First Victims of Spotify’s New Hate Content and Hateful Conduct Policy: R. Kelly and XXXTentacion. Who’s Next?

Superstar R&B singer R. Kelly may not have been convicted in a court of law for the various sex crimes of which he’s been accused, but in the court of public opinion he may as well have been locked up years ago.

The latest indicator: Spotify – the world’s largest music streaming service – announced yesterday that, as part of its new “Hate Content and Hateful Conduct” policy, they’ve removed his music from their “playlists” and from “algorithmic recommendations” like Discover Weekly.

R. Kelly

Now, I put those terms in quotes because his music can still be found on Spotify’s streaming service and you can hear his songs if you seek them out.  You just won’t be fed them via any of its pre-made playlists like “New Music Friday” or “RapCaviar” or “Are & Be.”  Those are owned by Spotify and created as promotional tools for the company and the artists involved.

In a statement Thursday, Spotify said “we don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions – what we choose to program – to reflect our values.”  Further, it states, “when an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful, it may affect the way we work with or support that artist or creator.”

Put simply, Spotify believes R. Kelly, who presumably falls under the “Hateful Conduct” part of this policy, has “done something harmful,” whether the courts have proved it or not, and even if Spotify removed Kelly’s music altogether, which would be against its stated policy, it is well within its rights to do so as a private (non-government) company. 

Here’s the reality of things for R. Kelly in 2018: In the hashtag world of #MeToo, #TimesUp and #NoMore, he has become the music industry’s Harvey Weinstein, aka the No. 1 perpetrator on its BOLA list.  Not only has Spotify downplayed his music, but movements and protests have been brewing nationwide to have Kelly’s concerts cancelled at various forums and some already have been.

But Spotify, who refuses to get into an “artist by artist” discussion on this topic, would likely have to create a whole department devoted to investigating the past sins of  “artists and creators” in order to legitimize the precedent it just established with Kelly (and now also rapper XXXtentacion).  It would need a whole division of people just to listen to the millions of songs it’s licensed to address the “Hateful Content” part of this policy, which it hasn’t addressed yet, btw.

For the “Hateful Conduct” issue, it is walking a fine line with yesterday’s decision by saying that court rulings are not necessary for it to execute its new policy, and in a rock and roll world teeming with many bad actors over the years, R. Kelly’s alleged bad behavior with women (and underage girls) was enough to castigate him first.

It also introduced the issue of its “values,” which is never a good thing because it requires the judgment of only a few people to be executed and it almost never is applied evenly.  For instance, one could easily challenge Spotify’s moral compass in its decision to allow the thousands of explicit, violent, misogynistic, drug-promoting rap and rock records to still dot its various playlists (just check RapCaviar if you need examples).  The spokespeople for both Kelly and rapper XXXTentacion have already issued that challenge (more on that below).

Rapper XXXTentacion (real name: Jahseh Onfroy)

I know, I know.  Another thing that will come to the minds of many is the issue of fairness and race.  After all, Bill Cosby – a black actor and comedian – was another first just a couple weeks ago, the first to be convicted in a court of law for sexual misconduct during the #MeToo era (although few blacks are coming to his defense for reasons not to be explored here).  This despite the fact that many of the #MeToo bad guys (including inaugural perpetrator Harvey Weinstein) were white men.

The race card is a tough one to pull, however, in Kelly’s case, because many of his alleged sex victims are underage black girls, and a call for racial justice for Kelly is often seen as a vote against the protection of the countless black women who are routinely objectified by men and society in general.

But that didn’t stop Kelly’s fans and his management from trying to pull that card.

Last year when new reports surfaced (in a Buzzfeed article) alleging that Kelly was running a sex cult with underage women in Atlanta and Chicago, many of his fans immediately came to Kelly’s defense and proclaimed his innocence. They likened the allegations and excessive media coverage to an unfair witch hunt. Kelly’s management has even gone on record to call the allegations an “attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture.”

On Thursday, Kelly’s people reacted to the Spotify decision, calling it “without merit” and stating that Kelly has never been “accused of hate, and the lyrics he writes express love and desire.”  They accused Spotify of “bowing to social media fads and picking sides in a fame-seeking dispute.” 

But here’s the part of Kelly’s management’s statement where they really made things hairy for the streaming service: “Spotify promotes numerous other artists who are convicted felons, others who have been arrested on charges of domestic violence and artists who sing lyrics that are violent and anti-women in nature.  Mr. Kelly falls into none of these categories…”

So Spotify, which is now a publicly owned company via the New York Stock Exchange (as of last month), has just created a small dilemma for itself with this decision.  In addition to walking the fine line on social justice matters, there’s a potential bottom-line implication. 

Spotify has to pay the record companies whose music it features.  R. Kelly (who is surprisingly still signed to RCA Records, a division of Sony Music – one of the “big three” record companies still out there) is an easy target and yesterday’s decision likely won’t create a label backlash.  But when the calls for fairness and equity in executing its new hate policy grow louder, Spotify might have to cut into its own pockets when certain other artists (who are tied to major labels) become next and labels play hardball by jacking up royalty rates.

The question, though, is who will be next?

Rapper XXXTentacion, who has been accused of aggravated assault and for whom there’s been a video circulating of him assaulting a woman, was the second target of Spotify’s new policy.  And his spokesperson took his defense a step further by providing names of others she thought the streaming service should consider against its new policy.  She included Gene Simmons, Michael Jackson, Ozzy Osborne, Dr. Dre and members of Backstreet Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers among 19 names of people who have been accused of sexual misconduct or physical violence in the past.

See, this won’t be an easy policy for Spotify to execute cleanly.  But it sure got the ball rolling yesterday with Kelly and XXXTentacion. 

We will see how far they’re willing to take it.

DJRob

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