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R. Kelly still popular on Spotify, TikTok despite verdict: 'Any publicity is good publicity'

On Monday, multiplatinum R&B artist R. Kelly was found guilty on all nine counts against him, including racketeering and eight violations of an anti-sex trafficking law known as the Mann Act.

The guilty verdict follows years of accusations of sexual assault dating back to the early 1990s. Lifetime's 2019 documentary "Surviving R. Kelly," coupled with the rise of the #MeToo movement, intensified calls for justice against the 54-year old singer.

Additionally, the #MuteRKelly campaign, first launched in 2017, called for the artist's songs to be removed on both radio and music apps. The campaign later led to multiple cancelled concert tours.

Yet a looming question is whether or not major music platforms will permanently remove Kelly's tracks. Data suggests that recent headlines have done little to thwart his broad streaming popularity, especially among younger listeners.

In May 2018, Spotify (SPOT) removed the artist from its curated playlists, but left his music available on the platform. At the time, Spotify said that it wants its "editorial decisions — what we choose to program — to reflect our values."

R. Kelly editorial playlist count (Source: Chartmetric)
R. Kelly editorial playlist count (Source: Chartmetric)

However, according to a recent report by music analytics platform Chartmetric, R. Kelly still appears on a significant number of Spotify editorial playlists (roughly 300) with a spike in adds happening around August 2020.

In addition to Spotify, Apple Music (AAPL) and Amazon Music (AMZN) have also seen playlist pops with spikes occurring in Spring 2021 and September 2020, respectively.

Overall, Charmetric said that "any kind of attention will always warrant a spike of short-term metrics across different platforms. In the long-term, if consumption really were affected by these unsavory news events, we'd see a drop in activity over time."

"Instead it seems the old industry adage 'any publicity is good publicity' holds up," the company added.

His tracks have also remained on the U.S. iTunes R&B/Soul chart since 2018. "I Believe I Can Fly" peaked at No. 6 in January 2019, following the release of "Surviving R. Kelly."

Since his September 27 conviction, R. Kelly's editorial playlists have remained relatively stagnant. Yet the event seemed to have reminded some Spotify users to add R. Kelly to their own personal playlists.

According to the data, 300 to 400 user-generated lists featuring the singer popped up between September 27 and September 29.

Meanwhile, Kelly's Spotify Popularity Index — a normalized metric the platform uses to curate playlists — has dropped from 77 to 69 (out of 100) since March 2018. However, that popularity level has remained roughly consistent since that time period.

For context, Kelly maintains a similar level of Spotify popularity with other big-name artists, including Will Smith (72), Zendaya (73), and Fifth Harmony (75).

Still, after August 2021, R. Kelly's unique monthly listener count slowly decreased by a few thousand per day, going from 5.2 million to the current count of 4.8 million.

R.Kelly's TikTok boom

Singer R. Kelly performs during the Red Light Concert series at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain, November 2, 2013. Picture taken November 2, 2013.   REUTERS/Andrea De Silva (TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
Singer R. Kelly performs during the Red Light Concert series at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain, November 2, 2013. Picture taken November 2, 2013. REUTERS/Andrea De Silva (TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

The artist's presence on social media sites — including Instagram (FB), TikTok and YouTube (GOOGL) — has seemed to increase over time, Chartmetric noted, with young females making up a significant portion of his audience.

And following Kelly's sex crime charges in July 2019, his YouTube channel views and subscriber levels soared. The singer also saw a big spike in Instagram followers in January 2019 following the release of "Surviving R. Kelly."

But TikTok might be the platform where the singer is most heavily featured.

Some of the biggest TikTok influencers, including Charli D'Amelio and Addison Rae, have continued to spotlight Kelly's music in their videos.

"I Believe I Can Fly," "I'm a Flirt," and "Ignition" are his most popular tracks on TikTok — with views of TikTok videos using his tracks outpacing those of Frank Ocean, and approaching J. Cole's.

Kelly, who now faces life in prison, is set to face sentencing on May 4.

Alexandra is a Producer & Entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193

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