R. Kelly on His Single Ladies Tour, Bedroom Ballads and the Future of Trapped

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Singer R. Kelly performs onstage at the 2011 Pre-Grammy Gala and Salute To Industry Icons Honoring David Geffen at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Feb. 12, 2011.

On Oct. 13, R&B singer R. Kelly played the first stop of the fall-winter “Single Ladies Tour” in support of his latest album, Write Me Back. The best-selling artist behind hits like “Bump n’ Grind” and “Ignition (Remix)”—also known for his well-publicized legal issues that resulted in a not-guilty verdict in 2008—says that he’s so excited to be back on tour that the days leading up to the first show have felt like a “count up” rather than a count down. TIME spoke to R. Kelly about why his tour is for single ladies, why he’s returning to more overtly sexual music and what he has in store for fans of his ongoing mini-opera Trapped in the Closet.

TIME: Which part of the tour are you most looking forward to?

R. Kelly: Just basically shocking people. I like to give people more than their money’s worth.

You mean with the production elements?

The production and the gimmicks. I don’t want to just go out and do song to song to song. I like to create things before the song actually kicks in, little things you do to excite the crowd.

How long did you spend prepping for the tour?

I’ve been working on this particular show for maybe four or five months.

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But you had some health problems that prevented you from touring for a while.

My last show that I did, about a year ago, I was on stage performing this song of mine, “When a Woman Loves,” and there’s this high note that you hit, and I was hitting that note every night, trying to get it right every night, because you can’t mess that note up or you’ll mess the whole show up. It took a lot out of me. I ended up in the hospital because of hitting that high note; something popped. I had a cyst on my tonsils and I couldn’t sing. I had to have an operation.

How’s your throat now?

I would say it’s 95%, honestly. But I feel real good. Nobody can tell me not to get on that stage.

So how did you come up with the name “Single Ladies” for the tour?

I had a number-one [urban radio airplay] song called “Feeling Single” off my new album, Write Me Back. I was trying to figure out what I was going to call the tour, and that song just popped in my head. Let’s call it “Single Ladies” and make a whole concept of it. I felt like all the single ladies are gonna come out and all the guys are gonna come where all the single ladies are.

What does it mean to “feel single”?

It’s sad sometimes. But at the same time it allows you to have a little freedom to do what you need to do as far as your work is concerned.

That sounds like a very different meaning of singledom than the one we get from someone like Beyoncé.

Being single has its ups and downs and being in a relationship has its ups and downs. It depends on how you balance it and how you handle your problems within your relationship. I’m hoping that this show brings the people that are together closer, because they’ll realize if they don’t they could mess around and be single. I’m also hoping that this particular show brings all the single ladies out in groups where they can meet some guys that are single and maybe I can bring some people together.

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Do you worry that men won’t show up?

Absolutely not. If I know men like I know men, they want to be where the single ladies are.

There’s also been talk of a “Shirts Off” tour from R&B supergroup TGT, which is also meant to attract female listeners. What do you think is behind the trend of music tours addressed specifically to women?

I’ve always had mostly women come out to see me perform. That’s the reason the guys show up; they know R. Kelly is going to draw the women. Most of the songs I’m singing are catering to women anyway.

Do you mean you cater to women with your lyrics, or do you think men and women have different musical tastes?

I think that men and women have the same taste when it comes to R. Kelly.

You just came out with an album very recently, but you’re already working on another. Will you perform any brand-new material on the tour?

I definitely will perform some surprise songs. I have a new song that I want to introduce to the audience—I can’t give you everything, but I got a new song.

You’ve said that the upcoming album will be less about romance and more about sex. What’s behind that decision?

I decided to go back and do an old-school R. Kelly album like 12 Play. That’s pretty much what it’s going to be, focusing on more of the bedroom ballads. I like to give people variety and I just gave them two years of romance albums and soul.

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So do you think romance and sex are totally separate?

Not very separate, but sex allows itself to have more freedom. Romance is when you’re in love, trying to be married, trying to have kids and raise a family and live together and grow old. But you can’t have one without the other; let’s say the truth there.

Then what’s the difference between sexual music and romantic music?

Romance is—take Jackie Wilson for example, I was just listening to him the other day, [sings] “To be loved…”—that makes you feel romantic. Music is very powerful and can make you feel whatever it is. If you listen to gospel you’re going to feel thankful and you’re going to want to call up people that you hate and tell them that you love them. When you listen to sexual music, it gets you in the mood. When you hear romantic music, it makes you want to take your girl out to dinner or buy her something or take her out in the moonlight or take her on a walk.

Which do you hope people want to do after they come see a concert from this tour?

I hope that they walk out feeling the music and want to go home and make love and get married—or stay married.

Are you working on another installment of Trapped In The Closet?

We just shot 20 chapters. They’ll be coming out the day after Thanksgiving. Trapped in the Closet is forever. I’ve got like a hundred chapters to come.


It’s forever.