Spotify users will no longer be able to find R&B superstar R. Kelly’s music on any of the streaming service’s editorial or algorithmic playlists. Under the terms of a newly released public hate content and hateful conduct policy, Spotify is putting into effect, the company will no longer promote the R&B singer’s music in any way, removing his songs from all flagship playlists. This does not mean he is being yanked down totally. He will just no longer get actual promotion on the site.
“We are removing R. Kelly’s music from all Spotify owned and operated playlists and algorithmic recommendations such as Discover Weekly,” Spotify said 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 behavior, but we want our editorial decisions — what we choose to program — to reflect our values. 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.”
So why has this happened to R. Kelly? Well, over the past several years, Kelly has been accused by multiple women of sexual violence, coercion and running a “sex cult,” including two additional women who came forward to Buzzfeed just this week. Though he has never been convicted of a crime, he has come under increasing scrutiny over the past several weeks, particularly with the launch of the #MuteRKelly movement at the end of April. Kelly has defended himself, saying those accusing him are an “attempt to distort my character and to destroy my legacy.” And while RCA Records has thus far not dropped Kelly from his recording contract, Spotify has distanced itself from promoting his music.
To this point, Kelly is the only artist that Spotify specifically acknowledged would fall under this new public policy. However, it is now confirmed that Spotify also has done the same thing with controversial rapper XXXTentacion had also been removed from playlists, namely the highly influential RapCaviar playlist.
The hateful conduct provision is one part of the new Spotify policy, which also includes a provision for hate content. The company is making a point to acknowledge there are different cultural standards as to what could be considered offensive in different regions around the globe — Spotify is available in more than 50 countries worldwide — but worked together with several advocacy groups to determine its definition of hate content, including GLAAD, COlor of Change, The Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Defamation League, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Muslim Advocates and the International Network Against Cyber Hate.
The company acknowledges that, with more than 35 million tracks on its service, it just cannot police everything. It has introduced a three-pronged reporting system for hate content or hateful conduct, including internal monitoring from its teams already in place; consultations with expert partners, such as the advocacy groups it worked with to develop the policy; and user comments and reports. The company also says it has created a monitoring tool called Spotify AudioWatch to help it screen for and flag hate content.
The new guidelines for Spotify arrive not just in the midst of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements — which helped springboard the #MuteRKelly initiative — but also as YouTube, another music streaming service with a widely-used free tier and a massive user base, has had to deal with extensive criticism and an advertiser backlash revolving around its users uploading hateful content to its platform. YouTube has announced that it is working on ways to curb hate speech and content and revealed a new filter to screen for “hate” videos and flag them for takedown, and to not place advertisements against them.
In a statement released to Buzzfeed, Kelly’s management team stressed that the singer has never been convicted of a crime and never “been accused of hate,” adding that his songs are about love, passion, and desire.
“Spotify has the right to promote whatever music it chooses, and in this case, its actions are without merit,” the statement reads. “It is acting based on false and unproven allegations. It is bowing to social-media fads and picking sides in a fame-seeking dispute over matters that have nothing to do with serving customers. Meanwhile, though, 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, and it is unfortunate and shortsighted that Spotify fails to recognize this.”