How Did R. Kelly Get Booked at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theatre? [UPDATE]
R. Kelly is scheduled to perform at the Hulu Theatre at New York City’s Madison Square Garden next month, according to the venue’s website, ticketing platforms, and Kelly’s RCA Records artist page. The little-noticed September 15 booking is, paradoxically, the embattled singer’s most high-profile gig in years. It comes amid ongoing public outcry over Kelly’s history of alleged sexual abuse and just weeks after the release of the bizarre, nine-minute track “I Admit,” in which Kelly maintains his innocence and discusses his own childhood history.
When reached for comment, a representative for MSG said, “MSG has a long history of not censoring performers. We believe artists have the right to rent our venues to put on their own event, and that the public then has the choice whether or not to support that event.” A representative for RCA Records did not respond to a request for comment; the label has historically avoided making any statement on the allegations.
The MSG show is one of just two currently scheduled performances for Kelly, whose viability as a touring artist has declined precipitously since last year’s Buzzfeed News exposé on his alleged predatory behavior and sexual abuse “cult.” That report helped reignite public interest in Kelly’s alleged misdeeds, spurring protests at concerts and prompting multiple cancelations. Kelly’s only other upcoming concert is scheduled for this Friday, August 17, at the Family Arena in Saint Charles, Missouri.
The Hulu Theatre booking is awkward for another reason: A Buzzfeed-led documentary project about Kelly’s alleged abuse is currently in development at Hulu. The streaming platform just purchased the theater naming rights in March. Hulu declined to comment on the matter.
While nowhere near the size of the attached arena, the 5,600-capacity Hulu Theatre at MSG shares its parent venue’s prestigious branding and prominent midtown Manhattan location. The Madison Square Garden Company also owns sports teams such as the New York Knicks and operates several notable venues nationwide, including Radio City Music Hall, the Chicago Theatre, and Inglewood, California’s the Forum. In a further bizarre twist, MSG chairman and CEO James Dolan last week debuted an original song expressing dismay that he was unware of alleged sexual abuse by his longtime friend Harvey Weinstein. (A lawsuit has alleged that Dolan was aware of Weinstein’s behavior.)
Tickets to R. Kelly’s Hulu Theatre show appear to have gone on sale three days ago, according to its Songkick listing. There doesn’t appear to be much promotion around the event, and judging by Ticketmaster’s seating chart, the sales reflect as much. Touring is a crucial revenue source for many artists and particularly so for a legacy act like Kelly, whose biggest hits are well behind him. It’s perhaps not shocking to see R. Kelly booked in a major tour market like New York City in 2018, but all things considered, it is pretty strange.
Update (6 p.m. August 13): A rep for MSG notes that James Dolan described his song as “really about friends versus a friend in particular,” and thus it cannot be regarded as solely about Harvey Weinstein.
Update 2 (5:30 p.m. August 14): A rep for MSG chairman James Dolan provided the following statement to Spin: “James Dolan abhors any type of promotion of abuse but he cannot allow his personal opinions to affect the right of an artist to perform in our public venues.”