Yesterday Spotify announced a new hate content and hateful conduct policy that made a lot of headlines. It gives the company leeway to remove 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.” This could run into free speech issues when it comes to artistic expression with some artists who skirt the line with racism (or so they say). However the biggest step they took was when they announced their hateful conduct policy, which allows them to police the artists that they promote on their official playlists. The first to get chopped were R. Kelly and XXXTentacion.
R. Kelly has been accused of grooming, abusing and sexually assaulting young girls for years. He married Aaliyah when she was 15. XXXTentacion has been accused in graphic detail of abusing and sexually assaulting a pregnant woman over a period of time.
It is important to note, the artists still have their entire catalogs on Spotify. Spotify does not want to promote the artists on their company playlists or put them on a billboard in Times Square. Putting R. Kelly’s face in Times Square as a Spotify ad should be avoided.
Those were not difficult to understand. The difficult part for Spotify going forward will be in further cases where details are murky, charges are never pressed or where old charges resurface on the internet. Does it pass on Nas, who has been accused by Kelis of abusing her for years? How about Fabolous who has been charged with aggravated assault, among other things, towards his ex-girlfriend? How about The Gaslamp Killer, who is embroiled in a case where he is accused of raping two women? Does Crystal Castles get any love? Is Chris Brown going to be allowed as a feature or a lead artist on big playlists? In the dance world, Datsik has been ostracized, but never actually charged. Tracey Birdsall accused Seal of sexual battery. These are just a few of the cases. How about buzzing rapper 6ix9ine and the incident involving a minor?
These are just a handful of cases that are current, but the company would also have to decide if they would try and become an arbiter over past events. There are many stars from the past that have some very dark sides. Dr. Dre beat up two women. Chuck Berry went to jail for taking a 14-year old across state lines for “immoral purposes.” John Lennon would hit women. Miles Davis and James Brown beat their wives. Jimmy Page, Bill Wyman and Steve Tyler all "dated" under age women when they were much older.
You get the picture. While they were genius musicians, they were also pretty trash people. Going back would present some big problems for Spotify. Luckily enough for Spotify in this instance, most of these artists aren’t still making music.
However, when it comes to current artists, Spotify may have a tough time deciding who the right artists to pass on for promotion are. There will be mistakes. The decisions will be made behind the scenes and could cause problems with labels that know that placements on major playlists give them substantial revenue. If this starts to boil over, then these types of omissions could become more public in the future, like it was for R. Kelly and XXXTentacion.
Now can Spotify do it well? So far with R. Kelly and XXXTentacion, it has chosen two good artists to make an example of. They were layups and there will be more of them. They are high profile, either because they have massive catalogs or are rising stars. However, most cases aren’t as cut and dry. As a public company, making these types of calculations no longer are just impact PR or an artist relationship, they impact your stock price. Trusting Spotify to get morality right every time would be unwise as the lines shift of what is acceptable behavior in society, but hopefully they adapt with the rest of us.
The music industry has shown indifference towards shitty people, men in particular, so it would be unlikely that one small move by Spotify would provide a financial deterrent for behavior. But if it can influence others to hold artists accountable, then maybe we will see a difference.