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Tracking Trends: Neil Young vs. Spotify, Joe Rogan controversy

On Jan. 24, Neil Young gave Spotify an ultimatum to remove "The Joe Rogan Experience" podcast or his music from the music-streaming platform after podcast host Joe Rogan spread COVID-19 misinformation for months.

The Canadian-American country-rock singer published a letter to his management team and record label pressuring them to remove his discography from Spotify. The letter, which has since been deleted, referenced the false claims Rogan has made about the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Young wrote that he was inspired to take action after a letter published and signed by over 200 medical professionals called on Spotify to address Rogan’s “concerning history of broadcasting misinformation, particularly regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

In an episode published April 23, 2021, Rogan said, “But if you're like 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I'll go no.”

According to Spotify’s year-end statistics, "JRE" was the most-streamed podcast among Spotify listeners in 2021. Spotify has removed approximately 70 episodes of Rogan’s podcast after videos of him using a racial slur resurfaced. On Friday, Feb. 4, Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter India.Arie published a compilation of the comments on Instagram and has requested her music be removed from Spotify. Author and Black, queer feminist Roxane Gay has also decided to remove her podcast "The Roxane Gay Agenda" from Spotify, also.

Young’s music was removed on Jan. 27 after Spotify, which paid Rogan $100 million dollars to buy exclusive rights to his podcast in 2020, refused to remove "JRE" from its podcast library. Several artists and podcast hosts are following Young’s lead, including Jodi Mitchell, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. Other popular figures on Spotify who are reconsidering their partnership include Brené Brown and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

“Apart from the misinformation, it sounds similar to what’s happened with some K-pop groups and why their big time producers/whoever ‘owns' them in South Korea won’t let their music be shared on Spotify,” Caroline Rhude, a sophomore studying Spanish and social work at Ohio University, said in a message.

Spotify confirmed to NME in March 2021 that Kakao M, a South Korean entertainment company, would be removing several Korean artists’ catalogs from the streaming platform. The music was added back to Spotify 10 days later.

“I think it’s ironic what Neil Young said about spreading misinformation considering the comments he made about LGBT and AIDS in the 80s,” Logan Hancock, a student who graduated in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in education from Ohio State University, said. 

According to Rolling Stone, Young made offensive comments about AIDS in an interview with Melody Maker in 1985, using a queer slur and other expletives.

Taylor Linzinmeir, a freelance journalist for Alternative Press Magazine and Loudwire and a recent OU graduate said artists have been removing their content from Spotify even before the controversy between Young and "JRE." 

“They’re doing it because of Spotify’s inability to fairly pay them for their work,” Linzinmeir said. “It’s not just the COVID stuff.”

According to Digital Music News, Spotify’s stock market value has dropped about 25% since the start of 2022 and 45% over the last year. Linzinmeir said the controversy has morphed into a debate about the first amendment and free speech. 

“I like to see where everyone stands,” Linzinmeir said. “And I want to know what's going to happen to Spotify.”


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