A week after Endeavor chief executive Ari Emanuel called on companies to sever ties with the artist formerly known as Kanye West over his anti-Semitic remarks, companies including Adidas and Gap have stopped work with him.
But others, including Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon Music streamers, still feature Ye’s music on their playlists.
Apple Music and Tidal, which also stream West’s music, did not respond to a request for comment. Amazon Music declined to comment.
But industry analysts say the decision to remove Ye’s music is complicated by several factors, including contractual requirements streamers may have with record labels and publishers, free speech considerations and it is appropriate to take action against an artist’s behavior outside of their music.
On Tuesday, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek told Reuters that while he finds West’s anti-Semitic comments “simply awful”, they don’t appear in West’s music that plays on Spotify. “It’s really just his music, and his music doesn’t violate our policy,” Ek told Reuters.
Ye has been heavily criticized for his anti-Semitic comments and misrepresentations about the Holocaust and the Jewish people. These views, which were expressed outside of her albums and songs, provoked a swift reaction.
“Silence is dangerous,” Emanuel wrote in an October 19 Financial Times op-ed. “It allows forms of hatred and racism, including anti-Semitism, to spread and normalize. It swells and degrades our society and our country.
In response, several brands cut ties with the rapper.
“Anti-Semitism, racism and hatred in any form are inexcusable and will not be tolerated consistent with our values,” the Gap said in a statement Tuesday. “On behalf of our customers, employees and shareholders, we partner with organizations that fight against hate and discrimination.”
Severing ties with Ye could be a bit trickier for music streaming services, legal experts said.
Bryan Sullivan, founding partner of law firm Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae LLP, said while the 1st Amendment doesn’t stop music streaming services from removing West’s music, there could be contracts in place. which would require Spotify or Apple Music to go to the music publisher or record company for permission to modify their agreement to remove those songs. If there’s no contract in place, the streamer could remove West’s music, he said.
“It all depends on what this contract says,” Sullivan said.
Ek told Reuters: “It’s up to his label whether he wants to act or not.”
Yet Spotify has removed songs it has promoted from controversial artists’ playlists in the past.
In May 2018, Spotify removed R. Kelly from company playlists and stopped promoting his music as part of its hateful content and hateful conduct policy. At the time, Kelly was facing allegations of sexual misconduct. In 2022, he was convicted of child pornography charges. Spotify said R. Kelly’s music will remain on its streaming service, however.
“We don’t censor content because of an artist or creator’s behavior, but we do want our editorial decisions — what we choose to program — to reflect our values,” Spotify said at the time. “When an artist or creator does something that is particularly harmful or hateful, it may affect how we work with or support that artist or creator.”
But less than a month later, the company backtracked on its statement and updated its policy, saying “we don’t seek to play judge and jury” and said their editorial decisions on the Reading List “focus on music that will resonate positively with their listeners”. The company said some artists fear mistakes made when they were younger could be used against them on Spotify.
Striking the right balance between monitoring offensive content and protecting the free speech rights of artists and podcast hosts has been a tricky balancing act for the Swedish streaming giant.
Earlier this year, some music artists boycotted Spotify following controversial remarks made by popular podcast host Joe Rogan, who was accused of spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Rogan has also received backlash for using the N-word on his past podcasts, and some episodes have been removed. In a memo to staff, Ek wrote that while he condemned what Rogan said, he “doesn’t believe silencing Joe is the answer.”
Last year, Spotify and Apple Music removed country musician Morgan Wallen from their playlists after he was filmed saying the N-word.
At the time, Wallen had released a new album about a month before the controversy and suffered severe backlash.
Ye’s latest album, “Donda 2”, was released in February. He launched it on his Stem Player instead of major streaming platforms.
If his songs contained hate speech, it would violate Spotify’s content guidelines, but not his music.
“Is there a real legal reason to take down his music? I don’t think so,” said Helen Yu, lead attorney for Yu Leseberg. “Hate speech is not in his music. So why would you delete his music? Don’t like this person? Don’t listen to his music. Don’t support it. Don’t let him make money.
As of Wednesday, West was still on Apple Music playlists, including “Hip-Hop/R&B Hits 2016” and “Work from Home Hustle,” as well as Spotify’s “Gold School” playlist, which listed several songs by West, notably “Stronger” and “Can’t Tell Me Anything”.
Another complicating factor: Other collaborators such as songwriters and producers are also involved in West’s songs, so removing his music would affect them as well.
Universal Music Group said its Def Jam label’s relationship with West as a recording artist ended last year.
“There is no place for anti-Semitism in our society,” UMG said in a statement. “We are deeply committed to the fight against anti-Semitism and any other form of prejudice.”
Def Jam, which owned the copyright to West’s recorded music from 2002 to 2016, did not request that his music be pulled from Spotify or other streaming services. Some of this work includes the music for West’s critically acclaimed albums, including “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and “The College Dropout”.
Ray Wang, principal analyst at Palo Alto-based Constellation Research, said brands and platforms are becoming more cautious about how they handle these situations.
“We’re at a point where the cancellations are just as polarizing as the non-cancellations,” Wang said.