Neil Young Storms at Spotify ‘Like a Hurricane’

Thom Weidlich 02.03.22


Rocker Neil Young’s threat to pull his music from Spotify — citing alleged COVID falsities on star podcaster Joe Rogan’s show — required some communication from the audio-streaming outfit. But, for too long, what did we hear? Crickets (not a Buddy Holly reference). Spotify finally spoke and … meh.

Last week, Young (pictured) said he’d remove his songs from Spotify after a host of science and health professionals wrote an open letter complaining about COVID-vaccine misinformation on “The Joe Rogan Experience.” “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both,” the singer wrote. Spotify chose Rogan, and Young yanked the songs. “The (Lifted Stereo) Needle and the Damage Done”?

On Friday, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell also said she’d pull her music. Protests followed from Bruce Springsteen guitarist Nils Lofgren, podcaster Brené Brown and Crosby, Stills & Nash. The #DeleteSpotify hashtag sprouted and customers began unsubscribing. New York Times headline: “Spotify’s Joe Rogan Problem Isn’t Going Away.”

Content Advisory

The opprobrium screamed out for a response; there was little. Finally, on Sunday, Jan. 30, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek penned a blog post. Ek didn’t want Spotify to be a “content censor,” but admitted it hasn’t been “transparent” about its rules, so for the first time it was publishing them. The company would add a content advisory to podcasts that include COVID discussions, he said. It would look for ways to help content providers understand the concept of accountability.

Ek’s post sounded familiar to anyone following platform wars past and present. To the extent Spotify is using Facebook’s crisis playbook, it isn’t recommended. The content warnings in particular have garnered a lot of cynicism. Who reads them?

The situation differs from other platform sagas in that Rogan’s isn’t just some show that happens to appear on Spotify. In 2020 the company paid a reported $100 million for the exclusive rights to it, and it’s Spotify’s most popular podcast. The company can’t evade responsibility for it.

Differing Opinions

Oddly, in his blog post, Ek never mentioned Rogan — or Neil Young. But Rogan himself, on the same day (Sunday), uploaded a video on Instagram. After some defensiveness about his guests, he said he completely agreed with Spotify’s new content-advisory policy. He’d try to have experts with differing opinions on right after the controversial ones, he said.

He also apologized, including to Spotify, for kicking up this storm. “I don’t always get it right,” he said. To prove his point, he lauded Joni Mitchell for the Rickie Lee Jones song “Chuck E.’s in Love.”

Given that Spotify and Rogan were forced to reply, you can’t say Neil Young didn’t accomplish anything with his protest. It’s nice that he didn’t feel “helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless.”

Photo Credit: Ben Houdijk/Shutterstock

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