Spotify announced on Thursday that R. Kelly's music will no longer be available on any of its popular playlists due to the implementation of a new public hate content and hateful conduct policy. Even though the singer's music will not be promoted, his songs will remain available on Spotify.
In a statement, Jonathan Prince, Spotify's vp/head of content and marketplace policy, told Billboard, "When we look at promotion, we look at issues around hateful conduct, where you have an artist or another creator who has done something off-platform that is so particularly out of line with our values … that it becomes something that we don't want to associate ourselves with."
"We've decided that in some circumstances, we may choose to not work with that artist or their content in the same way – to not program it, to not playlist it, to not do artist marketing campaigns with that artist," he added.
R. Kelly is facing multiple allegations related to sexual misconduct, including accusations of assault, sexual relationships with underage women and running a "sex cult." As the accusations against the singer mount, the Time's Up organization recently released an open letter asking corporations to sever ties with Kelly. Time's Up mentioned several companies by name, including Kelly's label, RCA Records, Ticketmaster, Spotify and Apple Music. A representative for Apple Music did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kelly has consistently denied the allegations against him. Following the Time's Up movement's call for a boycott, his management issued a statement saying that "we will vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture."
"We appreciate Spotify for continuing to make R. Kelly’s songs accessible to millions of people, although it will stop listing his songs on its official playlists ... R Kelly never has been accused of hate, and the lyrics he writes express love and desire," Kelly's management team told Buzzfeed in a statement. "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.
"Spotify has the right to promote whatever music it chooses, and in this case its actions are without merit," his manager added. "It is acting based on false and unproven allegations. It is bowing to social-media fads and picking sides in a fame-seeking dispute over matters that have nothing to do with serving customers. Meanwhile, though, Spotify promotes 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. Mr. Kelly falls into none of these categories, and it is unfortunate and shortsighted that Spotify fails to recognize this."
Though Spotify said its new policy – detailed on its website – may impact other artists as well as Kelly, no other acts were mentioned along with the initial announcement.
In a blog post announcing the new rules, Spotify pledged to work with several social justice organizations "to help identify hate content." That list of organizations includes The Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Defamation League, GLAAD, Muslim Advocates and the International Network Against Cyber Hate. In addition, Spotify added a new feature, "Spotify AudioWatch," that will allow listeners to flag music that they believe violates the hateful conduct policy.
Spotify's new policy puts the company in a tricky position where it must decide what "off-platform" activities clash with its values. At the moment, the popular playlist RapCaviar – which features more than 9 million followers – includes songs by rappers who have been accused of sexual violence or assaulting women, including YoungBoy Never Broke Again and Famous Dex. Two other rappers also facing allegations of sexual assault or misconduct, XXXTentacion and 6ix9ine, have also appeared on that playlist in recent months.
Spotify walked a delicate line in its announcement. "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," the service noted.
That desire sometimes means the service will restrict
access to, if not fully censor, content: "In some circumstances, when an
artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful (for example,
violence against children and sexual violence), it may affect the ways we work
with or support that artist or creator."