August 17, 2022

In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Sizzling 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my manner up into the current.

Yup. That’s proper. This fucking man once more. In quite a lot of methods, Robert Sylvester Kelly just isn’t a novel case. The historical past of the music enterprise is stuffed with crooks and scumbags and predators. There’s not one single particular person studying this column who isn’t a fan of no less than a few absolute human-disaster shitbags. However Kelly stays the ultimate boss of horrible individuals in pop music, the monster too radioactive to ever be redeemed.

The sheer documented quantity and severity of R. Kelly’s crimes are huge sufficient to provide anybody pause. In contemplating his case, you even have to think about the culpability of the varied handlers and yes-men and trade functionaries who saved his abuse manufacturing unit working for so long as it did. Kelly was in a position to preserve doing foul shit for many years as a result of he made cash for individuals. It’s no coincidence that his downfall arrived shortly after his work grew to become unprofitable.

That’s why this column sadly has to reckon with R. Kelly’s legacy a number of instances. The final time Kelly appeared on this column as lead artist, the track in query was “Bump N’ Grind,” the one the place Kelly got here straight out and informed us that his thoughts was telling him no however that his physique was telling him sure, that he didn’t see nothing improper with just a little bump ‘n’ grind. (Kelly additionally wrote “You Are Not Alone,” Michael Jackson’s closing #1 hit, which is a complete different bag of snakes.)

When Kelly landed his first chart-topper in 1994, he was nonetheless one thing of an unknown amount. I’m certain loads of individuals knew in regards to the sorts of issues that he was doing with underage women, however that hadn’t turn into something like public information but. By 1998, issues had been totally different. Kelly had already illegally married his protege Aaliyah when she was 15 years previous, and Vibe had already printed the wedding certificates. (Aaliyah will ultimately seem on this column.) That ought to’ve been sufficient to make Kelly a pariah. It wasn’t. As a substitute, Kelly landed his second #1 hit years later, teaming up with the world’s hottest adult-contempo balladeer to sing a pretend gospel track about being your angel. Someway, that strikes me as being even grosser than “Bump N’ Grind.”

“I’m Your Angel” was a calculated transfer on each degree. R. Kelly’s 1993 solo debut 12 Play, the album that gave the world “Bump N’ Grind,” went sextuple platinum and turned him right into a star. He adopted that one together with his self-titled 1995 album, which bought one other 5 million copies and despatched three extra singles into the highest 10. (I’m going to interrupt column protocol right here. I’m not going to fee the R. Kelly songs that didn’t attain #1. That’s pure cowardice on my half. I might moderately chew damaged glass than rethink my emotions about “Ignition (Remix).”)

A yr after that self-titled album, Kelly broke by way of otherwise. That’s when he recorded the massive, orchestral gospel-style ballad “I Consider I Can Fly” for the Area Jam soundtrack. With that success, Kelly realized that the world didn’t simply need to hear him singing about intercourse, that he might additionally strike gold with motivational-speaker balladry. “I Consider I Can Fly” reached #2, and Kelly intermittently chased that top time and again through the years, with singles like “I Want,” a #14 hit in 2000, or “The World’s Biggest,” which acquired to #34 in 2002. “I’m Your Angel” was very a lot in that mildew.

Kelly adopted “I Consider I Can Fly” and “Gotham Metropolis,” his #9 hit from the Batman & Robin soundtrack, with the countless double album R, which he launched in November of 1998. Kelly spent most of R in playboy mode, collaborating with rappers and concentrating on broadcasting his personal swagger. I’m fairly certain the posse minimize “We Journey” was Kelly’s first time working with Jay-Z; they’d later make two collaborative albums collectively. (Jay will ultimately seem on this column.) “Dwelling Alone,” the primary single from R, was a straight-up celebration track that Kelly recorded with Keith Murray, a rapper who spent your entire ’90s on the verge of a mainstream breakthrough that by no means fairly got here. (“Dwelling Alone” peaked at #65.)

