If we learned one thing from the controversy around Spotify’s launch of a new ‘hateful conduct’ policy last year (and its subsequent u-turn) it was that streaming platforms taking action against artists who haven’t been convicted for a crime yet are on dicey ground – even though in Spotify’s case with R. Kelly and XXXTentacion, it wasn’t actually removing their music, but was rather keeping them off its curated playlists and out of its discovery algorithms.
Those lessons are fresh in the mind this week because of the impact of US television documentary Surviving R. Kelly, which was broadcast on the Lifetime network, and explored sexual-abuse allegations against the artist. The Guardian reports that fresh investigations have been launched into these allegations by prosecutors in Chicago and Atlanta, following the airing of the six-part documentary.
Kelly’s music remains available on the streaming services, but one of his most prominent past collaborators is promising to remove one of the tracks. Lady Gaga spoke out last night with a tweeted statement expressing her support for the women interviewed in the documentary. “I stand behind these women 1000%, believe them, know they are suffering and in pain, and feel strongly that their voices should be heard and taken seriously,” wrote Gaga.
Her track with R. Kelly was called ‘Do What U Want’ and was released in 2013, but she regrets it now. “As a victim of sexual assault myself, I made both the song and video at a dark time in my life, my intention was to create something extremely defiant and provocative because I was angry and still hadn’t processed the trauma that had occurred in my own life,” wrote Gaga. And now: “I intend to remove this song off of iTunes and other streaming platforms and will not be working with him again.”
If new criminal charges are brought against R. Kelly, and if he’s convicted, we may find ourselves revisiting the question of what (if anything) streaming services should do about his catalogue. For now, in cases like this, the action may be best left to the musical collaborators and companies who have the ability to take music down and/or make strong public statements.