YouTube shuts R Kelly’s official channels


YouTube has shut down R Kelly’s official video channels on its website, the first big action taken to wipe his music off the internet after the R&B artist was last week convicted for sex trafficking and racketeering.

The RKellyTV and RKellyVevo channels have been closed, yielding an error page, and the artist will not be able to use or create additional channels. However, videos uploaded by YouTube users of Kelly’s songs will remain available, according to the Google-owned site.

YouTube, the world’s largest video site and a highly influential platform in the music industry, feared that Kelly’s actions could damage trust among the company’s users and creators, according to a spokesperson.

New York jury found Kelly guilty of sex trafficking and racketeering, including sexually exploiting children. He faces a minimum of 10 years in jail.

Kelly was one of the most commercially successful artists of the 1990s and 2000s, with hits such as “Ignition” and “I Believe I Can Fly”. He has sold more than 40m albums.

The 54-year-old’s guilty verdict is widely viewed as the most high-profile criminal conviction in modern music history, shedding an uncomfortable light on the practices of the industry, which had largely ignored lawsuits and accusations of abuse dating back to the 1990s. 

After Kelly was arrested for child pornography charges in 2003, Barry Weiss, chief executive of his label Jive from 1991 to 2011, told The New York Times: “For better for worse, he’s got to stay true to his audience. R Kelly’s got to be R Kelly.” 

Weiss last week told the Financial Times that when he made that comment, he had “no idea of the extent of the reprehensible behaviour that was going on”. 

Kelly had already been virtually disappeared from radio stations and dropped by Sony and Universal record labels, after BuzzFeed reported that he had held young women in a “cult-like” atmosphere. Kelly’s monthly listeners on the audio streaming service Spotify have halved from more than 8.3m in 2018 to 4.9m last week, according to Chartmetric data.

However, when asked by the FT last week about whether they would take any action to remove Kelly’s music, Amazon, Universal Music and Sony Music declined to comment, while Spotify and YouTube had not responded to requests for comment.

Spotify in 2018 briefly removed Kelly’s music from its powerful playlists, but reversed the policy only a few weeks later, stating at the time: “We don’t aim to play judge and jury.”