Spotify is done with R. Kelly — but should they make that call for us?
How do you separate the artist from their art — and should you?
That debate’s come up a lot during the #MeToo era. And it flared up again on Thursday, when Spotify decided to remove R. Kelly — who has been accused by several people of running a violent sex cult — from all of its playlists and editorial promotions.
It’s important to note that Spotify will continue to make R. Kelly’s music available for regular streaming. They’re just not promoting his work in any way. Still, when you think of all the bad behavior that musicians have been guilty of over the years, it’s a major statement.
The streaming service’s move raises a lot of questions about the difference between enjoying someone’s talent versus endorsing their character. Just because someone’s talented doesn’t mean you’d want to spend time in the same room with them (well, a room smaller than a concert hall).
Spotify’s decision is part of the company’s new “Hateful Content and Hateful Conduct” policy. In addition to policing things like racist and homophobic lyrics, the code stipulates that an artist’s harmful or hateful behavior in their personal life could affect how Spotify supports them.
“We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions . . . to reflect our values,” Spotify told Billboard of the new policy in a statement.
But what exactly are Spotify’s values? Who’s deciding what’s harmful and hateful, and how are they drawing that line?
Rock, rap and R&B — throw in pop, country and probably even some classical music, too — have always had their share of bad boys. They roll in a different world than us regular folks do, where the rules are different. Sometimes, that’s part of their allure.
R. Kelly is the perfect example of this. People have bumped and ground to his R&B music for years — despite knowing that he had married an underage Aaliyah and had a habit of urinating on young girls (there’s even video evidence). In some circles, his predatory behavior was a running joke. Julie Klausner’s character in Hulu’s “Difficult People” even joked in a tweet: “I can’t wait for Blue Ivy [daughter of Jay-Z and Beyoncé] to be old enough for R. Kelly to piss on her.”
The #MeToo era is clearly changing that. In April, the Time’s Up campaign — a celebrity-driven movement against sexual harassment, spun off the #MeToo movement — even launched the #MuteRKelly protest, a call to boycott his music.
Yes, R. Kelly has done some skin-crawling stuff, and if the sex-cult accusations are true, he’s a downright criminal.
But let’s be honest: Everyone from Michael Jackson to Chris Brown to Justin Bieber has done something that would make you not want to sit across from them at the dinner table. Kanye West’s tweets may make it hard for you to even like him.
All of them need to be held accountable for their behavior. But is it really Spotify’s job to do that?
It’s your right as a listener not to play these artists’ songs, but it’s dangerous when that choice could be taken out of your hands.
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