Spotfify Tackles the R.Kelly Question

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In May of 2018, Spotify faced controversy after removing R. Kelly’s music from its playlists to conform to its new hate content and hateful conduct policy. In taking this measure, Spotify stopped promoting R. Kelly’s music in any way, including Spotify-made playlists and algorithmic recommendations like Discover Weekly.

In Spotify’s current policy, it clearly states that they “do not permit hate content on Spotify” and that if they are informed of content that violates the policy, it will be removed. Spotify defines hate content as “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”. So, in the case of R. Kelly, it is debated if his music falls under the umbrella of “hate content”.

Similar debates occurred in May of 2018 after Spotify removed XXXTentacion’s son “SAD!” from their playlists. Some critics argue that it is important to separate the artist from the music, stating that Spotify is unjustified in its attempts so far to censor artists. These critics believe that the responsibility of discerning whose music they want to listen to should fall to the consumer, not the company. However, Spotify and other companies like YouTube have faced backlash in the past for not effectively policing content uploaded to their streaming services, so many people have also praised Spotify for its proactive approach.

Nearly a year after Spotify’s initial removal of R. Kelly’s music, the #MuteRKelly initiative is still at large. According to the website, the main argument for the boycott of the artist’s movement stem from the logic that “Radio spins = Club spins = Concert bookings = Cash to pay for his crimes”. Kelly is accused of numerous cases of sexual assault of minors, and several documented cases cite pay-offs made to the victims by the accused. Despite the fact that no convictions have been reached, it is generally accepted that the allegations can be corroborated.

In the question of Spotify’s duty to either remove or continue to stream R. Kelly’s music, no definitive action has been taken. Spotify still maintains that they do not condone hateful behavior, but they also will not take steps to censor artists in the short term. The responsibility then falls to listeners to decide for themselves if they are willing to support or rebel against alleged rapists such as R. Kelly. However, perhaps with enough traction with the #MuteRKelly initiative, corporations like Spotify will follow in the footsteps of activists fighting against pardoning inappropriate behavior for the sake of maintaining a clean image for the industry.