In the wake of Spotify's announcement that the streaming platform will no longer promote music by R. Kelly, many fans are wondering who will be next. For instance, will Chris Brown's music be taken off Spotify? The singer has been dogged by allegations of physical assault for years, including pleading guilty to assaulting Rihanna in 2009, but has thus far avoided being lumped in with the two other artists who've been penalized by the streaming platform. (Bustle reached out to Spotify about whether Brown's music will be removed, but did not receive an immediate response.)
Currently, Spotify users can encounter Brown's music in any number of promoted playlists, and even shuffle through his tracks exclusively on a playlist titled "This Is Chris Brown." It's a decision that has confused journalists at outlets like New York Daily News and Twitter fans alike, who suggest that the accusations against Brown should place him in the same category as other artists affected by the new policies. Bustle reached out to Brown's lawyer for comment on this online backlash, but did not receive an immediate response.
"I'll believe the @Spotify 'hateful conduct' policy is real when they don't have @chrisbrown on their playlists," wrote Twitter user @jboucher7. And user @geoffaballard got even more graphic, tweeting a photo of Rihanna's injured face at the streaming service and writing, "Any plans to remove @chrisbrown from your playlists? Or does beating your girlfriend's face in not count as 'hateful conduct'?" (As mentioned above, Brown pled guilty to the 2009 assault, and was ordered to undergo domestic violence counseling and sentenced to five years of probation, according to CNN.)
These Twitter users are referring to Spotify's newly instituted Hate Content and Hateful Conduct Policy, which penalizes artists for what they consider to be particularly egregious behavior, whether in their lyrics or their personal lives. Two particularly heinous examples cited in the new guidelines are "violence against children and sexual violence," with artists who violate the new policies receiving penalization.
Currently, that list includes just two names: Kelly and rapper XXXTentacion, whose music will be removed from Spotify's promoted playlists, according to Billboard, although it will remain on the platform. A spokesperson shared the following statement with Bustle on May 10:
“We are removing R. Kelly’s music from all Spotify owned and operated playlists and algorithmic recommendations such as Discover Weekly. 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.”
Allegations of sexual abuse against Kelly stretch back decades, with new claims of kidnapping and an alleged sex cult coming to light as a result a BuzzFeed report in summer 2017. Last July, the 51-year-old's former lawyer denied these claims on his behalf, stating that her client would "work diligently and forcibly to pursue his accusers and clear his name." And in light of Spotify's decision to cease promotion for his tracks, Kelly responded again, with a rep telling Variety:
"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."
R. Kelly's rep also claimed to Variety that Spotify is making its decisions "based on false and unproven allegations," and noted that the service still 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." (Bustle reached out to R. Kelly's team following the Spotify news, but did not receive an immediate response.)
It's particularly interesting that the rep called out felons, because Brown has a felony assault charge on his record for his alleged attack on Rihanna in 2009, and faced assault and battery charge in the years since, according to Rolling Stone. More recently, the New York Times reported that Brown is being sued by a woman who alleges she was raped in his home by a friend. (Brown's lawyer denied the allegations, telling TMZ on May 9, "My investigation shows that none of these allegations are true," adding, "Chris is a target.")
But Twitter users don't seem to agree that the 29-year-old is being unfairly targeted, and they aren't holding back. Brown's name has come up frequently as someone people would like to see affected by the policy.
If Spotify is wading into the fray, there are a lot of artists with criminal allegations trailing them. So, how will the service parse them all?
At the end of the day, the steps Spotify has taken to raise its standards and create a safer space are positive, but there's always more work to be done in that category. What remains to be seen is exactly how involved the streaming platform wants to be in adjudicating the morality of its artists. And if they do move forward, then who will be next?