Within the context of R, “I’m Your Angel” stands as a baldfaced seize at pop-radio success. The idea of promoting out doesn’t actually apply to longstanding pop-chart presences like R. Kelly, however “I’m Your Angel” was nonetheless fairly clearly a sellout transfer, a unadorned bid for an viewers from far exterior Kelly’s base. In his attain for pop-chart influence, Kelly pulled all the obvious strikes doable. He copied the gospel-jacking sound and construction that he’d already used on “I Consider I Can Fly.” He sang about angels, which had been weirdly common proper round that point. (The puffily pious CBS smash Touched By An Angel, then in its fourth season, went into syndication in 1998; it was one of many prime 10 exhibits on TV on the time.) And Kelly additionally labored with Céline Dion, the plain selection for anybody making an adult-contempo ballad in 1998.

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Earlier in 1998, Céline Dion had dominated the Sizzling 100 with “My Coronary heart Will Go On,” the blockbuster wailer from Titanic. That yr, James Horner’s largely instrumental Titanic soundtrack was the yr’s biggest-selling album, and Céline Dion’s personal Let’s Speak About Love wasn’t far behind. Let’s Speak About Love bought eight million copies within the US alone in its first yr; the LP later went diamond. On the identical time, Céline fairly clearly needed to push herself stylistically. Let’s Speak About Love had collaborations with elder pop gods like Barbra Streisand and the Bee Gees, and it additionally had awkward-ass experiments within the realms of opera, reggae, and, sure, R&B. Kelly should’ve seen a gap.

Across the time that “I’m Your Angel” got here out, Céline informed Billboard, “I’m recognized for all of these ballads and holding a word eternally. Perhaps that’s my trademark. However R. Kelly created this track and despatched it to us, and I assumed it was candy. The sentiments had been there with out having to be dramatic. Listening to one thing totally different was very enticing to me; I like new moments… It’s an incredible track and really refreshing in that it’s not what individuals anticipate from me.”

Céline should’ve actually felt artistically hemmed in if she heard “I”m Your Angel” as being by some means totally different from her common ballads. Perhaps the track doesn’t chase the very same sort of orchestral bombast as “My Coronary heart Will Go On” or “As a result of You Beloved Me.” If something, although, Kelly’s track is extra puffed-up and sickly-sweet than any of Céline’s previous chart-toppers. It’s possibly barely extra rhythmic than her different massive hits, and it’d require her to sing just a little extra delicately, no less than at first. However the track trudges off in direction of the identical massive key-changes and dramatic gestures, and it’s simply as depending on watery strings and drowning-in-cheese piano sounds. It additionally requires Céline to carry a word eternally.

Kelly wrote and produced “I’m Your Angel,” and he went as much as Montreal to document it with Céline. He was fairly clearly simply recording a Céline Dion track for Céline Dion followers who additionally occurred to love “I Consider I Can Fly.” Kelly and Céline flex their technical ability throughout “I’m Your Angel,” and after they harmonize, it actually highlights how related their wobbly, melisma-drunk deliveries might be. “I’m Your Angel” didn’t actually require these two singers to depart their respective consolation zones, and that in all probability had loads to do with its success. Perhaps Kelly would’ve moderately been singing about fucking and/or partying, however he might knock out this type of vaguely outlined quasi-gospel in his sleep.

On paper, “I’m Your Angel” is a track about supporting another person by way of onerous instances, sticking with them it doesn’t matter what. Theoretically, that’s fertile floor for a pop ballad; it’s what Invoice Withers was singing about when he made “Lean On Me.” However R. Kelly, you may’ve observed, just isn’t Invoice Withers. On “I’m Your Angel,” Kelly and Céline pledge to assist the generic “you” of the title in ways in which sound oddly self-aggrandizing: “I’ll be your cloud up within the sky/ I’ll be your shoulder while you cry/ I’ll hear your voices while you name me/ I’m your angel.” There’s a fantastic line between singing about serving to another person and simply singing about how nice you’re. “I’m Your Angel” crosses that line. It’s unattainable for me to guage “I’m Your Angel” as a pure inventive work, to detach it from what I learn about R. Kelly. The place Céline as soon as heard sweetness, I hear a creep attempting to achieve emotional leverage.

