“I don’t have a comment,” a spokesperson for the rapper XXXtentacion told The New York Times last week, when asked about the musician being pulled from Spotify’s major playlists because of his alleged abusive behaviour.
“Just a question: will Spotify remove all the artists listed below from playlists?”
The spokesperson, Aishah White, went on to name 19 famous musicians, including Gene Simmons of Kiss, Michael Jackson, James Brown, Miles Davis and David Bowie, all of whom have been accused of various kinds of sexual misconduct.
Spotify, a multinational corporation with huge influence in the music business, had decided to stop promoting XXXtentacion, a 19-year-old rapper, and R&B singer R Kelly because of allegations against them.
“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,” Spotify said in a statement outlining its new Hate Content and Hateful Conduct policy.
Rising star XXXtentaction is facing multiple charges, including aggravated battery of a pregnant woman and false imprisonment.
According to a victim testimony obtained by Pitchfork, X — real name Jahseh Onfroy — allegedly strangled and beat his pregnant girlfriend and threatened to kill her, and is facing heavy jail time. He has pleaded not guilty.
R Kelly, a huge figure in pop and R&B in the 90s and 2000s, has faced allegations for decades of sexual assault, including that he was running a “sex cult” holding women against their will.
He was acquitted in 2008 of child pornography charges and is not currently facing any other legal action. He has denied all wrongdoing and said Spotify’s move was based on “social media fads”.
So, we know where Spotify stands.
What about the rest of us?
This kind of reckoning, largely a result of a push by the Time’s Up movement and its #MuteRKelly campaign, suggests fans of the music also have something to consider.
Do they maintain their allegiance, separating the artwork from the artist? Or does some behaviour — whether proven or alleged — make that relationship untenable?
In other words: Do you need to do a Spotify and just sever ties?
In the days since the streaming platform’s decision, fans have been sticking up for Kelly on his Facebook page, while thousands turned out for a show in North Carolina.
“What he does in his private life has nothing to do with me,” one told a local paper.
“He wasn’t convicted of anything.”
Earlier this year, XXXtentacion’s second album ? went to number 1 on US charts and number 3 in Australia, suggesting fans are still happy to consume his music.
In 2009, R&B singer Chris Brown repeatedly punched his then-girlfriend Rihanna in the face and strangled her until she almost passed out. He is currently facing a lawsuit from a woman who claims he raped her.
Still, Brown’s collaboration with Lil Dicky reached the top five on the Australian charts a few weeks ago.
“I’ve never been able to mute my moral self when I’m listening to a record, no matter how good it is,” the critic Jessica Hopper said a few years ago.
“There are people and consequences behind the music we listen to, and because music has always meant so much to me, I can’t divorce that.”
The history of music is littered with questionable characters
Let’s look at some of the artists White mentioned:
Gene Simmons of KISS: Sued last year for allegedly making unwanted sexual advances to a TV host; he denied the accusations
Michael Jackson: Accused of child sexual abuse in 1993 and 2003. A lawsuit related to the first accusations was settled; Jackson was acquitted of the criminal charges related to the second
Matt Mondanile of Real Estate: Accused of sexual misconduct by several women; he denied the allegations
David Bowie: Took the virginity of a 15-year-old
When the rock and roll singer Chuck Berry died, Myf Warhurst and Zan Rowe talked on their podcast Bang On about the things Berry did outside of music.
Berry served three years in prison in the 1960s for transporting a 14-year-old girl across state lines.
In the 1990s, he settled a lawsuit brought by several women who claimed he had installed a video camera in the bathroom of a restaurant he owned in order to film them.
“For a long time I used to separate the art from the artist,” Rowe said.
“I increasingly feel like, when it comes these things where there are actually legal cases against people, where you’ve got R Kelly … being indicted on 21 counts of child pornography, marrying Aaliyah — who [was] 15 years old — and then you are still [playing] Ignition at a 21st … You can’t separate the art from the artist.”
“The music industry, particularly from the 50s, 60s and 70s, a lot of it was set up to look after these people because they were making a lot of money for other people.”