On Thursday, Spotify removed R. Kelly’s music from their promoted playlists as part of a new “hate content and hateful conduct policy.” Now, R. Kelly has responded to the decision, again denying the claims of sexual misconduct that have followed him for decades. In a lengthy, wordy statement provided to Variety, Kelly’s representative wrote:
“Mr. Kelly for 30 years has sung songs about his love and passion for women. He is innocent of the false and hurtful accusations in the ongoing smear campaign against him, waged by enemies seeking a payoff. He never has been convicted of a crime, nor does he have any pending criminal charges against him.”
The rep added that Spotify is acting “based on false and unproven allegations” and called out the streaming service for promoting “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.”
As part of the new policy, Spotify also removed the music of rapper XXXTentacion, charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, from playlists. In a request for comment, XXXT’s representative told the New York Times: “I don’t have a comment, just a question. Will Spotify remove all the artists listed below from playlists?” The rep included the names of musicians like Gene Simmons, Michael Jackson, and Dr. Dre, among others—artists who’ve faced allegations of assault or sexual abuse.
Spotify’s policy overall is deeply flawed and morally knotty. To begin with, the Mute R. Kelly campaign requested that his music be removed from the service completely, calling on other streaming services, Ticketmaster, and his label RCA to drop Kelly. Spotify’s move to remove R. Kelly from their playlists reads as a way for them to answer for the mounting headlines regarding the music industry’s complicity in supporting Kelly’s behavior for so long. At the end of the day, Kelly doesn’t particularly make that much money from Spotify anyway or benefit from playlist placements, and thus his removal from playlists feels like an active play for good publicity for Spotify.
In the case of younger, rising artists like rappers XXXTentacion, the issue is a little different. While artists barely make money off Spotify streams, what is important for rising artists is playlist placements. Most people who use Spotify are listening to music via those playlists, which is why the company has invested so much time and money in curation. The careers of young rappers like XXXTentacion and 6ix9ine (whose music was not removed as part of the policy, but the artist plead guilty to “the use of a child in a sexual performance”) have been undoubtedly boosted by placements on Spotify’s Rap Caviar playlist, a deeply influential and popular playlist that can essentially make or break a young rapper. Spotify’s removal of someone like XXXTentacion, who the platform helped make a celebrity, could also be an attempt at absolution from the company’s role in his career (though it’s too little too late).
How is Spotify going to enforce the hate content and hateful conduct policy given the variety of allegations plaguing so many artists? We know how they’ve handled “hate content,” before; for instance, Spotify removed the music of white supremacist and neo-Nazi bands shortly after the Charlottesville riot. But as for hateful conduct of an artist, Spotify writes in the policy:
We’ve also thought long and hard about how to handle content that is not hate content itself, but is principally made by artists or other creators who have demonstrated hateful conduct personally. We work with and support artists in different ways - we make their music available on Spotify and help connect them to new and existing fans, we program and promote their music, and we collaborate with them to create content. While we don’t believe in censoring content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, we want our editorial decisions - what we choose to program - to reflect our values.
So for those that cry censorship over Spotify’s decision regarding R. Kelly and XXXTentacion, the company is focusing more on its editorial decisions rather than removing artists completely. The company choosing not to promote an artist on a curated playlist is comparable to a publication choosing not to run an interview with an artist it deems abusive, for example. But if Spotify’s values include removing abusive men from playlists, then the company has their work cut out for them.