power up

PRS Foundation, the charitable arm of British collecting society PRS for Music, launched its ‘Power Up’ initiative in January 2021, with the aim of tackling racism and offering grants, mentorship and other support to Black musicians and executives. Yesterday, it delivered a clear warning to its partners.

“In light of recent industry-wide conversations, we want to be clear that we expect all partnerships to be in alignment with our inclusive values. Among the values we hold most dear is anti-racism. There should be zero tolerance for racial slurs and racism which hurts the Black community, including musicians, creators, industry professionals, consumers and employees,” said a statement released by Power Up and PRS Foundation.

“Regarding anti-Black racism, it is vital that all companies and organisations reflect on the statements of solidarity made 20 months ago, and that we all go further to be actively anti-racist. This must include consideration of the impact on staff wellbeing and the environment created when allowing racist behaviour to exist. As a result of our strength of feeling, Power Up and PRS Foundation will not partner with or accept financial support from partners whose actions do not match our expectations and values.”

Which partners will be shifting awkwardly in their chairs at this statement? The four main partners for the initiative are YouTube Music, Beggars Group, Spotify and the Black Music Coalition. Given the reference to “racial slurs” in the Power Up statement, and the latest controversy involving podcaster Joe Rogan, you don’t have to be a master-detective to guess which partner specifically is being put on notice here.

The statement came out the day after artist India Arie appeared on The Daily Show in the US to talk about her response to Rogan’s use of racial slurs, and her desire to remove her music from Spotify.

“I think he was saying it because it got a rise out of people. That’s why he would say it. He knew that it was inappropriate. And I think the fact that he did it repeatedly and was conscious and knew, I think that is being racist,” said Arie, before outlining some of the abuse she has received since speaking out.

“I don’t think he fully understands what he did. If you want to really lead your listeners down a new path, then lead them, to the point where they don’t feel that is the right language to come in my DMs and call me an ‘N-word’ in defence of him.”

With a podcast with 12 million listeners, Rogan has the means to take that leadership, and as his exclusive distribution partner, Spotify has the means to prod him down that path if prodding is required. We’ll see what happens.

However, the Power Up statement may be a moment to consider the bigger picture too. Big tech companies like Spotify and YouTube do put their money behind initiatives that support diversity and tackle racism, and that money is put to good use.

However, when those companies come under the spotlight for content on their platforms that conflicts with the values of these initiatives, and how they deal with that content… well, it’s going to create some awkward moments. Power Up is not the first such initiative to experience this, and it certainly won’t be the last.

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