Spotify’s Values

Spotify provides a streaming music service to millions of users, and like any media platform is legally entitled to pick and choose which artists and content to carry and feature. In what is very likely a response to the #TimesUp and #MuteRKelly movements, Spotify’s recent decision has become the subject of debate by both artists and listeners.

According to Billboard magazine’s website,

As part of the new policy, Spotify also de-playlisted works by R. Kelly, who has faced a slew of sexual abuse allegations he denies but who “never has been convicted of a crime, nor does he have any pending criminal charges against him,” Kelly’s team said in a statement Thursday, noting that the “lyrics he writes express love and desire” while Spotify “promotes numerous other artists who are convicted felons, others who have been arrested on charges of domestic violence and artists who sing lyrics that are violent and anti-women in nature.”

To be clear, I’m not a fan of R. Kelly, or XXXTentacion, but this new policy by Spotify raises some important questions about how sanctions are applied to artists/performers who have been accused of bad behavior. In the past it was often a criminal conviction that was the tipping point that led to censure. But in the absence of a criminal charge, on what basis is Spotify making this decision? And will this move by Spotify be followed by similar action by Apple Music, RCA, and Ticketmaster: other entities that have a stake in Kelly’s music? And what about other artists that have been accused of mis-behavior?

Spotify is trying to make clear their decision-making process and published a webpage for artists that details what kinds of private behavior may lead to censure by the company. According to Spotify,

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.

This problem is not limited to Spotify and we can expect to see similar responses from social media sites, especially content-communities such as YouTube and Reddit, when cultural norms are breached and offended individuals/groups bring complaints.




Pulitzer for Kendrick

The Onion, satirical website

This is an actual screen shot from The Onion website. While the headline may be outrageous, it’s actually true. Not until you get to the two quotes does The Onion’s trademark satire kick in.

But seriously, who would have thought that the Pulitzer Prize in Music for 2018 would go to a rapper from Compton. According to National Public Radio, “It’s the first time in the prize’s history that it has been given to an artist outside of the classical or jazz community.” And the song DAMN is, according to The New Yorker, “the first hip-hop composition to be honored since the establishment of the music prize, in 1943.”

Others have noted that this award is further indication that pop culture is finally being recognized instead of stigmatized by the culturally elite crowd. Just as Bob Dylan’s receipt of a Nobel Prize for Literature last year shook up the Nobel crowd, this may be the ultimate affirmation for a music genre that has typically mocked conventional and institutional values. And while this decision by the Pulitzer judges may be political, it is clearly not satirical.




Roll Out the Red Carpet: It’s Time for the Media Awards Shows

AwardsThe 58th Grammy Awards show tomorrow night, Feb 15th, continues the awards show season that started with the Golden Globe Awards show broadcast on January 10th. Next up will be the movie industry’s gala, the 88th Academy Awards show, (aka, the Oscars), scheduled for February 28th. Two smaller awards programs, the iHeartRadio Music Awards show and the 51st Academy of Country Music Awards, will air in April. TV’s big night, the Emmy Awards, will air sometime in the fall season.

These awards shows are an opportunity for media executives and celebrities to take a stroll on the red carpet while they pat each other on the back. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but the hoopla is mostly an insider’s party that the public is allows to watch from the sidelines. (Of, if you’re really lucky, up close as a seat filler.)

If you like music, movies, and TV there will likely be something for you to enjoy. But there will also be performances and awards that will just as likely make you wonder what else is on. These awards shows are all about pop media content, but the range is pretty broad and not to everyone’s taste.

However, if you need a reason to tune in here are a few.

Grammys: 1) Taylor v Kendrick, 2) you’ll get to see a number from the Broadway show Hamilton, and 3) Lady Gaga’s tribute to David Bowie.

The Academy Awards: 1) will be hosted this year by Chris Rock, which is particularly newsworthy because of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the calls to boycott by leading black actors, and 2) Leonardo DiCaprio is up for an Oscar for The Revenant, and 3) the outfits.