Even with out the load of that information, “I’m Your Angel” would nonetheless be a really unhealthy track. “I’m Your Angel” commits all of the aesthetic sins of your basic Hallmark dirge. It’s an countless somnambulant trudge that’s no less than two minutes too lengthy. It hits all its anticipated marks with out bringing any sense of life or playfulness or inventiveness to them. It’s boring. As a listener, I’ve at all times been allergic to one of these ballad. One in all my massive tasks in scripting this column has been to let go of these preferences and to aim to grasp what so many individuals love about this type of track. I’m not at all times profitable at getting inside this stuff, however I at all times attempt. I’m not keen to increase that good religion to “I’m Your Angel.” I in all probability wouldn’t be keen to increase it that good religion even when R. Kelly wasn’t a convicted intercourse felony. The track simply sucks too unhealthy.

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“I’m Your Angel” was a cross-quadrant smash, a #1 hit on the Grownup Modern chart that additionally went top-10 R&B. The one bought one million copies. “I’m Your Angel” occurred to be the primary #1 hit of a brand new period within the Billboard Sizzling 100. The week that the track hit #1 was the primary week that Billboard determined that singles that weren’t launched commercially might chart on the Sizzling 100. The journal additionally reconsidered the best way it handled radio songs, utilizing information from radio stations that didn’t match the pre-approved top-40 codecs. The week these modifications went into impact, “I’m Your Angel” debuted at #1. It in all probability would’ve been a #1 hit even with out these rule modifications, however the rule modifications certain didn’t harm it. Songs like “I’m Your Angel” had been created particularly to prime the Sizzling 100, and this one did its job.

“I’m Your Angel” was the one top-10 pop hit from Kelly’s R album, and it presumably helped that album, which didn’t actually have another songs like “I’m Your Angel” except you rely “I Consider I Can Fly” being tacked onto the top of the album, go platinum eight instances over. (Meaning the album shipped 4 million copies within the US; because it was a double album, these gross sales counted twice over towards its certification.) Céline Dion additionally included “I’m Your Angel” on These Are Particular Instances, her first English-language Christmas album, which she launched two weeks earlier than Kelly launched R. These Are Particular Instances ultimately went quintuple platinum. In 2019, after the allegations towards Kelly piled up excessive sufficient, Céline eliminated “I’m Your Angel” from the streaming model of These Are Particular Instances and from the varied compilations that had included it. “I’m Your Angel” remains to be on streaming companies, although, since Kelly’s personal information all stay up there.

“I’m Your Angel” turned out to be the final #1 hit for each R. Kelly and Céline Dion. (Kelly will sadly seem on this column once more as a songwriter.) Kelly saved making hits for years afterwards. In 2001, he acquired to #6 with “Fiesta,” his collaboration with Jay-Z and with Boo & Gotti, the Chicago duo he’d signed to his Interscope imprint Rockland Information. In 2002, on the identical day that Kelly carried out on the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics, a information story broke. On a video that may be broadly bootlegged, Kelly had intercourse with an underage woman. He additionally pissed on her, and the pissing, not the statutory rape, grew to become the main target of manner too many R. Kelly jokes within the years that adopted. (A track with an R. Kelly piss joke will ultimately seem on this column.)

Kelly insisted that the person within the video wasn’t him, and his attorneys even argued that it was a CGI deep-fake, a use of the sort of know-how that allowed Shawn Wayans to seem like a child within the film Little Man. This absurd protection labored. Due to that tape, Kelly was indicted on 14 counts of kid pornography, however a Chicago jury discovered him not responsible in 2008.

After that tape got here out, a complete lot of individuals thought R. Kelly’s profession was over. They had been improper. Kelly barely suffered any industrial setbacks. His 2003 album Chocolate Manufacturing unit had two top-10 hits, the #2 hit “Ignition (Remix)” and “Step In The Identify Of Love (Remix),” which peaked at #9. Within the years after that, Kelly made granular, particular intercourse songs like “Intercourse In The Kitchen” and absurdist story-songs like his complete “Trapped In The Closet” sequence, and critics applauded his freakiness. I used to be a kind of critics. I used to be improper. I’m sorry. On the time, individuals made jokes about how Kelly’s music was so good that it made individuals overlook all in regards to the tape. A number of that music was actually good. It shouldn’t have mattered.

