We were at a party not long ago where someone was expounding at great length on levels of irony, inspired by something he’d recently read, and how each theoretical higher level reflected some more complex relationship of what was being said to what was in fact the case. He then left his cigarettes on the table, went outside to smoke a joint and never came back. Everyone speculated that he had somehow gotten himself arrested, but no one actually bothered to go outside to find out.
Our point is, we don’t know where "Trapped in the Closet" is sandwiched on that irony layer cake, being a project that was almost certainly created in earnest, appreciated for camp value, continued for camp value, and now appreciated…in earnest? Regardless, we’re enjoying the writers who attempt to engage it as art or as a cultural artifact. Jody Rosen at Slate speculates that "Surely this is the most widely viewed psychedelic chitlin-circuit soap opera in history," and finds metatextual meaning:
Trapped in the Closet is a riot, but it is also, in its way, profound. The real triumph of Kelly’s meta-love-man routine is how it underscores something essential about sex and desire: the comedy and absurdity that so often accompany the desperate lurchings of our loins. This is where Trapped in the Closet (and "Sex Planet" and the "The Zoo" and dozens of other Kelly songs yet to be recorded) shades into autobiography. Kelly will stand trial this September on child pornography charges, stemming from a videotaped encounter in which Kelly allegedly is shown urinating on an underaged paramour. Who can doubt that the outrageous stew of sex, guilt, and violence in Trapped in the Closet reflects its creator’s own outrageous legal troubles? R. Kelly knows as well as anyone that eros can be a farce, and a trap.
Some â€œTrappedâ€ fans may think theyâ€™re flattering Mr. Kelly by praising his alleged insanity or naÃ¯vetÃ©, but thatâ€™s the kind of praise that can easily sound like condescension, especially when directed (as it often is) at African-American performers. And some IFC viewers might not know that Mr. Kelly is deploying some of the same dramatic devices you can find in the world of urban theater, sometimes affectionately or derisively called the chitlin circuit.â€ Many of his stock characters (the pastor with a secret, the nosy neighbors, the semireformed ex-con, the stuttering pimp) and melodramatic revelations would be at home in a play by Tyler Perry, Shelly Garrett, Angela Barrow-Dunlap or David E. Talbert.
Alexis Petridis at the Guardian finds the charm in its unlikely "acts of grand folly":
These days, record companies have entire departments dedicated to preventing artists like R Kelly from perpetrating acts of grand folly such as Trapped in the Closet. Whatever you think of the end product, or indeed of Kelly himself – he is due in court on child pornography charges on September 17 – you have to be glad he has circumvented them. The increasingly beige world of rock and pop could use the occasional grand folly, however crass, idiotic, baffling and unintentionally hilarious it may be.
Karina Longworth at Spout offers a more filmic analysis. And back in 2005, Hillary Brown at Flagpole offered the Ã¼ber-literate take on the series, proposing you "Consider the concept of sprezzatura, or artful artlessness, a high Renaissance commitment to at least the illusion of nonchalance."