Spotify, Artists, Hate Content, & Hypocrisy

[CW: topics of sexual assault, misconduct, rape, abuse are mentioned in this article]. 

I’m gonna stress a point that I feel some may have overlooked regarding the news surrounding Spotify this past week:

No, they aren’t removing any artist’s music fully from their site. 

If you’re wondering what this is about, recently Spotify stopped programming the music of R&B artist R. Kelly and trap/hip-hop rapper XXXtentacion in their curated playlists and algorithm recommendations. This all comes in wake of the streaming platform’s newly introduced policy regarding hateful content and conduct. Now, you can still find the music of both Kelly and XXX on the site. (I personally wouldn’t because I think they both make awful music, but hey, you do you). It’s just that now within the confines of Spotify, those two particular artists have had and it seems will continue to have their music less-promoted to users not directly seeking out their material.

To implement this new guideline, Spotify reportedly worked with many different groups to help define this new policy on hate content: The Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Defamation League, Color Of Change, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), GLAAD, Muslim Advocates, and the International Network Against Cyber Hate. Also, just so we’re all clear on it, in a recent statement to Billboard, this is what the streaming giant means by “hate content”:

“Hate content is content that expressly and principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual based on characteristics, including, race, religion, gender identity, sex, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, veteran status, or disability. When we are alerted to content that violates our policy, we may remove it (in consultation with rights holders) or refrain from promoting or manually programming it on our service.”

Now, if you’re unaware of why those two men were singled out, R. Kelly – Robert Sylvester Kelly, age 51 – has faced allegations for decades of sexual assault and misconduct. From his illegal marriage to teenage wife Aaliyah; to the infamous video of him allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old girl; and to the now alleged abuse from his former girlfriend, Kitti Jones. In a similar vein, Apple Music has also ceased the promotion of Kelly’s content in their own featured playlists.

As for XXX – real name Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, age 20 – he had his music pulled due to charges against him of aggravated battery on a pregnant woman, robbery, domestic battery via strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness-tampering. Jesus Christ, that’s some awful list. Then, just this week, Onfroy actually dropped a lawsuit against another woman due to her changing her story about how he had allegedly assaulted her back in 2013. (Even so, this guy seems to have a real history of violence in him).

Look, we can talk about separating the art from the artist some other time – I’m not here for that. (Besides, XXXtentacion’s second album ‘?‘ went #3 here in Australia and despite Chris Brown violently assaulting Rihanna in 2009 and him currently facing a lawsuit from a woman who claims she was raped at his house, Brown’s (shite) collaboration with Lil Dicky still reached the top five out here earlier in 2018. Showing that plenty of people don’t mind what bad stuff happens in an artists personal life so long as they enjoy the music. Just as it is the prerogative of those who wish to no longer listen to or support an artist once their actions/personal beliefs are known).

No, my first issue here is: if this is how Spotify deals with two high-profile artists within the rap and R&B worlds, then what about everyone else?

For instance, will they be pulling from their playlists and recommendations the music of Brand New due to Jesse Lacey’s revealed sexual misconduct with minors? What about the many black metal bands that Metal Sucks tells us are all Nazis – both those in which that American music publication really reaches for to make a story out of and in the few cases of that genre’s artists who actually believe in such vile doctrines? (Shit, even Burzum’s music is all right there on Spotify; songs from a highly bigoted POS who burned churches and even killed a man back in the ’90s). What about the music of Lostprophets or As I Lay Dying; where the former’s Ian Watkins was charged and jailed in 2013 for possession of child pornography and the planned rape of an infant, as well as the latter’s Tim Lambesis who was charged and jailed also in 2013 for trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife? What about the material of Chris Brown? What about Steven Tyler from Aerosmith? WHAT ABOUT MOTHERFUCKING DAVID BOWIE!?

Likewise, in a recently published open letter to Spotify CEO Daniel EK, advocacy group UltraViolet has called upon Spotify to do the exact same for others; ranging from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tekashi 6ix9ine, Ted Nugent, and Eminem. Mainly due to their respective lyrical content, personal beliefs, accusations brought against them, their own admitted transgressions, or all of the above.

Of course, Spotify could just be getting around to all of these artists as quickly as they can. But if they don’t over time, then that’s some real hypocrisy right there. Though, I can more or less give Spotify the benefit of the doubt, as there are well over 35 million tracks on the platform right now just waiting to net artists not even half a cent for a single stream. So for them go over each song and artist thoroughly to see if they do or don’t fit into this new policy is a rather daunting and monumental task.

While I do think this a slippery slope situation, I won’t be fully jumping on the “CENSORSHIP REEEEEEEE” horse, as the music is still online when it comes down to it. Fans of Kelly, XXX, or any other band or artist that gets affected by this will find their songs still up there online if they wish to listen. Hell, even if they got removed from Spotify, fans will always find a way to listen to the music that they like – whether it’s via Apple Music, Deezer, YouTube, torrent websites, or through the physical or digital copies that they might already own.

My second issue here is: does this affect only current artists or does it apply to everyone?

If a popular artist from the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s has a lot of public skeletons in their closet and/or many allegations against them, are they left off scot-free from this policy or are they affected by it too? That’s not explicitly clear from Spotify just yet, and that will be what either rubs people the wrong about this move or what makes people eventually commend the company for implementing this new policy in time. (Alex Young put together a really good essay about this very topic of keeping past issues from artists in mind over at Consequence Of Sound in 2017. Give it a read when you can).

Look, at the end of the day, this definitely won’t be the end of Spotify – fuckin’ far from it. (Though, maybe them not making as much income as their investors hope for could). At worst, certain artists might be concerned about their stake in Spotify now, and the service might lose a couple subscriptions here and there due to this move. But by and large, I would guess that most people won’t care, and they’ll just listen to their favourite artists and go-to playlists regardless via their Spotify accounts.

This hate content and conduct policy is simply the company’s business decision in trying to act accordingly with the current political and social times that we all live in. And I can respect that in some way – they as a huge company, as a massive brand, trying to be more conscious of wider issues and (hopefully) thinking harder about what they promote through their globally ubiquitous music streaming service. Yet this is also Spotify almost opening up a kind of Pandora’s Box. Once they let this issue out all the way, it might be near-impossible to cram it back in if they hypocritically don’t apply a one-size fits all approach.

Tell you what, let’s come back towards the end of this year to see what Spotify did or didn’t do regarding this new policy.

2 Responses to “Spotify, Artists, Hate Content, & Hypocrisy”

  1. Shitters

    Competely agree with this. I don’t condone any sort of anti social behaviour but its a slippery slope. Thousands of artists would have had charges against them. Tens of thousands of songs would have hate speech references. Where do you draw the line before you start pulling artists from algorithms?

    • Alex Sievers

      Yeah, exactly. Will be really interesting to see if Spotify pursue this idea further or if they bail on it after the harsh feedback to it.

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