On April 3rd,
the music streaming service Spotify went public, and enjoyed a Wall Street debut at a higher level than projected by the experts.
The Washington Post reports that at the end of their first day, Spotify’s closing price was 13% higher than expected. Among other changes, becoming a publicly traded entity means that Spotify will now be under a higher level of scrutiny. With more people paying attention, more opinions, feelings, and ideas are likely to fly at Spotify decision makers.
A Good Effort
Early in May, Spotify enacted a new anti-hate campaign. The goal of this effort was to limit the amount of hateful music available on Spotify. You may have heard some of the rumblings in the music community regarding the company’s decision to remove music by XXXTentacion, and R. Kelly, from its curated playlists.
Spotify no longer wanted to promote artists that produced violent or hateful music. While these two artists were removed from specific playlists, their music was still available on Spotify.
The decision garnered a lot of backlash from members of the music community, including influential artist Kendrick Lamar. On May 24th Spotify restored XXXTentacion to its playlists. On May 30th, Spotify CEO Daniel Elk rolled back the policy saying that the company “could have done a much better job.”
Lamar protested that the anti-hate campaign would unfairly target musicians of color. He threatened to remove his own music from the service if the decisions were not reversed. Mr. Elk reversed the policy. In a conversation with Peter Kafka and Kara Swisher at Recode’s 2018 Code Conference, Mr. Elk explained that “[Spotify doesn’t] want to be the judge and the moral police.”
Spotify does not have the right to play moral police. Labeling a track “Explicit” is enough. Maybe a parental setting for young listeners could be a viable way of limiting messages some would deem offensive. However, this still leaves a large area for debate as to the subjective definition of “offensive.”
The Blame Game
Who decides what is offensive and what is not?
Musicians today can deliver any message to millions of fans instantly. Influential figures outside the music world, (see Michelle Wolf, Roseanne Barr, Samantha Bee,) have recently come under fire for sharing messages deemed offensive. There seems to be a double standard when it comes to punishing people who make offensive messages. Not everyone receives equal punishment for what seem to be equal crimes. Barr writes a racist tweet, her show is promptly cancelled and she is swiftly fired. Michelle Wolf insults the President of the United States at the annual correspondents dinner, and, after weathering some storms from conservative critics, actually becomes more popular. How is that fair? What’s the difference?
I’ll tell you what the difference is. Let’s draw a line in the sand right now:
You deserve to be fired, removed, and/or fined if your public statement devalues the existence of another.
Hate speech that truly attacks one’s identity is the stuff that needs to be reduced. That does not mean name calling. That does not mean playground insults, and harmless jokes made by comedians, who were hired to make those jokes. I am not talking about the “bad words” found in an explicit song. I’m talking about the kind of insult that sets us 50 years back as a society. Conservatives complain about “snowflakes” who make the world too polite and soft, but are quick to sob and point their fingers at anyone who makes a crude joke against one of their own. The same people who bemoan the “pussification of America” are the ones who can’t handle the “offensive language” they may hear in rap and hip hop, never mind the fact that they may hear equal or worse language across all genres of music.
If it seems that there’s a double standard at play, it’s because there is.
There are quite a few of them actually. What else is new.
The world is not perfect, it’s not even fair. The goal is to make it more fair, more perfect. “A more perfect union,” remember, from that 23-year-old document your dad is so fond of quoting? Stifling artists’ voices won’t help us make progress. Yes, I realize that anyone is capable of creating offensive content, musicians and comedians are not immune to getting their feet caught in their mouths. However, displeasing language that makes old people pucker their lips is different from malicious hate speech meant to belittle a specific person or group. We owe it to all who have been oppressed to understand the difference.
Before we engage in another round of “but they said it first!”, let’s think about the type of message that actually damages the world. We need less blaming, fewer feckless attacks, more appreciation, respect, and music.