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Kelly by no means made a top-10 hit as lead artist after “Step In The Identify Of Love (Remix),” however he sang hooks on massive hits from rappers like Cassidy and Ja Rule. His profession additionally took another bizarre turns. He briefly performed minor-league professional basketball. He went off on a co-headlining tour with Jay-Z, and it ended when somebody from Jay’s camp, offended at Kelly displaying up late or no-showing too many dates, maced Kelly in a Madison Sq. Backyard backstage hallway. A good friend of mine, a movie critic, as soon as spent a day interviewing Kelly about his “Trapped In The Closet” movies on the Unbiased Movie Channel. In 2013, Kelly headlined the Pitchfork Music Competition and performed Bonnaroo, and he additionally got here out at Coachella as a shock visitor of headliners Phoenix.

Then extra expenses got here out. The tireless Chicago journalist Jim DeRogatis, who’d damaged the information in regards to the tape in 2002, wrote a 2017 Buzzfeed Information story about how Kelly was principally imprisoning a complete group of younger girls, holding them in a sort of intercourse cult. These allegations grew to become louder and extra quite a few, however Kelly nonetheless had trade assist. One instance: In 2018, when Spotify introduced that they might cease utilizing songs from Kelly and XXXTentacion, one other abusive determine who will ultimately seem on this column, in promoted playlists, Kendrick Lamar threatened to take away all of his music from the service. (Kendrick will ultimately seem on this column, too.) That assist step by step evaporated, funnily sufficient, after a few Kelly’s albums bricked. BET aired the Surviving R. Kelly documentary in 2019, and that’s when loads of Kelly’s previous collaborators, together with Céline Dion, disavowed him.

In 2019, state and federal authorities hit R. Kelly with a complete host of expenses, and Kelly was lastly discovered responsible of 9 counts of racketeering and Mann Act violations final September. Proper now, he’s in jail awaiting sentencing, and that sentencing is scheduled for subsequent week.

It feels just a little bizarre to speak about the remainder of Céline Dion’s profession in spite of everything that, however that’s how this column works. A yr after “I’m Your Angel,” Céline launched a greatest-hits album, and that assortment included “That’s The Method It Is,” a single that Céline recorded with ascendant pop-chart titan Max Martin and his complete Cheiron Studios crew. “That’s They Method It Is” peaked at #6 and have become Céline’s final top-10 pop hit. (It’s an 8.) After that, Céline grew to become a mother and took a number of years off recording. In 2003, she started the primary of many Las Vegas residencies, and he or she’s turn into an important a part of that metropolis’s complete leisure panorama, a new-century Tom Jones or Wayne Newton.

In 2016, when her twin sons had been six, Céline Dion’s husband and longtime supervisor René Angélil died of throat most cancers on the age of 73. One in all Céline’s brothers died two days later. If Céline had gone into complete seclusion after that devastating one-two punch, the world would’ve understood. As a substitute, she’s saved working. Céline hasn’t dented the Sizzling 100 since 2008, when “The Prayer,” her dwell TV-special duet with Josh Groban, peaked at #70. The album charts are a unique story. Céline’s most up-to-date LP, 2019’s Braveness, debuted at #1.

Today, Céline Dion’s complete kooky presence is oddly reassuring. In one thing like “Ashes,” her contribution to the movie Deadpool 2, she’s successfully mocked her personal soundtrack-queen picture. I as soon as considered Céline Dion as an evil pop-chart overlord, however time has revealed her to be one thing else. She’s a enjoyable, bizarre, good woman who made some very profitable, very boring music. That’s not evil. Evil is one thing else.

GRADE: 1/10

BONUS BEATS: This one’s powerful. “I’m Your Angel” may’ve been an enormous hit, but it surely has by no means, ever been cool to cowl or pattern the track or to make use of it in a film. For years, that was in all probability due to Céline Dion, not R. Kelly. Across the time individuals began waking as much as the concept Céline is admittedly fairly cool, everybody additionally got here to grasp that Kelly is an absolute fucking monster. The very best I can do for an “I’m Your Angel” bonus beat is a cheesed-out 1999 eight-minute Euro-house cowl from somebody known as Rochelle. Right here’s that:

The Quantity Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The Historical past Of Pop Music is out 11/15 by way of Hachette Books. You may pre-order it right here.