NEIL YOUNG TAKES ON SPOTIFY
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A movement against Spotify and Joe Rogan temporarily sent Spotify stocks tumbling. The actions were initially sparked by a group of hundreds of doctors, medical professionals, and academics who focused their sights on Spotify and its exclusive partnership with “The Joe Rogan Experience,” accusing the program and platform of spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Musician Neil Young, legendary for his lifetime of activism, was the first prominent artist to join the movement posting publicly about Spotify that, “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”
Joni Mitchell quickly followed suit, stating, “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives,” she wrote on her website. “I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”
Many more musicians have since also joined on including Young’s bandmates David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills. “We support Neil and we agree with him that there is dangerous disinformation being aired on Spotify’s Joe Rogan podcast,” Crosby, Stills, and Nash said. “While we always value alternate points of view, knowingly spreading disinformation during this global pandemic has deadly consequences. Until real action is taken to show that a concern for humanity must be balanced with commerce, we don’t want our music — or the music we made together — to be on the same platform.”
Another prominent musician to join, from Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, is Nils Lofgren. “We encourage all musicians, artists, and music lovers everywhere, to stand with us all, and cut ties with Spotify,” Lofgren wrote on his website. “Pick up your sword and start swinging! Neil always has. Stand with him, us (Joni Mitchell!), and others. It’s a powerful action YOU can all take NOW, to honor truth, humanity, and the heroes risking their lives every day to save ours.”
Most recently, musician India Arie has stepped up. Arie is the latest blow to Spotify and Rogan, bringing her own angles, specifically identifying Rogan's problematic language about race. Arie posted a video that was a compilation of clips where Rogan used the N-word 20 times.
“I believe in freedom of speech,” Arie wrote in a statement on Instagram. “However, I find Joe Rogan problematic for reasons OTHER than his Covid interviews.” In a series of Instagram Stories clips along with the hashtags #DELETESPOTIFY and #whatifweallleave — Arie stated, “I empathize with the people who are leaving for the COVID disinformation reasons… and I think that they should. I also think Joe Rogan has the right to say what he wants to say. I also think that I have the right to say what I want to say.”
Arie also stated that she is angry that money Spotify earns from streaming her art and the work of other musicians were being used to fund shows like Rogan’s, particularly when Spotify notoriously reimburses artists with controversially meager royalty payments.
“Spotify is built on the back of the music streaming. So they take this money that’s built from streaming and they pay this guy $100 million, but they pay us .003% of a penny? Just take me off! I don’t want to generate money that pays for this. Just take me off. That’s where I’m at,” said Arie.
“It took a Neil Young to open the door for someone like me. But I walked through it because I’ve been standing at this door for a long time. One of the hashtags I put on my posts, the written one, was #whatifweallleave. That’s what I’m trying to see if we could get to happen. What if we all leave? Then we can start having a conversation. You can go from a conversation to a negotiation,” said Arie.
In response to Arie’s posts, Rogan has since apologized for his regular and repetitive use of the N-word.
Spotify has also responded by initially removing 70 episodes of “The Joe Rogan Experience” followed by an additional 30 more episodes. To date, 100 episodes have been removed from the platform, but Spotify has yet to release a response explaining their actions.
“I know for most people there’s no context where a white person is allowed to say that word, never mind publicly on a podcast, and I agree with that now,” Rogan said in a video statement posted to Instagram. He went on to say, “I’m not racist, but whenever you’re in a situation where you have to say ‘I’m not racist,’ you f— up, and I clearly have f— up.”
Rogan specifically also apologized for a story that he had told in one of the now-deleted episodes about seeing the film “Planet of the Apes” in an “all-black neighborhood.”
“I was trying to make the story entertaining, and I said, we got out, and it was ‘like we were in Africa, it’s like we were in Planet of the Apes,’” said Rogan. “I did not, nor would I ever say Black people are apes, but it sure f— sounded like that.”
Rogan apologized, saying “it’s a f— idiotic thing to say, and I was just trying to be entertaining, I certainly wasn’t trying to be racist.” He continued: “I can’t go back in time and change what I said, I wish I could, obviously that’s not possible, but I do hope this could be a teachable moment for anybody that doesn’t realize how offensive that word could be coming out of a white person’s mouth, in context or out of context.”
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has been criticized by many for his handling of this controversy. During an internal company town hall, Ek told employees that the company does not currently approve Rogan’s guests or edit his episodes, but he pledged “to consistently enforce our policies on even the loudest and most popular voices on the platform.”
In addition to the artists already identified, numerous podcasters have also joined the movement including best-selling author Brené Brown, Roxane Gay, and Mary Trump.
Actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson initially came out in support of Joe Rogan, only to quickly retract his support after India Arie identified his use of problematic language. The Rock called it "a learning moment.”
Some conservatives have been objecting to the boycott saying that it is censorship, and an issue of free speech. But members of the Spotify boycott movement have been quick to point out that this is actually a perfect example of the free market, something conservatives generally argue that they hold sacred. In a free market, artists are free to remove their content from any platform they feel does not share their values.
On behalf of Benefit Arts and our readers, we are grateful to the many artists who have stepped up to challenge misinformation and racism and we join the movement calling for Spotify to drop Joe Rogan from their platform.
Neil Young [Photo: Dhlovelife via Warner Brothers]
India Arie [Photo: Robert Castro via Wikimedia Commons]