It’s a truth across all mediums: when an artist dies, interest in his or her work skyrockets. When it comes to music, that used to mean that their albums and CDs would fly off shelves. Then it meant that downloads of their work would spike. Now it means having their music streamed for hours on end. It’s how we grieve for a life lost, whether it be from one gone too soon or from one that was long and well lived or anything in between.
Which is to say, odds are good that right now there’s an algorithm tracking the number of plays XXXTentacion is getting and delivering a report to a middle manager somewhere letting them know about how good a day they’re having, serving ads and having their stream count rise on the back of his death.
Given the history of the service and XXX, it’s weird, maybe even a little gross, that they’re continuing to profit off him, even in death. See, the Florida rapper was one of two artists targeted earlier this year by Spotify’s hateful conduct policy; I’d love to link you to said policy, but for whatever reason Spotify’s PR site is down, so you’ll just have to read the initial Billboard story about it. XXX, along with R. Kelly, had their music pulled from promoted Spotify playlists, but not pulled from the service altogether, as was the case with music from white nationalist acts last year.
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People were divided on this decision. One side argued that not promoting R. Kelly was a good thing, a small step against a man many feel shouldn’t have a career altogether. Others argued that the decision was just a fancy virtue signal; sure, they weren’t promoting these two artists anymore, but they were continuing to make money for and off of them. And then there was the third group, of which I was a part of, who mostly thought, “letting the world know you’re not going to promote two artists of color while saying nothing of the countless white artists who were also trash is pretty gross.”
In the end, artists like Kendrick Lamar stared down Spotify, and Spotify blinked, changing course on the policy. Log on today, click on their RapCaviar playlist—one of the most influential music playlists in the world—and you’ll see a message that reads “Rest In Peace, XXXTENTACION.” I guess when there’s no money to be made in looking like you’re on the right side of history, be on the side that celebrates the art of people who were, allegedly, not very good people. (For the full scoop on XXXTentacion, check out the amazing story our colleagues at Miami New Times published recently.)
Because that’s the thing: Spotify doesn’t care about values and whether or not they represent them. Did they get rid of racist music? Sure, because there are in fact some things you can’t host on your service without having the stink of it on you. But like anything else, that was a business decision, not one based on having serious issues with anything those artists have to say. This is a service that still hosts music by noted not great human/also pretty well known racist Charles Manson, in case you didn’t know.
I don’t believe any music streaming service should be forced to host any artist’s music, but I do believe who you choose to do business with is a reflection of who you are and what you believe. So, no, I’m not surprised Spotify is showing XXXTentacion love today, because they never cared about what he did (or didn’t) do. They just saw the chance to gain some goodwill by targeting an artist of color while still making money off him. Remember this next time Spotify or Netflix or any other company draws some imaginary moral line in the sand; it’s not what’s on the ground that matters, but what they’re hiding on the side of that line.