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14 From Neil Young to its listeners, why is Spotify at the heart of a controversy?

From Neil Young to its listeners, why is Spotify at the heart of a controversy?


Cult folk-rock musician Neil Young and several other artists such as Joni Mitchell are blaming Spotify for hosting a popular and controversial podcast that spreads false information about Covid-19. As a result, more and more listeners are bailing out... and the platform is considering its options.

It all started with the mighty Neil Young, whose many albums appeal to a wide audience. In a letter to his management team and record label, the American-Canadian singer demanded that Spotify remove his music from its catalogue. "They can have Rogan or Young. Not both", the rock icon stated a few days ago. The author of the superb Harvest (1972) blames the streaming giant for hosting a hit podcast by former sportscaster Joe Rogan, 54. In this show, The Joe Rogan Experience, which the platform bought for $100 million in 2020 and whose episodes are followed by over 11 million listeners, Joe Rogan often makes comments that conservative supporters of the Trump ideology would not refute.


Controversial host Joe Rogan has also often given the floor to guests opposed to the Covid-19 vaccine or who spread fake news about the virus, to the point that, in January this year, more than two hundred American medical professionals called The Joe Rogan Experience "a threat to public health". This opinion is shared by Neil Young, for whom Spotify has become "the home of life-threatening COVID misinformation" or a space where "lies are being sold for money".


In the wake of his searing comments, the singer removed his entire catalogue from Spotify on 27th January. This strong action was followed by Joni Mitchell, who removed her catalogue from the platform on 28th January. For his part, James Blunt, in a humorous tweet, supported the decision of these artists to no longer be included among those offered by the Swedish giant. And Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, under contract with Spotify for a series of podcasts, have also voiced their concerns about fake news on the platform. For the past week, listeners have also been boycotting the streaming giant by declaring on Twitter with the hashtags #SpotifyDeleted and #DeleteSpotify, that they have unsubscribed.


In the face of the outpouring of criticism, Spotify has chosen to keep Joe Rogan on the air. But on Sunday 30th January, Daniel Ek, the CEO and founder of the number one streaming platform, said that he would be taking further action. In the coming days, podcasts about Covid will have to be accompanied by links to scientifically sourced information. Indeed, he admitted in a statement: "Based on the feedback over the past several weeks, it’s become clear to me that we have an obligation to do more to provide balance and access to widely-accepted information from the medical and scientific communities."  Except that the episode is far from over. Spotify is one of the platforms accused of not paying artists sufficiently. And the vindictiveness of influential artists will not help to temper the wrath.