R Kelly Backlash: Is Spotify Right or Hypocritical?

A few Cynically Sound posts ago, my warped brain posited a question: does being an artist give you a free pass? If you’ve had your name in big shiny lights, and millions of people regularly listen to your music, are the sins from your personal life absolved?

Photo by Adrian Smith on Unsplash

Using examples of famous voices such as Elvis & Lennon, one star seemed to out-scumbag them all – R Kelly. For a snapshot into some of the worst allegations made against the artist, read the post here.

However, R Kelly has suffered a consequence. This follows intense media coverage, and even more allegations being made against him. It’s a relatively small consequence, granted. But a consequence none-the-less.

Spotify will no longer be actively promote R Kelly’s music within their official playlists.

Here is Spotify’s statement, courtesy of Billboard;

“We are removing R. Kelly’s music from all Spotify owned and operated playlists and algorithmic recommendations such as Discover Weekly. 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.”

What this means in reality, is that R Kelly’s revenue from the streaming site will plummet. Why? Well, this may be a discussion for a future post, but we’ve entered an age of the ‘playlist generation’. Removing Kelly from playlists such as RapCaviar, is a big deal. Playlists like RapCaviar act as discovery juggernauts, whereby whoever is featured within them is promoted to millions of streamers. The RapCaviar playlist for example, has over 9 ½ million followers.

His remaining fans will still be able to access Kelly’s back catalogue, but his songs will no longer seep into mainstream playlists. There’s no doubt that this is a step in the right direction. However, there does have to be an acknowledgement of the hypocrisy surrounding this decision.

Spotify + Hypocrisy = HySpotrisy…?
The rapper XXXTentacion has also been stung by Spotify’s new stance on artists’ behaviour. This was due to numerous allegations of domestic violence and abuse put against the rapper from former girlfriends. I’ll spare you the details, but they’re pretty graphic and disturbing.

However, in response to Spotify’s decision to exclude the rapper’s songs from promotional playlist, a representative responded with his very own “Does Being an Artist Give You a Free Pass list!

The list includes the likes of David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Dr Dre & Michael Jackson – all pioneers in their respective fields.

So this is where the discussion gets complex. Posting a list of more scumbags, doesn’t negate the actions of the scumbag you are employed to represent. But there is something to be said for the distinction he’s trying to make. Why is it one rule for Kelly & XXXTentacion, but a differing stance for others?

Possibility 1) Race – they’re both successful black men, and institutional racism is directly impacting on Spotify’s decision.
Answer) Possibly. But there’s still numerous amounts of black artists with allegations made against them. All of whom still have their music promoted on the official playlists – such as Seal, James Brown & Nelly.

Possibility 2) Pioneers – neither of them have had a massive influence on a genre like David Bowie or Michael Jackson.
Answer) This isn’t really true. Kelly has had an undeniable impact on R&B throughout the 90’s & 2000’s. XXXTentacion is also a huge success story when it comes to ‘SoundCloud rappers’.

Possibility 3) Money! Dr Dre has a net worth that is scraping $1bn, and is one of the most successful businessman today. Full stop. Is that stopping companies from drawing attention to his abuse of women?
Answer) Probably. Money makes the world go round. Dr Dre would have the money to sue Spotify into the ground for defamation if they began an unprovoked crusade against his music. But R Kelly isn’t exactly struggling for funds, his net worth is hovering around $150million.

In reality, the reason is probably simpler: customer opinion.

If companies fail to identify the opinion of their customers, and enact quickly, they lose money. The surrounding backlash against R Kelly is palpable, and with so much pressure from users, Spotify have come to a compromise.

Let’s Be Honest
At the end of the day, removing music from a playlist isn’t that big a deal. R Kelly’s revenue will drop from ‘mega-star rich’, to ‘filthy rich’. His fans still get to stream Kelly’s abysmal cringe fest ‘Black Panties’, if they so wish. His few deluded followers will scream ‘#STANDWITHKELLY’ as they play his unpleasant songs. Clueless of the fact that one stream has less value than a vial of Nigel Farage’s frozen sperm.

So to play us out, here is, to this date, the cringiest song that has ever been produced.