If you haven’t been keeping up with pop culture lately – and of course you’re not doing that, you’re at a pop culture website – you’ve likely caught wind of the exciting news that R. Kelly has prepared another 18 chapters of his audiovisual saga Trapped in the Closet, to air on IFC tonight at 9 p.m. What began as a five-part song cycle on 2005’s TP3: Reloaded has gloriously branched into its own cottage industry, with nearly two dozen short films – and, if Kelly’s recent promises are to be believed, a possible Broadway adaptation – enthralling both Kells fans and ironic entertainment consumers.
It’s easy to giggle and fawn over the revelation of more Trapped in the Closet installments, particularly when it brings out crazy stories like video co-star Michael Kenneth Williams expounding on how insane R. Kelly’s offscreen persona might actually be. (This is, after all, an R&B star who apparently has a basketball court bedecked with a mural of a one-on-one shootout between himself and Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil.) But if you really think about it, Trapped may remain Kelly’s signature defining work – possibly more so than his most sensuous jams or inspirational ballads.
As you prep for the next batch of the series, here are five reasons Trapped deserves all its praise:
1. An insanely simple structure. A simple keyboard hook counterbalanced by a multitude of increasingly unsettling percussion (starting with timpani and samples of water dripping from a faucet and culminating with increasingly desperate crashes). Production-wise, these are all classic moves from the Kells playbook – but the fact that he turned these particular modulations into such a phenomenon is staggering, really.
2. That voice. Kelly’s lilting vocals sing variations on the same fistful of chords for four minutes, varying only in vocal intensity – a soulful run here, a sudden falsetto there. Take away all those theatrics, though, and you’ve got a pretty solid reminder that, personal foibles aside, the dude can really sing. I’d hear him croon the phone book – and based on how long the Trapped saga seems to be getting, it may yet come to that!
3. Too, too much of a good thing. Like an overstuffed Thanksgiving turkey, the Trapped narrative started out pretty ingeniously, but it only gets more gloriously overcomplicated from there. Over the first five chapters, Kells spins a striking narrative of a guy whose night of infidelity has bizarre consequences, including the ironic revelation that his wife, whom he attempted to keep in the dark about the whole affair, was sneaking around herself. The insanity of the situation actually culminates in man and wife literally laughing about the ridiculousness of it all in the sixth chapter; by chapter 12, the action has switched from first-person to third-person, a defecating midget is involved and the audience realizes the ladies our protagonist slept with in fact know each other. By Chapter 22, there’s pimps, ho’s, pastors and, it seems, more characters than War and Peace.
4. Even R. Kelly doesn’t know what’s going on, AND HE WROTE IT. “I don’t know how to explain how I wrote it,” he said in a 2007 interview. “It just keeps rhyming and rhyming…it’s an alien.”
5. The “Weird Al” parody. “Trapped in the Drive-Thru” hits all the same insane beats as the hip-hopera it pokes fun at. And yet, somehow, even Al can’t out-crazy R. Kelly.