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UPDATED: Spotify is removing R. Kelly’s music from its editorial and algorithmic playlists as part of its updated policy toward hate speech and hateful conduct, the company announced today.
“We are removing R. Kelly’s music from all Spotify owned and operated playlists and algorithmic recommendations such as Discover Weekly,” the company 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.”
While the company said early Thursday that Kelly was the only artist thus far to be affected by the policy, within hours the company confirmed to the New York Times that it had removed XXXTentacion’s music from its playlists as well; the rapper is facing charges in Florida including aggravated battery of a pregnant woman and witness tampering. These artists’ music remains available on the platform, but last August Spotify removed some white supremacist content. A source close to the situation said the company is weighing its options with other artists accused of what it deems “hateful conduct,” and noted that artists such as Pwr Bttm and Ducktails and comedians such as Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. — all of whom have been accused of sexual misconduct — were quietly removed from Spotify playlists in recent months.
In announcing the policy, the company said: “To help us identify hate content, we have partnered with rights advocacy groups, including The Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Defamation League, Color Of Change, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), GLAAD, Muslim Advocates, and the International Network Against Cyber Hate. We also built an internal content monitoring tool, ‘Spotify AudioWatch,’ which identifies content on our platform that has been flagged as hate content on specific international registers. And we listen to our users – if you think something is hate content, please let us know and we will review it carefully against our policy.”
However, the subjectiveness of the term “hateful conduct” could apply to many different artists. When asked about other artists who might be affected, a company rep said “As you can imagine, this is a complicated process with room for debate and disagreement, so we can’t get into an artist-by-artist discussion. In general we work with our partners and try to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.”
Over the past 25 years, Kelly has been hit with multiple accusations of sexual misconduct against young and underaged women. Among others, these range from child-pornography charges (for which he was acquitted in 2008, despite a videotape that prosecutors claim shows him urinating on and having sex with a 13-year-old girl) to more recent allegations that he is running an “abusive sex cult” in which he “controls every aspect of [several women’s] lives.” Kelly has denied all of the charges. He has continued to tour and record and remains on the active roster of RCA Records, although he hasn’t released an album since 2016.
Yet WOC, the women of color branch within the #TimesUp movement, recently joined the #MuteRKelly online campaign and targeted him as their next subject after Bill Cosby’s conviction, and there are signs that the allegations are becoming too much for many people to continue to support him.
Last week his manager, publicist and entertainment attorney all confirmed they are no longer working with him (although he already has a new publicist and apparently new management) who is attempting to characterize the #TimesUp statements as “a greedy, conscious and malicious conspiracy to demean him.” John Legend, Ava DuVernay and many other celebrities have spoken out against him; several concerts, including one this weekend in his hometown of Chicago, have been cancelled due to public outcry and petitions; and RCA labelmate Jack Antonoff of Bleachers said he’s asked the company many times to drop Kelly.
Last week a veteran music-business attorney told Variety that it’s possible RCA, which has declined all comment on Kelly in recent months except for confirming to Variety in December that he is still on the label’s roster, may be allowing its contract with the singer to lapse.
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