Music streaming giant Spotify has taken a bold step in the fight against harmful behaviour displayed by artists with the introduction of a “hate content and hateful conduct” policy, with its first target being R&B crooner R. Kelly.
The basic gist of the new policy revolves around artists who have been accused or convicted of untoward behaviour against others no longer being featured in Spotify curated playlists. These playlists are basically free marketing from Spotify and the lifeblood of new artists trying to get their music heard.
“We are removing R. Kelly’s music from all Spotify owned and operated playlists and algorithmic recommendations such as Discover Weekly,” Spotify told Billboard in a statement. “His music will still be available on the service, but Spotify will not actively promote it. We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behaviour, but we want our editorial decisions – what we choose to program – to reflect our values. When an artists or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful, it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.”
For those out the loop, Kelly is a multi-award winning artist responsible for the huge '00s hit, 'Ignition (Remix),' who also has a sordid history of sexual harassment and abuse (you can read his entire 24-year sexual misconduct timeline here). If a tape of him pissing on an underage girl and forcing her into sexual acts isn’t bad enough, recent investigations into the singer’s relationships have discovered he’s been running an “abusive sex cult,” as detailed by BuzzFeed. Despite all this, Kelly is yet to be convicted of any crimes and maintains his innocence, although, there is no doubting he’s a horrible person.
Kelly isn’t the only one to feel the wrath of Spotify’s new policy, with young Soundcloud rapper XXXTentacion also being blacklisted. XXXTentacion, whose sophomore album ? reached the number three spot on the ARIA charts earlier this year, has a much shorter, but just as troubling history, having been accused of domestic assault, homophobic behaviour and other incidents of violence (you can also read his history of abuse here)
As Spotify confirmed in their statement to Billboard, both artists' music will still be available to listen to on the streaming service but will no longer feature in their editorial or algorithmic playlists. This might not sound like a huge deal, but when you consider the way people consume music these days, it’s a massive blow to the artists affected by this new policy. Spotify playlists such as Rap Caviar, Discover Weekly and New Music Friday have all featured Kelly and XXX and are influential in helping make or break an artist's new release. Without this support, artists who fall under this new policy will find it much harder to get their music heard, costing them marketing space and revenue.
Spotify efforts to use their power for something positive is applaudable, but their decision finds them wading into murky waters. Although they might not be actively supporting the likes of Kelly and XXX, they are still streaming their music and profiteering off them. It’s also uncertain where the company draws the line when it comes to which artists fall under the new policy. Spotify has said artists will be judged on a case-by-case basis, but that rings hollow when you consider they have no problem featuring Chris Brown who was convicted of felony assault of his then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009. He currently features in half-a-dozen advertised Spotify playlists, including I Love My ‘00s R&B, Gold Edition and Urban Flavour, and has yet to come under any scrutiny for his past actions.
Should artists who have been accused but not convicted of crimes such as Kelly and XXX be held accountable for their actions before being proven guilty?
Brown isn’t the only modern artist with a questionable past, with young rappers Rich the Kid, Famous Dex and YoungBoy Never Broke Again all having been accused of violence against women (no convictions yet). All three are still featuring in various Spotify hip-hop playlists.
If you want to be a stickler you can go back through the history of music and pinpoint a host of artists who have been convicted of hateful and harmful behaviour who are still heavily featured on Spotify. Ozzy Osborne, Dr. Dre and John Lennon are just some of the dozens of high profile artists who have been convicted or accused of sexual misconduct or violent behaviour during their careers.
Don Gorder, the chairman of the music business and management department at Berklee College of Music, has applauded the companies decision but warned Spotify that “it is a slippery slope.”
Speaking with the New York Times he went on to say, “There are lots of bands in history that have been accused of bad behaviour, but they’re not taking the pummelling that R. Kelly is taking.” While he certainly doesn’t condone Kelly’s alleged behaviour, describing it as “deplorable,” he does add no courts have convicted the singer of any crimes.
His most poignant comment concerns the policies future. Spotify “created this new moral standard – what is it?” he asked. “Where is the line?”
Should artists who have been accused but not convicted of crimes such as Kelly and XXX be held accountable for their actions before being proven guilty? Should Spotify’s policy also extend to artists' lyrical content? Eminem is one of the greatest rappers of all time and his lyrics are littered with references to homophobia, rape and murder. Why is an artist who raps about killing his own mother and encourages violence against women given a free pass? What about Guns ‘n’ Roses who featured an aggressively homophonic song on their live album G N’ R Lies?
It also begs the question: will the new policy will also extend to songwriters and producers. Producer Detail, who was behind Beyonce’s 'Drunk In Love,' has been accused of rape and attempted assault while producer and songwriter Dr. Luke was sued by artist Kesha for a number of crimes including sexual assault, gender violence and civil harassment (the case was thrown out). Will record labels become responsible for the content of the artists and producers they have signed and be banned from having their talent featured in a playlist?
These are questions only Spotify can answer, but at the moment their policy is rife with moral ambiguity. Although the company has said they will not alter their content library based on an artist’s behaviour, this might have to change if they really want to be true to the ideals and values they espouse.
You have to commend them for taking the first step towards supporting alleged victims of assault and abuse, but until they clarify their stance on controversial artists, this policy comes off more as a good-natured PR stunt and giving in to public pressure surrounding Kelly’s alleged behaviour than an actual intervention into artist’s with troublesome histories.