Lady Gaga apologizes for collaborating with R. Kelly: 'I'm sorry, both for my poor judgment ... and for not speaking out sooner'

Lyndsey Parker

Lady Gaga has apologized for collaborating with R. Kelly in 2013 on the racy ARTPOP single “Do What U Want,” and has vowed to remove the track from iTunes and streaming services and to never work with Kelly again. “I’m sorry, both for my poor judgment when I was young, and for not speaking out sooner,” the pop star and A Star Is Born actress said in a long, emotional Twitter message Wednesday evening.

“I stand behind these women 1000%, believe them, know they are suffering and in pain, and feel strongly that their voices should be heard and taken seriously,” Gaga posted, referring to the many women who have spoken out in Lifetime’s unsettling new documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, which details years of sexual abuse allegations against the R&B artist.

“As a victim of sexual assault myself, I made both the song and the video at a dark time in my life, my intention was to create something extremely defiant and provocative because I was angry and still hadn’t processed the trauma that had occurred in my own life. The song is called ‘Do What U Want (With My Body),’ I think it’s clear how explicitly twisted my thinking was at the time,” Gaga explained.

“If I could go back and have a talk with my younger self I’d tell her to go through the therapy I have since then, so that I could understand the confused post-traumatic state that I was in — or if therapy was not available to me or anyone in my situation — to seek help, and speak as openly and honestly as possible about what we’ve been through.”

Lady Gaga and R. Kelly at the 2013 American Music Awards. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/AMA2013/WireImage)

At the time of ARTPOP’s release a little over five years ago, Gaga generated controversy with the album’s second single, “Do What U Want,” which she promoted via two risqué televised duets with Kelly. During the first performance, on Saturday Night Live, she straddled Kelly and lay on the stage floor while he did push-ups on top of her. The singers’ second, even more bizarre joint appearance, on the American Music Awards, was an Oval Office-themed skit for which Gaga and Kelly seemingly took on Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton roles.

Even more troubling was TMZ’s report that Gaga and Kelly had shot a music video for the song with problematic director Terry Richardson. Thirty seconds of leaked music video footage depicted Gaga as a helpless hospital patient and Kelly as a surgeon, with Kelly telling her, “I’m putting you under, and when you wake up, you’re going to be pregnant.”

Around that time, Gaga actually defended Kelly during a Japanese press conference, saying, “R. Kelly and I have sometimes very untrue things written about us, so in a way this was a bond between us. That we were able to say, the public, they can have our bodies, but they cannot have our mind or our heart. It was a really natural collaboration.” It was also around this time that the Village Voice ran a damning exposé, titled “Read the ‘Stomach-Churning’ Sexual Assault Accusations Against R. Kelly in Full,” which brought new and viral attention to Kelly’s long history of alleged abuse. Gaga seemingly distanced herself from Kelly, shelving the “Do What U Want” video and releasing a new version of the song featuring Christina Aguilera.

In the years since “Do What U Want,” Lady Gaga has become an outspoken advocate for sexual assault survivors. In 2014 she revealed that had been assaulted at age 19, and in 2015 she released the Oscar-nominated “Til It Happens to You” for The Hunting Ground, a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses. Gaga performed that song at the 2016 Academy Awards, introduced by Joe Biden and accompanied by 50 survivors who had words like “survivor” and “not your fault” scrawled across their bodies.

Pressure for Gaga to speak out about Kelly has been growing for years. In 2017, when journalist Jim DeRogatis was discussing his explosive Buzzfeed story about Kelly’s alleged sex cult, he expressed disappointment over Gaga’s duet with Kelly. He told Yahoo Entertainment: “Gaga is a brilliant woman. There may be an excuse for an 18-year-old girl from Florida or a 19-year-old girl from Georgia to not know the history of Robert Sylvester Kelly, but there’s no excuse for Gaga not to know. She has people around her who should have made her aware: ‘Are you sure you want to co-sign this artist and work with him, when he has hurt so many young women?’ But you know, she’s not alone. There’s dozens of artists who want to work with Kelly. And Jimmy Fallon’s happy to give him a hug.”

Earlier this week during a SiriusXM appearance, Surviving R. Kelly producer Dream Hampton said she wished she had been able to interview Gaga for the series. “I wanted to know how Lady Gaga could be on SNL with him as someone who advocates for domestic abuse survivors and, you know, had this ridiculous performance with him on SNL,” Hampton told SiriusXM’s Karen Hunter. (Surviving R. Kelly did include an interview with Chance the Rapper, who said it had been a “mistake” to collaborate with R. Kelly on 2015’s “Somewhere in Paradise.”) It is unclear if Hampton’s interview had any influence on the timing of Gaga’s statement.

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