The Beat Goes On

A new report from Nielsen confirms that music is still an important part of most Americans’ lives. The Music 360 2015 Report found that 91% of us listen to music and we spend an average of 24 hours each week listening. That’s an average of 3.4 hours/day…that’s more time than college and university students spend on work and related activities (2.5 hours) and even more time than they spend on educational activities (3.3 hours) (link).

According to Nielsen,

Radio continues to be the No. 1 source of music discovery in the U.S, with 61% of respondents saying they find out about new music from AM/FM or satellite radio, a 7% increase over last year. Word of mouth is also important, particularly for teens: 65% say they discover new music through family and friends, well above the average of 45%.

music-360-chartAccording to another report from Nielsen, “On average, U.S. consumers report spending $109 each year on music. So aside from albums, what other types of music options are consumers spending their money on? Surprisingly, live events are gaining momentum, as they now account for more than half of total music activity spending each year.”how-we-spend-money-on-music-final

The chart on the right shows how American music consumers are spending (or not spending) their dollars to acquire music. As you can see, live concerts and CDs are the top two ways of purchasing access to music. While this chart may not describe your spending patterns, it is interesting to note that traditional means of acquiring music are still important. And you may also be interested in knowing that two albums alone sold a combined 7 million units last year…dominating album sales. “Combined, Taylor Swift’s 1989 and the Frozen soundtrack accounted for almost half of the year’s top 10 album sales.”


Jailhouse Rock: Pussy Riot Found Guilty

In case you haven’t heard, members of the punk rock band Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in prison for, “hooliganism driven by religious hatred.” The trial and sentencing of the three Russian women has attracted attention and outrage from around the world. Amnesty International and other supporters of free speech and human rights have declared them “prisoners of conscience.” According to USA Today,

The three were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in Moscow’s main cathedral, high-kicking and dancing while singing a “punk prayer” pleading the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin.

Several celebrities have spoken out in support of Pussy Riot. Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion, as well as Paul McCartney and Madonna have expressed support for the rights of the performers. Russia does not have the same level of protection for speech that we appreciate.  Thanks to the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, US citizens have much more freedom to speak our minds than do most other citizens of the world.

But we also want to be careful that free speech rights do not infringe on the rights of others. Hate speech is one of those sensitive areas where, even in America, free speech sometimes has to take a back seat. But who gets to decide that a specific act of speech crosses the line into hate speech and, in so doing, forfeits the rights of the speaker to protection under the law? That’s a question that many are asking in light of this sentence.

Update Aug 20: In an unusual twist, Madonna is being sued for over $10M by concert goers who “were offended by her support for gay rights during a recent concert in St. Petersburg.” See more here.

Whitney Houston’s Teachable Moments

Whitney Houston taught us a lot about life. When a pop star lives, and dies, in the media spotlight teachable moments are part of the package. But not all of those moments have a happy ending. The last, and some would argue most lasting, lesson from Whitney’s life may be that battling addiction is a struggle that too often ends tragically for everyone involved.

Whitney had it all: a gift of a voice that only comes around once or twice in a lifetime, beauty, fame, and fortune. Whitney taught us that moving from the church choir to the concert hall takes just a few short steps if you’ve got real talent. She taught us that life is to be celebrated and that music can lift our spirits like nothing else. And she taught us to be careful about who we choose as friends and lovers.

Sadly, Whitney joins a long line of musical performers who lost the battle with drug and/or alcohol. Every generation and every musical style can point to artists who sacrificed their own lives in the pursuit of their musical passion. See my earlier post, Popular Music’s Sad Legacy, for other recent examples of musicians who met a similar fate.

For some the struggle to rise from obscurity to stardom is too much to bear. Climbing Mt. Everest may be a suitable metaphor. While many aspire to reach the top, the summit has room for only a  few superstars at a time. Those who slip and fall off the trail are quickly forgotten and even those who reach the summit are not guaranteed a safe return to base camp. The air is thin, and the lack of oxygen can impair one’s judgement at those critical moments when the trail gets steep and storms roll in.

