When news emerged that Sony’s RCA label had parted ways with R. Kelly, campaigning group UltraViolet called on Spotify and other streaming services to (once again) take action against this particular star. Yet the memory of last year’s controversy when Spotify *did* de-playlist Kelly (and rapper XXXTentacion) for ‘hateful conduct’ outside their music remains fresh.
Spotify appears to be applying some lateral thinking to this headache. What if, rather than taking action at a platform level, it simply rolled out a tool for individual listeners to block an artist? That feature is now being tested: first spotted by tech site Thurrott. “Spotify will let you block music from any artist you don’t like throughout the app. This means it will block music from that artist on your personal library, playlists, automatically curated playlists, charts, radios, and everything else,” it reported.
It’s important to stress that this is a feature being tested with a few users, rather than one that’s been widely rolled out. Spotify isn’t commenting officially for now. The feature would certainly let anyone block R. Kelly, and that’s the line that’s dominating follow-on coverage of Thurrott’s discovery. Yet clearly there are other uses for the ‘Don’t play this artist’ feature, in terms of giving Spotify listeners another tool to influence the platform’s recommendation algorithms.
(See also: the ability to mark songs as liked or not liked in the Discover Weekly and Release Radar playlists, which was first spotted as a similarly-limited test in late 2017, but has since rolled out more widely.)
In cases like R. Kelly’s, given the allegations made against him, there will always be pressure on the big platforms that make his music available to take action – that’s the nature of being a big online platform in the modern world, whether you’re Facebook, YouTube or Spotify. Where the music itself is criminally hateful (neo-Nazi bands, for example) there are clear arguments to take action. Yet on extra-musical matters, a policy of user-level blocking tools on one side, and letting labels decide whether to remove the music itself, seems a sensible approach for Spotify.