A tale of two sell-outs

by Ryan Snyder

Generally, when two of the most heavily criticized performers of the last decade are booked to play in the same complex at the same time on a Sunday night of all nights, one logically doesn’t expect venue attendance records to be challenged. Yet, that’s precisely what happened when teen-pop princess Miley Cyrus and salacious R&B star R. Kelly took the stage at the Greensboro Coliseum and the Coliseum’s Special Events Center respectively. The 16-year-old Cyrus had taken heat after an ill-advised topless photo shoot for Vanity Fair last year was compounded by allegations that her performance at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards was far too provocative for her tweener audience. That didn’t stop an audience of 17,835, the 12 th -most attended show in Greensboro Coliseum history, from showing up to catch her Wonder World tour.

Regardless of how bawdy a pole-dancing teenager in four-inch vinyl shorts might be to some, condemnation of Cyrus’ perceived transgressions seems almost puritanical in comparison to charges levied in the past against walking sex scandal R. Kelly. First he married then-15year-old singer Aaliyah, followed by charges he filmed himself having sex with a 14-year-old years later and the following year he was again found with child porn while in Florida. Charges here were dropped due to lack of probable cause, proving himself far more fortunate than one Floridian in 2007, who landed on the sex offender registry simply after being found guilty of public urination.

Regardless of his public perception, a capacity audience at his Greensboro date made for a rare sell-out at the Special Events Center. The vastly African-American audience’s reception of the embattled singer’s performance proved the $50 and up ticket price worthy, as 4,157 fans dressed to the nines cheered loudly and con stantly for his opening nod to Kanye West with “Flashing Lights” and then hits like “F**kin’ You Tonight,” “Bump n’ Grind” and “Ignition Remix.” Kelly seemed to have moved on from the corny recitative phase that plagued both his hip-hopera Trapped in the Closet and the unintentionally hilarious YouTube exclusive “Real Talk,” though the unconventional style briefly showed itself while barking instructions at stagehands to remove a rug from the performance space.

“I done tripped over this shit like three got-damn times,” Kelly sung without breaking his musical stride. “Three got-damn times. Three got-damn times. Y’all laugh but this shit’ll be on the radio next week.”

Meanwhile, Cyrus played her decidedly Disneyfriendly hits to an arena full of make-up smeared 13-year-olds after a bus wreck took the life of the driver in her entourage’s convoy and injured a crewman. Conventional decorum dictates that shows are usually canceled on those occasions, but the fatality wasn’t high enough up the chain of command to call pause to a tour that’s practically minting its own coin. The tragedy didn’t go unacknowledged, however, with a stirring tribute that saw the family of Bill Douglas brought onstage.

As thousands of teenagers poured into the cold rain outside singing “When you’re 15/ somebody tells you they love you/ you’re gonna believe it,” the hard bass to Kelly’s “Feelin’ On Yo Booty” could subtly be felt by the lower-level doors. It was an unusual nexus point of two wildly divergent worlds that outsiders might not be meant to truly “get.” Each group possesses their own distinct profile willing to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear on whatever transgressions with which skeptics and critics may assail their musical idols. That, like R. Kelly himself might say to drive home a point in a fight with his lady, is real talk.

R&B standout R. Kelly spilled soul all over the crowd at theSpecial Events Center while Miley Cyrus was safely ensconced at thecoliseum. (photo by Kevin Sten)