"I don't have a job, so I just sit in the studio and think of stupid stuff to do," says the R&B star at the NYC "Trapped" premiere.
"'Trapped in the Closet' is an alien, and I'm happy to be one of the astronauts."
R. Kelly looks anxious. The latest installments of his "Trapped in the Closet" saga, an unprecedented "hip-hopera" which began in 2005 and has laid dormant for over five years, are about to be shown to a packed movie theater at Landmark Sunshine Cinema in Manhattan. On Monday night (Nov. 19), the R&B star debuted "The Next Installment" of the series at a glamorous event that played out like any film premiere -- except that fans and journalists took photos with Rosie The Nosy Neighbor (La Donna Tittle) and sang along to "I'm a Flirt (Remix)" while waiting for the lights to dim.
Kelly is a multi-platinum star with a dozen hit albums and a secure musical legacy, but as he introduces the next chapters of "Closet" -- perhaps his boldest, and certainly his looniest, long-form artistic idea -- to the theater and thanks the other "astronauts" that joined him on his journey, the 45-year-old looks like he has the butterflies of a newcomer.
"I am so nervous, but so excited to show you this," said Kelly, in the same manner that a middle schooler might use to show his parents a bizarre science project. "Five long years, man. I had to save my money -- a dollar a day."
The latest chapters of "Trapped in the Closet," which will debut on IFC this Friday night (Nov. 23), will not be spoiled here. But suffice it to say, Kelly has done it again. The singer has pushed his saga into new territory that is at once hilarious, bizarre and provocative, with new characters added into the mix (Kelly, who already juggled five roles, scoops up two more); more knowing winks that underline the campiness of the concept (there are now character confessionals woven into the drama); and most importantly, a more free-flowing structure that allows for more musical ideas than just the one "song" of the "Trapped" series. During a climactic chase scene, the backing track is rearranged into a soul groove that recalls the "Shaft" theme. During the aforementioned confessionals, Kelly contributes a rock instrumental that one audience member swore was a Hoobastank song. Some of the new ideas work, and some don't. But they all exist within the fractured world that Kelly has lovingly dreamt up.
And of course, the beloved characters of the "Trapped in the Closet" characters have returned intact. Pimp Lucius is still stuttering his pimp talk, and now has to corral a blind prostitute. Randolph and Rosie are still arguing about sex while clad in pajamas. Twan… well, he's still a muscly knucklehead. Tina is still torn about her future with Roxanne. And Sylvester, the main character who was trapped in that closet so long ago, is still in control, cobbling together vaguely drug-related plots and wearing an empty holster on his ankle just in case he needs to snatch a handgun away from Twan (oh, Twan…).
Following the screening, Kelly sat down for a Q&A session in which he revealed that "Trapped in the Closet" is his ultimate passion project, and one that could continue for a long time. "I don't have a job, so I just sit in the studio and think of stupid stuff to do," said Kelly of the franchise, adding that his main inspiration for "Trapped in the Closet" is "silliness." Some of the characters in the opus are based on real people -- the crotchety Randolph is based on Kelly's grandfather -- and he confirmed that a few celebrities, such as Tyrese Gibson, have approached him about joining the "Trapped" madness in the past.
Most intriguingly, Kelly told the audience that he "just got an offer from Broadway to do a ['Trapped'] Broadway show, so that's in the works." The singer elaborated that the musical is "in negotiations," as he works out his role in the production as it potentially travels from city to city.
In the meantime, however, Kelly says that he has 85 more "Trapped" chapters, and hopes to film them soon enough. By the end of the evening, Kelly was beaming with confidence, seeming genuinely appreciative of the crowd's enthusiastic response to his latest oddball installments. "Trapped in the Closet" is a labor of love that Kelly's fans have fiercely latched onto, and Monday night was as much a thank-you for that cultish dedication as it was an unorthodox film premiere. And as one final act of tip of the cap, Kelly led the audience in a rendition of "I Believe I Can Fly's" chorus before smiling one last time and disappearing for the night.