Spotify wants money, not progress

The streaming service does the bare minimum amid recent controversy.


Sarina Grossi, Editor-in-Chief

For many music listeners and podcast enjoyers, Spotify is considered the best streaming service possible. However, the billion-dollar company has recently come under fire due to their connection with Joe Rogan, the host of “The Joe Rogan Experience,” which is the top podcast on the platform.

Rogan has been a controversial figure for a few years now, recently being criticized for allegedly spreading misinformation about COVID-19, with musicians like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell pulling their music off of Spotify as a form of protest. In addition, the artist India Arie (who is also protesting the platform) shared a compilation video of Rogan on Thursday, Feb. 3, repeatedly using the N-word spanning from 2009 to 2018.

Since the video picked up traction, Rogan and the Spotify team removed over 71 episodes of the podcast, with a total of 113 episodes being removed from the streaming service. According to “The Hollywood Reporter,” the CEO of Spotify Daniel Ek responded to the video with a letter to the company, claiming that he was appalled by Rogan’s usage of the slur. Despite this disgust, Ek affirmed that the company will not drop its contract with the podcaster.

“I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer. We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope,” said Ek. “Looking at the issue more broadly, it’s critical thinking and open debate that powers real and necessary progress.”

This column is not about whether or not Rogan should be “canceled.” Personally, I don’t believe cancellation is truly effective in tackling the wrongdoings of people, but this column is also not about that. This column is about accountability on Spotify’s part.

Something I question is how Ek frames the most recent controversy and the possible “cancellation” of Rogan as cutting off debate. 

This sentiment makes sense for previous grievances against Rogan for his takes on vaccines and COVID-19, but what exhilarating discussions does casually saying the N-word provoke? Rogan’s usage of the word was not criticizing it, it was not opening up insightful conversations, it was just using the word for the sake of using the word. 

Spotify doesn’t believe in “silencing” Rogan, but they are ok with sanitizing his content, deleting any evidence that indicates his indiscretions. I do not understand how removing this content exactly opens conversation and debate if that is what they intend to do, and instead, it seems like a backtrack due to getting caught. These episodes have been available for years, yet they only now appear to now care about their content.

Besides helping Rogan with damage control, they don’t appear to infringe any sort of punishment on him. They changed their platform rules to cover COVID-19 misinformation as a response to the controversy, but have done nothing directly against Rogan, seemingly to protect their relationship with him in the process.

Not only does it seem like Spotify does not care about accountability, the company also issues disingenuous promises.

Ek states that Spotify has a new initiative to invest $100 million “for the licensing, development, and marketing of music (artists and songwriters) and audio content from historically marginalized groups,” adding that the company needs to elevate “all” voices including those of minorities. Although this act seems considerate at eye level, to me it feels like an incredibly deceptive act of damage control.

Rogan’s current contract with the streaming service to make exclusive content is worth $100 million. His podcast, to Spotify, is worth the same amount as this new marketing initiative to include marginalized groups. His podcast is worth more than many artists (including minority artists) on the platform who earn a maximum of $0.00437 per stream.

Spotify, a music streaming platform, gives more capital to Rogan than the musicians that the company was built off of. For them, it’s an easy return of investment. Rogan makes Spotify money seeing that the “Joe Rogan Experience” is the top podcast on the platform and gets its own tile on the search page, attracting his listeners to the service. Why would the company do anything to get rid of or prohibit their top earner?

With the constant promotion of the Rogan’s podcast on their platform, Spotify is simultaneously claiming to uplift marginalized voices while making a large profit off a person who used demeaning words and jokes against them. Spotify wants to elevate all voices, but mainly those that make them the most money while being controversial and giving them the most publicity.

Again, I’m not trying to tell Spotify what they should do with Rogan. Honestly, whatever decision Spotify makes will make any group of people angry. However, the company should not disguise financial opportunities as some form of activism. Not taking action does not equate to helping those who formed the backbone of the service.