To be a clear, Spotify is making a distinction between hate content, which it says it will “remove … whenever we find it,” and music by artists who may have done morally or legally questionable things. Here’s how the company describes its approach in these situations:
We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions — what we choose to program — to reflect our values. When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful (for example, violence against children and sexual violence), it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.
So Billboard has confirmed that starting today, listeners will no longer find songs by R. Kelly on Spotify’s playlists, whether they’re editorially curated or created algorithmically. (A number of women have accused Kelly of sexual abuse, though he has denied the allegations.) The publication also confirmed that rapper XXXTentacion had been removed from the high-profile Rap Caviar playlist.
In theory, this seems like a reasonable balance between not wanting to remove artists from the platform entirely and not wanting the apperance of tacitly endorsing reprehensible behavior. (Putting someone on a high-profile Spotify playlist really is a big deal, with hit-making power.)
But as others have pointed out, this could also put Spotify in the position of making a lot of tricky calls, since there are plenty of other musicians who have been accused of (or convicted of, or admitted to) some pretty bad stuff.
Spotify may find itself in a similar situation to YouTube, which also tried to crack down on objectionable content (and become more advertiser-friendly) by setting a higher bar for creator monetization. In theory, it was the right decision, but it also led to plenty of creator complaints and a bit of course correction.