“With all artists who have challenges, I believe it’s about the music,” Thea Mitchem, a New York radio programmer, told Billboard recently about her station’s decision to play the song “Sad!” by XXXTentacion. Artists who have challenges is a euphemism, and the challenges in his particular case are accusations that XXXTentacion had beaten his then-pregnant girlfriend. The fact that the 20-year-old rapper is awaiting trial on charges related to those allegations, and that he has often bragged of committing violence, has elicited many critics to call for listeners to shun his music. But “Sad!” nevertheless sits at No. 35 on the R&B/hip-hop airplay charts—which would not be possible if radio were boycotting him.
On Thursday, one music-industry institution finally announced that it, at least, would not promote alleged abusers. As part of Spotify’s newly announced “Hate Content and Hateful Conduct” policy, XXXTentacion’s songs have been removed from playlists controlled by the world’s most popular streaming service. So has the music of R. Kelly, the R&B star alleged to have routinely preyed on young and underage women. Their music will remain available to call up on Spotify, but will be absent from the company’s editorially or algorithmically generated playlists, whose users can rank in the millions. The move raises a number of tough questions—including why this modest step is arguably the strongest stance the music industry has taken regarding reported abuse in the era of #MeToo.