The mass media are known for creating, and destroying, careers and legacies. Even after a career has peaked, the after-market of reality TV shows are there to drain whatever life remains. Whitney’s family and friends probably wish they could “undo” the hours of videotape footage that was recorded in the making of Being Bobby Brown, a reality TV series that aired on Bravo in 2005.

No doubt, Whitney Houston’s music will live on long after her death. But it will always be remembered as music that ended abruptly before the final verse and chorus were sung.

Popular Music’s Sad Legacy

The death of Amy Winehouse–from what some suspect was a drug overdose–may not come as much of a surprise to her fans or those who study popular culture. Sadly, too many aspiring young musicians have died early deaths as a result of addictive behavior and a hard-driving lifestyle. The phenomenon has  been chronicled in a 2009 book, The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll.
There’s also a movie, The 27 Club, based on the tragic and dangerous lifestyle that too many have tried, unsuccessfully, to live. Here’s a brief synopsis of the movie:

When you’re dead, you’re gone. You exist only in the minds of those you leave behind. You become a fragment of a story; a beginning, middle or end. Tom is dead. Elliot has been left behind. Tom was the front man of their successful band, Finn. He died on his 27th birthday. Elliot is left to decide if he, too, will join The 27 Club.

Members of the real-life 27 Club include, among others: Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain. A complete list is available here.

Music, an important social and cultural force, and the music industry have long attracted artists and creative minds that sometimes march to the beat of a different drummer. Add to that a lavish lifestyle and the trappings that come with fame and fortune and the outcome is sometimes too easy to predict. The need to succeed–which for many musicians is exemplified by an appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine–often eclipses more rational and reasonable needs that are part of a healthy lifestyle. It is sad to watch talented and creative musicians self-destruct. In some cases the downward spiral is quick and catches us off guard. For other, such as Winehouse, the signs have been present for quite some time.

August 24 Update: Toxicology reports indicate that illegal drugs are not responsible for the death of Winehouse leaving experts puzzled. However, the following from ABC News indicates that the evidence is not conclusive.

But Pittsburg forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht cautions against reaching a conclusion from the family’s statement.

“The fact that the family said no illicit drugs were found does not mean in and of itself other drugs obtained legally were not found,” Wecht told “Most drug deaths are from legally obtained drugs. That’s one caveat I would express in regard to the family’s statement.”

Bruce A. Goldberger, a toxicology professor at the University of Florida, said some prescription drugs, illicit drugs and “designer” drugs can escape detection.

Misogynistic Hip-Hop Lyrics: What’s the Big Deal?

In class today we discussed the prevalence of misogynistic lyrics in rap and hip-hop music. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to hear from more than a few of you, and I’m curious about what others think about this issue. To rephrase the issue, is it okay for popular rap and hip-hop artists to denigrate women? If so, are women paying a price for accepting attitudes and images that reduce them to sex objects and second-class citizens? And if not, why do people defend the music and the musicians that perpetrate these images? Before you weigh in, watch this five minute video on YouTube:

Before posting a reply remember that this is not a forum to attack a culture, subculture, ethnic group or individuals belonging to any group. Keep your comments civil and attack the issues…not other posters.

Copying is Not Theft…Or is it?

This video is a rather “cute” argument in favor of digital copying, but the logic has some serious flaws. As YouTube commentator “spare2288” noted (with a little ad hominem thrown in for effect), “Copying is not theft. okaaaay. Also, theft is wrong. uhh yeahhh. Therefore copying is not wrong. hmm…sorry are you a moron?”

On another blog, “Anonymous” said, “I’m sure the manufacturer of the bicycle in the cartoon will be glad that making a copy of the bicycle is so easy. This will free him from the burden of actually manufacturing and selling bicycles which used to be a high-paid technical position. User-generated copying saved him just like it saved the music industry.”

If you’re a bicycle maker, or musicians, having people copy your work for free may not put you in the mood to sing along with this catchy little tune.