‘Switched on Pop’ Podcast Host on Whether You Should Still Listen to Michael Jackson and R Kelly Songs

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Charlie Harding can still remember the moment R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” began to play at a wedding four years ago. The co-host of the music podcast “Switched on Pop” couldn’t believe it. He thought to himself, “Do we really want to have this person celebrated at this wonderful event?”

“It would no longer be culturally acceptable,” Harding, who with musicologist Nate Sloan has created the No. 1 music podcast on the Apple charts right now, said. “As a music critic, I was already aware of his history and made a choice of not participating with his music.”

In the last month, two documentaries about music icons have divided the nation and wedding dance floors: “Surviving R.Kelly,” the six-part investigation into the singer’s sexual abuse allegations and “Leaving Neverland,” about Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of minors. Harding believes music listeners must reckon with the fallout from these revelations about Jackson: “The reality is, even if we choose to not play his music, we can’t stop playing his influence.”

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So what can music fans do? Harding has analyzed the making and meaning of music on “Switched on Pop” since 2014. In the past, the podcast has used R. Kelly and Michael Jackson as examples of how current artists like Bruno Mars and Beyoncé have made hits.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Kelly and Jackson are good people, Harding told TheWrap during an interview from SXSW. While the art can be analyzed on its own, analyzing the artist with the art is a delicate, case-by-case process.

What responsibility do music fans have when deciding to listen to artists who have faced serious accusations of misconduct, like Michael Jackson and R. Kelly?

There’s a responsibility here for anyone who’s continuing the business of Michael Jackson by enriching his estate. It’s obviously complicated because Michael Jackson is one of the most influential musicians of the 21st century. We can’t hear Justin Timberlake or Bruno Mars or Beyoncé without hearing the influence of Michael Jackson. His sound and identity permeates our culture. It makes his history uncomfortable to deal with. That’s part of the reckoning that we have to do culturally. We live in a world in which there is great wrongdoing. There’s abuse. Just as much as we get to celebrate American exceptionalism, we have to accept all of the most difficult sides of our history.

There is a responsibility right now for radio to not harm living people who have been abused by Michael Jackson by continuing to play his music. A moment of silence feels appropriate. It’s not that hard to find other great music.

Also Read: R. Kelly Taken Back Into Custody Over Unpaid Child Support

How do you separate the art from the artist since your job is to analyze the song in front of you. If a song is clearly inspired by Michael Jackson or someone like Ryan Adams, what would be your approach?

I have a gut reaction to music that doesn’t deserve attention. The thing is, there are a lot of good songs in the world that are lyrically abhorrent. Music is one of the few places where you can say something in a microphone to everyone that you may not be able to anywhere else. I’m often looking to choose music that is interesting, so I know that’s sometimes going to overlap lyrically with music that I think is backwards. But you have to call that out and say these are the parts I find interesting and here are the parts I don’t find interesting.

It has to be case-by-case too. Take citing an influence to Ryan Adams compared to Michael Jackson. They are radically different in both what they did and their legacy. Also, one is deceased and one is not. For someone who was accused of being a serial abuser, we have a responsibility to not further enrich the person that can go on and harm other people. This addresses R.Kelly, whose allegations of abuse are undeniable. We don’t want to abet his crimes by enriching him.

Also Read: Ryan Adams’ UK and Ireland Tour Canceled After Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Why do you think people tell themselves that “insanity” drives genius, that the best of the best will almost always have something flawed about them? Is that a sound argument?

No. That’s an absurd argument that touches on the ongoing obsession with genius. That anybody who happens to do something wildly creative is somehow absolved from not only crimes but also a narcissist. It’s an old adage to say there is a “required suffering of the artist,” you have to put someone in a dark state in order for them to produce good works. That’s absurd. Take CEOs. We tell ourselves, “They are the only people with the innovative minds to lead a Fortune 500 company.” But we see again and again that we give space for these people to be put on a noncritical pedestal.

What makes “Switched On Pop” different from other music podcasts?

“Switched on Pop” is about the making and meaning of pop music. We often break down a particular song or album, even an individual artist in order to look at what musical insights it has that maybe you won’t see culturally.You have to listen very deeply and we take them along that journey to think about things like how the music and the lyrics of a song contradict. Sometimes you won’t be listening directly to the chorus and when you listen back, you notice the melody and rhythm is where you missed an essential component.

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What did you feel when you learned you were the No. 1 podcast on the Apple Charts?

I’m grateful to have this community of really thoughtful and critical listeners. There’s this joke that every podcast is just two dudes and a mic, and our show started that way because that I had this long-distance musical relationship with Nate Sloan. He’s a musicologist and we did it for fun. But when you’re covering popular music, you are looking at distillation of not only our American but global identity. So we wanted to make sure we would bring on people who knew more about certain genres and certain issues that we aren’t aware of.

Again, we started the project out of a genuine passion for the subject. Up to last fall, I didn’t know I would be doing this podcast full-time.

For me, being the No.1 podcast feels less like a personal accomplishment than a collective “‘I’m so glad there’s this place where a larger discourse about music can take place.” We are treating everyone to the height of their intelligence. Podcasting wants empathetic honesty. People can hear gamesmanship. We would have never found an audience.

