Michael Jackson, R. Kelly docs made people stream their music more

Streams of Jackson have climbed 41% this year. But #MuteRKelly may be working, in a twisted sense: R. Kelly's are up only 13%.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
2 min read

James Safechuck holds rings he says Michael Jackson gave him in a pseudo wedding ceremony. 


Controversy was a streaming-music windfall this year for musicians at the center of documentaries about their alleged misconduct. 

Streams of Michael Jackson's music surged 41% in the first half of the year, according to a midyear music report from Nielsen. That coincides with the release of HBO's Leaving Neverland, a four-hour documentary with unflinching accounts from two men who allege Jackson sexually assaulted them as young boys for years. The doc debuted in January at the Sundance Film festival amid protests by the Jackson family and fans, and HBO televised it in March.

R. Kelly's streams also rose 13% compared with a year earlier. A Lifetime documentary in January, Surviving R. Kelly, surfaced new testimonials about his alleged predation of young black women. That increase is muted compared with Jackson's, but renewed attention to Kelly's alleged abuse has been heightened for more than a year. A #MuteRKelly campaign, aimed at encouraging people to protest his music and performances, arose last year, too. 

Meanwhile, Ja Rule, who backed the infamous influencer fiasco Fyre Festival, saw streams of his music climb 33% compared with a year earlier. Fyre Festival was the subject of two films on Netflix and Hulu in January. 

The stats put a streaming-era spin on a long-standing contradiction of documentary filmmaking or investigative journalism: the phenomenon that exposing allegations about famous names can inadvertently publicize the people to their benefit. 

In decades past, people who wanted to support -- or simply satisfy their curiosity about -- musicians at the center of a scandal would need to take out their wallet for a download, CD or record. But as streaming has come to dominate how people listen to tunes, music is more accessible to anyone newly curious about an artist embroiled in controversy.

Originally published June 27, 9:56 a.m. PT. 
Update, 2:01 p.m.: Adds context.