Spotify Admits Its R. Kelly Ban Was 'Rolled Out Wrong'

CEO Daniel Ek says the company's controversial new hate speech policy doesn't make it a "moral police"

Spotify's decision to remove R. Kelly and XXXTentacion from its playlists were "rolled out wrong," CEO Daniel Ek now admits. Credit: Frank Micelotta/Invision/AP/REX Shutterstock

It took Spotify only two weeks to backtrack on its tendencious new policy around hateful speech and conduct. In hindsight, CEO Daniel Ek now concedes that the streaming service “rolled this out wrong and we could have done a much better job.”

On May 10th, Spotify, under new rules around hateful speech and conduct, said it would scrub music that violated certain content policies; on the same day, it removed artists R. Kelly, who has been accused of sexual assault and domestic abuse, and XXXTentacion, who has been accused of domestic abuse, from its popular playlists. By May 24th, Spotify was walking most of it back. After no small amount of public uproar, Spotify put XXXTentacion back on its playlists and said it will have conversations with the music industry to tweak the policies around punishing musicians for personal conduct.

Ek, speaking at Recode’s Code Conference on Wednesday, said Spotify never intended to be a “moral police” for the music industry.

“I think the key point here was what we were trying to go after, which was just really around hate speech,” he said. “It wasn’t to go after being a moral police about who did right, who did wrong. You know, you get into really tricky things such as, has this person actually been charged with something, convicted with something? Et cetera. That was never the goal. We’re a platform, we want art, we want to express a lot of diverse opinions. We don’t want to be the judge and the moral police of that.”

While Ek didn’t specify how Spotify plans to handle controversial artists like R. Kelly – who remains de-listed from Spotify’s playlists, but also still has his entire catalog available on the service – he implied that Spotify stands firmly behind its 2017 decision to remove white supremacist bands. “There’s certain things which I think the rules should be pretty clear about. If you are talking about being KKK and doing that kind of stuff, I think it’s pretty obvious we don’t want you on the service,” he said.

Ek also admitted that Spotify’s moves – both the initial policy and its partial walk-back with XXXTentacion – were contentious among employees themselves, as well as artists and fans. Spotify’s head of artist relations Troy Carter, a former artist manager himself, was reportedly so unhappy with the policy that he nearly quit.

“It was a debate we had internally at the company,” Ek said. “It’s something we keep on discussing. One of the core values of the company is just being transparent and driving that agenda. Another core value that we have is to iterate as we get feedback, and this has been one of those things where we got a lot of feedback from a lot of different advocacy groups about us being vague, so we’re clearly listening to people and taking that input.”