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‘SNL’: Pete Davidson Booed for Comparing R Kelly, Catholic Church (Video)

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Pete Davidson stopped by the Weekend Update desk on “Saturday Night Live,” where he called R. Kelly a “monster” who “should go to jail forever”… and then compared the disgraced R&B singer to the Catholic Church.

Davidson was prepped to talk about listening to R. Kelly and Michael Jackson’s music despite numerous sexual assault accusations surrounding each of them, prefacing the bit about Kelly with, “Before I continue, this guy is a monster and he should go to jail forever.”

He continued: “But if you support the Catholic Church, isn’t that like the same thing as being an R. Kelly fan?”

The spattering of laughter was over overpowered by groans and boos, and Weekend Update co-anchor Colin Jost looked a tad uncomfortable as he glanced into the crowd.

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Davidson went on. “I don’t really see the difference… only one’s music is significantly better. Just the other day my mom was like, ‘I’m going to Mass.’ And I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to go listen to the “Ignition” remix.’

“Look, I’m not saying it’s an easy decision,” Davidson continued. “I’m just saying you don’t know how good someone’s music really is until you find out they’re a pedophile. You know? The reason everybody is so upset is R. Kelly and Michael Jackson made great music, you know. But if I found out Macklemore did some weird stuff, I’d be happy to free up some space on my iPhone.”

Davidson said if you want to listen to music by artists like R. Kelly, “you just have to admit that they’re bad people.” He added, “All I’m saying is pretending these people never existed is maybe not the solution.”

You can watch the whole segment in the clip above.

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‘SNL’: R Kelly Is Upset That Gayle King Asked Him Real Questions in Interview Parody (Video)

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This week’s “SNL” cold open skipped delving in to the political landscape, instead opting to parody R Kelly’s interview with Gayle King on CBS this week in which Kelly tried to salvage his image and really, uh, did not. Kelly was played by “SNL” regular Kenan Thompson, and Leslie Jones played King.

“I guess my first question for you, Robert is, why exactly are you doing this interview?,” Jones’ King said to open the interview after refusing R Kelly’s request to be called “victim.”

“Because people think I’m some kind of a monster. I’m here to remove all of that,” Kenan’s R Kelly said before referencing his own own song lyrics. “My lawyer was telling me no. But my ego, my ego was telling me yes.”

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Several times during the sketch he actually slipped into song, as he did during one point when he was discussing the Lifetime documentary series about him.

“Look, I made a lot of mistakes in my life. Maybe I can’t read or write or math. I’m still a person. I put on my pants one sleeve at a time just like everybody else,” Kelly declared.

“What about the Lifetime docuseries that interviewed numerous women, family members and your former tour manager, all saying the same things?” King asked. To which R Kelly replied in song.

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“It’s 10 o’clock in the morning. And I’m talking to Oprah’s friend. If I can just get through this, everybody’s gonna love me again.”

King tried to get him back on topic by reminding him that they were talking about the documentary series.

“Oh, right. These people made a six-part documentary about me. Six. That’s almost ten!” Kenan’s Kelly said. “And not one of them said a nice thing about me. They made it seem like I was the devil. I’m not the devil. And even if I was, you can’t think of one nice thing to say about the devil? I can. Nice horns. Gives good advice.”

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“So why do you think people are making these lies up about you?” King interjected.

“For money, obviously. I’m a very rich man. And people are always trying to take advantage of me.”

“Well, if you’re so rich, why did it take so long to pay $160,000 you owe back in child support?”

“Damn, that’s a good question,” Kelly said, in song again. “I wasn’t expecting that. Now I have to switch directions and get some sympathy back.

And then Kelly gave his answer: “Because I’m a very poor man.”

The sketch ended with a rare fourth-wall break on the “Live from New York” exclamation, with Kenan as R Kelly turning the wrong way and yelling it at the back wall of the set before Jones as King set him straight.

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“Morning Joe” co-host Willie Geist offered his effusive praise to CBS News’ Gayle King on Wednesday, telling the network’s late-night host Stephen Colbert that interview subjects like R. Kelly were why he carried around a “taser” before big sit-downs.

“All hail Gayle. Right?” Geist said. “Interviews like that are why I carry a small taser with me at all times. You sometimes gotta have to get up and neutralize the threat a little bit.”

Geist went on to say that the image of King sitting unaffected as Kelly stood and berated her was destined to become “iconic.”

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Geist was far from alone in his praise for King, who is in fact a network rival. Even over on Fox News, host Jesse Watters praised her performance despite confusing King with “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts. (He later apologized).

On Wednesday, King owned the news cycle both for conducting a highly-charged interview with the musician who is facing multiple charges of felony sexual abuse and for maintaining her composure during the most emotional moments.

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At one point, Kelly stood and berated King while she sat motionless. “Quit playin’. I didn’t do this stuff. This is not me,” Kelly said, staring directly into the camera. “I’m fighting for my f–ing life.”

On Twitter, many of King’s industry colleagues and other high profile influencers agree with Geist and Watters’ assessments

“There’s a lot going on in these R. Kelly clips. But one thing that jumps out is how direct, super clear and no frills these questions are by @GayleKing,” director Ava DuVernay said on Twitter. “She’s asking exactly what most of us would ask if we were in her seat. Crazy how refreshing it is. Speaks to how rare it is.”

“This is wild. @GayleKing is again teaching a master’s class in interviewing. She remains so calm and focused while @rkelly loses it,” added PBS White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.

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