The story behind Lady Gaga and R Kelly's controversial collaboration Do What U Want

Pop singer has vowed to remove the song from streaming services, following the release of the documentary 'Surviving R Kelly'

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Thursday 10 January 2019 14:52
Lady Gaga and R Kelly perform 'Do What U Want' at the 2013 AMAs

Lady Gaga has issued an apology for collaborating on the song “Do What U Want” with controversial R&B singer R Kelly.

The pop singer and actor posted a statement on social media that said the allegations she had heard against Kelly were “absolutely horrifying and indefensible”.

“As a victim of sexual assault myself, I made both the song and video at a dark time in my life,“ she continued. ”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.”

She added: “I can’t go back, but I can go forward and continue to support women, men and people of all sexual identities, and of all races, who are victims of sexual assault. I have demonstrated my stance on this issue and others many times throughout my career. I share this not to make excuses for myself, but to explain. Til it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels. But I do know how I feel now.

“I intend to remove this song off of iTunes and other streaming platforms and will not be working with him [Kelly] again. I’m sorry, both for my poor judgement when I was young, and for not speaking out sooner.”

Gaga had previously defended her collaboration from critics who pointed that, even at the time, Kelly had been the subject of several allegations of sexual misconduct. In 2013, she claimed they had a “bond” formed over “very untrue things written about us”. Kelly has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct made against him.

“Do What U Want” was a sexually charged duet between the two that also addressed Gaga’s feelings about how she was portrayed in the media. Released in 2013 as the second single from Gaga's album ARTPOP, it debuted at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Kelly’s highest-ranking since his track “I’m a Flirt” peaked at number 12 in 2007. The song was promoted by both Gaga and Kelly in provocative live performances, including on SNL and the American Music Awards.

Gaga, who would have been around 27 when the song came out, ignored the controversy surrounding the collaboration at the time and went ahead with the live performances. However, she replaced Kelly with Christina Aguilera on a remixed version of the song in January 2014.

There was also supposed to release a video for the track. In 2014, Gaga blamed time constraints and “those who have betrayed me”) for why it never happened. However, there was also speculation that it was fear of controversy that prompted her team to pull the plug. A 30-second clip, leaked that year, was enough to explain why.

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Starring Gaga and Kelly, the “Do What U Want” video was directed by another controversial figure in the entertainment world: photographer Terry Richardson, who also shot the cover art for the single (a close-up of Gaga’s buttocks in a floral thong). The leaked footage showed Gaga under a white sheet on an operating table, having a sexually suggestive conversation with Kelly (dressed as a doctor) before appearing to go under anaesthetic.

Around the time the video was due to be released, Richardson was accused of sexual misconduct by several models. Richardson denied the allegations against him.

Kelly, meanwhile, was facing a backlash over an in-depth interview with veteran journalist Jim DeRogatis, who has been reporting on the allegations against him for almost two decades.

Three years after “Do What U Want” was released, DeRogatis published an investigation via Buzzfeed about allegations of a “sex cult” run by Kelly, which was alleged to involve a number of women kept as “pets” or “sex slaves” at various properties rented by the singer. Kelly denied the allegations.

Then, at the end of last year, the Surviving documentary was released, featuring interviews with figures in the music industry, people who knew or know Kelly, and a number of his alleged victims.

Following its release, producer Dream Hampton called out Gaga directly: “I want to know how [she] could be on SNL with him [Kelly] as someone who advocates for domestic abuse survivors and was, you know, had this ridiculous performance with him on SNL,” she said.

Survivng R Kelly: the docuseries - trailer

Hampton also revealed that Gaga had been invited to appear on the documentary, but reportedly declined. However, Gaga is now among the most high profile figures to speak out against Kelly, along with fellow musicians John Legend and Chance the Rapper.

According to sources cited in multiple publications, the DA in Fulton County, Georgia, has opened a new investigation into Kelly's abuse in response to the Surviving documentary.

Surviving R Kelly airs in the UK from 5 February on Crime + Investigations.

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