imperfections were?
Helping too many people. He admits it. He helped too many people. Before admitting that, yeah, he’s fucked a bunch of his fans too. His bad.
R Kelly: 1
OJ Simpson: 0
Most Coherent Argument
R Kelly is not a man blessed with a sense of normalcy. It only takes the briefest of looks through his back catalogue to see that his relationship to the real world is a little shaky (demonstrated perfectly in the plot-line to his 33-part hip-hop soap opera Trapped In The Closet) but he does at least know how to be consistently weird.
I Admit is a torturous listen. It’s melodically meandering and self-indulgent and 19 minutes of just verse, chorus, verse, chorus which is crying out for a middle eight. But his talking points (however awful) do at least form a coherent defence. Basically: Yes, I’ve done some regrettable stuff, but I am not the criminal that people are making me out to be.
(If) I Did It, on the other hand, is an absolute mess of a thing. Simpson can’t seem to decide what he’s actually trying to do with any of it at all. The book is part memoir, part confession, part novel, part documentary – and it just makes him look like a mad, stupid liar.
Even if we buy into his whole premise (that the story is a fictional ‘imagining’ of the crime, mapping out the way he thinks it could potentially be possible that he had done it) he has still written it in a way where he is effectively trying to insist he doesn’t know anything about the crime, shortly after telling us how Ron’s blood felt soaking into his own shirt.
It’s a pretty amazing feat, trying to convince a reader that you didn’t do crime you’ve just described in extremely plausible detail – a dissonance that even a mind like R Kelly’s would have trouble rationalising.
R Kelly: 1
OJ Simpson: 1
Most Clanging Product Placement
Brands are often delighted to get name-checked in fiction and songs, as a positive celebrity endorsement will bring them some favourable free publicity. There are a couple of brands that will be wishing they hadn’t ever got tangled up with OJ and R though.
R Kelly’s roll-call of companies on I Admit is much his usual fare. He’s drinking Hennessy, he’s fooling around in the back of his Benz, he’s taking women up to his room at the Ritz. These brands have enough hip-hop cache that being singled out in an R Kelly song (even one about his litany of alleged sexual offences) isn’t going to do a huge amount of damage to their reputation.
Conversely, the car rental service Hertz comes in for a real beating in OJ’s book.
Arguably his third victim, OJ just can not stop himself from talking about Hertz, whenever or however he can. Whether he’s talking about the trip to Hawaii they took him on, the famous white Bronco that they gave him, or – especially in one memorable scene where he is being interrogated by the police – the ins and outs of his personal car insurance policy, Hertz appears in the book more than Robert Kardashian does.
(Which is to say, a lot.)
Whether this was a deliberate overture to Hertz to try to show that he was still capable of being a good brand ambassador – despite all that has happened – we may never know. It is fucking pitiful though.
R Kelly: 1
OJ Simpson: 2
Most Thinly-Veiled Grudge
You don’t end up the star of a court case in which you stand accused of brutally killing your ex-wife/pissing on a 14 year old without making a few enemies along the way.
Unsurprisingly, Kelly and Simpson both use their work to settle a few scores while they’re at it.
For OJ, it’s clear that the people he’s aching to take a swipe at are divorce lawyers. Even though they really have no bearing on the story at all, OJ clunkily pauses the only tense chapter in the book (the chapter in which he is en route to ‘hypothetically’ murder Nicole) to engage in a little dialogue with a fictional character ‘Charlie’ where he announces: “Fuck the lawyers! You know what divorce lawyers are? They are the scum of the earth. Preying on people at their weakest and most vulnerable. I know. I’ve given those scumbags a million dollars already!”
R Kelly’s beef, however, is much more personal. For while he rags on anonymous ‘people’ for ‘saying shit’ for much of the 19 minutes, in verse seven he takes aim at someone in particular.
“To Jim DeRogatis / whatever your name is“
Jim DeRogatis is a journalist, a former music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times (R’s hometown paper). DeRogatis has been the single most consistent reporter on R Kelly’s alleged sexual misconduct, ever since he was sent the infamous sex tape that had R Kelly up on child pornography charges in 2008 (a case that ended up being dismissed).
It marks a very definite change in R Kelly’s tone. For where he’s always talked about the ‘haters’ and the ‘negative people’, he is now trying to pick fights with individual people by name.
It’s cute that he’s pretending he doesn’t know who Jim DeRogatis is though. It’s probably only for rhyme. Which is fair enough. The form is the form. You can’t deny him that.
R Kelly: 2
OJ Simpson: 2
Most Baffling Line
OJ Simpson: “You don’t get mood swings like that from eating Wheaties!”
R Kelly: “What’s the definition of a cult? / What’s the definition of a sex slave? /
Go to the dictionary, look it up / Let me know, I’ll be here waiting”
R Kelly: 2.5
OJ Simpson: 2.5
It’s a tough run thing, but it looks like we aren’t going to be able to break the deadlock here. Both (If) I Did It and I Admit are equally fucking batshit – both as legal defences and as works of art.
If only we could get our hands on a copy of Louis CK’s torpedoed film I Love You, Daddy – then we might really have a fight on our hands…