AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Spotify announced last week it was pulling R&B singer R. Kelly from its popular playlists. Then this week, other music streamers, including Pandora and Apple Music, did the same. R. Kelly stands accused of sexual misconduct that spans back nearly two decades. But the allegations have returned to the spotlight because of the Me Too movement. Now to find out more about this, we're joined by NPR music editor Andrew Flanagan.
Welcome to the studio.
ANDREW FLANAGAN, BYLINE: Thank you.
CORNISH: So remind us exactly what R. Kelly has been accused of.
FLANAGAN: Over the past year, there's been several reports that accuse R. Kelly of cultivating underage women for romantic relationships. No criminal charges have been brought against him, though a few weeks ago in Dallas, an anonymous woman did hire an attorney to present the district attorney in that city with evidence in the hopes of generating a criminal complaint.
CORNISH: In the meantime, you have this larger movement coming out of the Me Too movement, a very - pretty famous women saying that, hey, big music labels, you should do something about R. Kelly. And then the music streaming services take action. What happened?
FLANAGAN: So last week, Spotify announced a new policy around hate speech, which is nothing new for tech companies. YouTube, Apple Music - many of them have policies that prohibit speech that invites violence towards any specific group, which is the same as Spotify did. What Spotify did that's different is also include a provision around conduct of the artists that they are promoting editorially either through their curated playlists or serving people algorithmically.
CORNISH: But it's not like they're yanked from the store, so to speak, right? It just means that these services won't be highlighting you on their special playlists that they put out to feature artists.
FLANAGAN: Exactly. They're not removing any music. But Spotify's playlists and their algorithm are a huge driver to listening on the platform because if you have a library with 35 million books in it, it's hard to find just one, right?
CORNISH: Did they face a backlash of any kind, not necessarily that people are defending R. Kelly but that people are saying, like, well, wait a second. You can't pick winners and losers, so to speak, in your music catalogs.
FLANAGAN: Yeah. Two major label executives that I spoke to made that exact point, right? You are appointing yourself the arbiter of the line and giving no one else input into where that line is drawn. One pointed to Meek Mill, for example.
CORNISH: And this is the rapper who went to prison briefly.
FLANAGAN: Yes. They say, you know, he went to jail, and now he's out, right? Would Spotify take him off their editorial playlists and now that he's out put him back on? Or let's say a producer is accused of sexual misconduct against one artist. Do they pull his entire catalog, even from artists that he has no allegations against?
CORNISH: So I don't know if Spotify or other companies have gotten a chance to respond to those questions. But what have they said about this decision?
FLANAGAN: I asked them this morning for a reaction to the dust-up that they've caused. And they said they weren't prepared to comment.
CORNISH: Not prepared to comment. Do you get the sense that this is just the beginning? Will we see more action like this?
FLANAGAN: It's hard to say. Tech companies wield outsized power in this way, as kind of middlemen between content and listeners or readers. So whatever they do, it has to be deeply considered. And this seems to be halfway.
CORNISH: That's NPR music editor Andrew Flanagan. Thanks for explaining it to us.
FLANAGAN: Thank you.
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