Streaming services face new tests over artists' misconduct

ARTISTS IN TROUBLE: Rapper Chris Brown (left) was detained on Monday in Paris after a woman filed a rape complaint. He has since been released. Singer R. Kelly (above), who has been accused of coercing women into having sex when they were underage, i
ARTISTS IN TROUBLE: Rapper Chris Brown (above) was detained on Monday in Paris after a woman filed a rape complaint.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
ARTISTS IN TROUBLE: Rapper Chris Brown (left) was detained on Monday in Paris after a woman filed a rape complaint. He has since been released. Singer R. Kelly (above), who has been accused of coercing women into having sex when they were underage, i
Singer R. Kelly (above), who has been accused of coercing women into having sex when they were underage, is banned from Spotify's playlists.

A rape complaint against singer Chris Brown threatens to put streaming services under fresh scrutiny in their response to the behaviour of musicians they stream

NEW YORK • To play or not to play? Spotify and other music-streaming services, which have struggled with how to cope with allegations of misconduct by artists, are facing a new test.

Singer Chris Brown was detained on Monday in Paris after a woman filed a rape complaint, renewing legal trouble for an artist who pleaded guilty to felony assault of then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009.

Brown was held on potential charges of aggravated rape and drug infractions, a French judicial official had told the media.

However, he has since been released and does not have to face charges.

The incident threatens to put the streaming services under fresh scrutiny - especially after the polarising downfall of R. Kelly, who has faced allegations of sexual misconduct for years.

Spotify attempted to penalise artists' misbehaviour in a policy adopted last year, stripping Kelly and rapper XXXTentacion from its playlists. But the company had to walk back the policy after a few weeks when artists such as rapper Kendrick Lamar threatened to boycott the service.

Following the decline of CDs and terrestrial radio, music-streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora have become a key link between artists and listeners.

 
 
 

That has added pressure on the companies to respond to the behaviour of musicians they stream.

Pandora said it had been refining its policies for artists with a track record of offensive content or unacceptable behaviour.

"We approach each situation on a case-by-case basis to ensure we stay true to our principles, avoid unnecessary censorship and provide a safe experience for our listeners," spokesman Dayle Dempsey said.

Under Spotify's short-lived rules last year, the offending acts were pulled from its playlists, but listeners could still seek them out on the service.

The policy did not specify which behaviour it considered problematic and Spotify did not communicate its plans with the music industry in advance.

Some people mistakenly believed that the artists were not available on the service in any form.

"While we believe our intentions were good, the language was too vague, we created confusion and concern, and didn't spend enough time getting input from our own team and key partners before sharing new guidelines," the company said in a blog post at the time.

XXXTentacion, a rapper accused of assaulting a pregnant woman, was restored to the service in June.

He was murdered later that month in an apparent robbery.

But Kelly remains banned from Spotify's playlists. He has been accused of coercing women into having sex when they were underage.

Parents also have alleged that the R&B singer held their daughters against the women's will.

A recent documentary series, called Surviving R. Kelly, renewed concerns about the artist with its accounts from his alleged victims.

In the wake of the outcry, Sony's RCA scrubbed Kelly from its line-up last week. The music label also represents Brown.

The furore also led Lady Gaga, whose 2013 single Do What U Want features Kelly, to distance herself from the singer and apologised for her poor judgment over working with him. "I intend to remove this song off iTunes and other streaming platforms and will not be working with him again," she posted online.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2019, with the headline 'Streaming services face new tests over artists' misconduct'. Print Edition | Subscribe