How Spotify is taking on #MuteRKelly
In light of #MeToo, many fans of high-profile artists accused of sexual misconduct have been forced to ask themselves: What is the line that separates art from the artist who created it? Of the artists accused, whose work can we still consume in good conscience? One of the world’s most powerful streaming services is attempting to enter the debate by enacting its own form of moral authority and making a decision about that question of consumption for its subscribers. On May 10, Spotify announced it will essentially act as an omniscient curator of the music of two problematic (if not criminal) artists: R. Kelly and XXXTentacion. Both of the artists’ music will still be available on the service, but Spotify will no longer actively promote their work.
“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,” Spotify told Billboard about their decision “When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful, it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.”
It’s hard to argue with Spotify’s choice to go after two artists who are pretty inarguably contemptible people. Over the course of R. Kelly’s career, he has racked up a laundry list of sexual assault accusations. While XXXTentacion’s career is much shorter in comparison, he has also been accused of his share of horrific crimes. While R. Kelly has vehemently denied all accusations made against him, he was arrested in 2002 on 21 counts of child pornography, as well as four counts of sexual misconduct, and multiple allegations of sexual abuse took place over the next decade. He was most recently accused of holding women against their will in a sex cult. As for XXXTentacion, the 20-year-old Florida native has been accused of false imprisonment, aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, and other genuinely troubling crimes.
While it’s uncertain what exactly spurred Spotify’s decision to blacklist these singers, it’s likely that an offshoot of the #MeToo movement focused directly on an artist in question may have been a significant impetus. #MuteRKelly is a campaign led by women of color, backed by Time’s Up, that has taken aim at finally terminating Kelly’s career. The considerable weight and influence of people like Ava DuVernay, John Legend, Kerry Washington, and Tarana Burke have been thrown behind the campaign in hopes that if steadfast fans won’t abandon the singer — which many have stated they won’t — those within the industry will.
Unlike R. Kelly, XXX is a burgeoning rapper with neither an expansive resume nor decades-long accumulation of revenue to coast on. In fact, the artist can attribute much of his success thus far to Spotify’s curated playlists, like his seemingly unshakable presence on the hugely popular playlist RapCaviar. With that very positioning now indefinitely jeopardized, what was once a promising rap career may now be terminated due to his alleged criminal transgressions. After he was removed from Spotify’s playlists, an XXX representative responded by wondering if Spotify would remove a long list of other musicians who have faced criminal allegations and convictions. The implied question seems to be: Where do we draw the line when any handful of Grammy attendees also has a rap sheet as long as their discography?
The best part of Spotify for artists is the dual role it serves as both distributor and promoter. Spotify’s move to remove these two problematic artists — and the implied threat of potentially doing so again in the future — essentially neutralizes half of its benefits to the artists that supply their content. For music consumers, on the other hand, streaming services utilize the playlists they curate to feature currently and potentially popular artists, which is how a lot of people develop their musical taste and favorite artists. By positioning themselves as a moral arbiter of music, Spotify has undertaken the difficult, if not impossible, task of weeding out which artists exactly are so problematic that they deserve to have their promotional privileges revoked.
To those of us asking where Spotify should draw the line, it seems safe to assume that the line is criminal behavior, specifically domestic or sexual abuse. And, to be fair, it’s hard to argue with the decision to finally hold Kelly, who has slipped away from actual consequences for decades, accountable in some way, and sending a message to other artists by holding a new artist like XXX accountable now. But, if Spotify has decided to position itself as a streaming executioner, it only seems fair that they commit and implicate artists like Chris Brown, Dr. Dre, Tekashi69, and others accused of similar crimes.
Of course, only time will tell if other artists receive this same kind of punishment and whether Spotify’s arbitration will extend to other kinds of appalling behavior. History suggests it will: In 2017, Spotify banned multiple white supremacist artists. Yet the artist Sabrina Claudio, who has come under fire for a history of racism on social media, remains on the platform and is even promoted there.
Ultimately, Spotify has situated themselves in a burdensome position, but if the ultimate culmination is some form of reckoning for criminal artists and symbolic avenue of justice for victims and those sick of seeing unmitigated fame savage actual consequences, I wish the streaming service well in its mediation.
More articles by Category: Arts and culture, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Criminal justice, Rape, Sexualized violence