This isn’t the first time The Joe Rogan Experience has dragged Spotify into a shitstorm over free speech, misinformation, and controversial content on the platform, and it certainly won’t be the last. The past few cycles have generally sputtered out within a week, but this one — sparked by Neil Young and specifically pegged to concerns over COVID-19 misinformation — seems to have longer legs than usual. A broader and somewhat more prominent coalition of people are either joining the process or expressing concern than in previous iterations.
Spotify has already responded to the brouhaha ahead of its earnings call this week, making public its platform rules over COVID-19 misinformation and announcing other steps like applying a warning label to podcast episodes discussing the pandemic as well as some sort of COVID-19 information hub on the service. At this point, it’s unclear whether it’ll be enough to dissipate the moment, or whether more voices will join the fray. Until we know for sure, though, here’s a rough and running list of musicians, artists, and creators who have spoken up or taken specific action in the wake of Spotify’s latest Rogan controversy.
It started, obviously, with Neil Young. The Canadian music legend, who survived polio in his youth, got the ball rolling on January 24 when he issued an ultimatum to Spotify to choose between his discography or The Joe Rogan Experience. Young noted that his decision was inspired by an open letter from over 270 medical professionals demanding Spotify take action against “mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform.” The letter specifically targeted The Joe Rogan Experience as the prominent vector of that public misinformation. (Rolling Stone was first to report on both the open letter and Young’s ultimatum.)
Spotify, of course, sided with Rogan, and proceeded to remove Young’s archive from the platform on January 27.
The Best Show
On January 27, Tom Scharpling and Jon Wuster announced that their beloved comedy podcast and radio program, The Best Show, would no longer be available on Spotify. “We love ya, @NeilYoungNYA,” the podcast’s account tweeted.
On January 28, fellow Canadian legend Joni Mitchell joined Young in his protest, stating that she has also started the process to request Spotify remove her discography from the platform. “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives,” Mitchell wrote in a statement on her personal website. “I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”
On January 29, the rock musician Nils Lofgren joined Young and Mitchell in moving to pull his music from Spotify due to concerns over COVID-19 misinformation on the platform. “As I write this letter, we’ve now gotten the last 27 years of my music taken off Spotify,” wrote Lofgren in a statement posted on Young’s website. “We are reaching out to the labels that own my earlier music to have it removed as well.”
A frequent collaborator with Young, Lofgren is perhaps best known as a member of Crazy Horse and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. (On a related note: Springsteen, you might remember, once hosted a Spotify exclusive with former president Barack Obama, who also has a lucrative content deal with Spotify through Higher Ground, the Obamas’ production studio.)
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, who signed an exclusive Spotify deal in 2020 said to be worth $25 million through their studio Archewell Audio, reportedly “expressed concerns” to Spotify over COVID-19 misinformation on the platform. The news was first reported in The Guardian on January 30.
The former royals’ concerns with misinformation on the platform had apparently predated this particular news cycle. “Last April, our co-founders began expressing concerns to our partners at Spotify about the all too real consequences of COVID-19 misinformation on its platform,” an Archewell spokesperson said in a statement. “We have continued to express our concerns to Spotify to ensure changes to its platform are made to help address this public-health crisis.”
For what it’s worth, Archewell Audio has published only one podcast episode — a holiday special — since signing its deal with Spotify, which presumably limits their leverage to withholding future output.
On January 29, the author, researcher, professor, and corporate consultant Brené Brown, who also hosts a popular Spotify-exclusive podcast called Unlocking Us, announced on Twitter that she was momentarily pausing the publication of new episodes. At the time, she did not explicitly cite her reason for doing so.
On February 1, Brown posted an update to her website, explaining her decision to pause the podcast. She expressed similar concerns to others who pulled content, but noted that she wasn’t issuing some sort of Young-style ultimatum. “I’m not interested in canceling or silencing or censoring anyone, including Joe Rogan,” she wrote. “This was not, nor has it ever been, framed to the public or to Spotify as ‘me or Joe.’ HARD STOP.”
The logic of the move, she insisted, was to instead take some time to better understand the situation with misinformation on the platform, and what Spotify intends to do about it.
“Now that Spotify has published its misinformation policy, and the policy itself appears to address the majority of my concerns, I’m in the process of learning how the policy will be applied,” Brown wrote. “I’m hopeful that the podcasts will be back next week.”
On January 31, Wendy Zukerman and Blythe Terrell, the creator and editor of the Gimlet Media podcast Science Versus, published a letter stating their frustration with Spotify’s support of The Joe Rogan Experience and their dissatisfaction with the company’s newly published Platform Rules targeting COVID-19 misinformation, arguing that they not go “far enough.”
“Until Spotify implements stronger methods to prevent the spread of misinformation on the platform, we will no longer be making new Science Vs episodes, except those intended to counteract misinformation being spread on Spotify,” Zukerman and Terrell wrote in the letter, adding that they hope to closely collaborate with Spotify to further combat misinformation on the platform.
A day later, Zukerman and Terrell issued an update stating that Spotify had indicated “they intend to work with us, it feels like a step in the right direction.”
Crosby, Stills & Nash
Graham Nash — Neil Young’s former bandmate, back when everybody rolled as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — announced on February 1 that he, too, is moving to remove his music from Spotify.
In a statement published in The Guardian, Nash wrote: “I completely agree with and support my friend Neil Young and I am requesting that my solo recordings be removed from the service … The opinions publicised by Rogan are so dishonest and unsupported by solid facts that Spotify becomes an enabler in a way that costs people their lives.”
David Crosby and Stephen Stills would later join Nash on February 2, bringing the band back together (sorta). “While we always value alternate points of view, knowingly spreading disinformation during this global pandemic has deadly consequences,” they wrote in a statement. “Until real action is taken to show that a concern for humanity must be balanced with commerce, we don’t want our music — or the music we made together — to be on the same platform.”
On February 1, singer-songwriter India Arie announced on Instagram that she, too, will be removing her content — which includes music and a podcast — from the platform, but expanded the circle of her reasoning for doing so.
“I believe in freedom of speech,” the musician wrote. “However, I find Joe Rogan problematic for reasons OTHER than his Covid interviews … FOR ME ITS ALSO HIS language around race.”
Arie appears to be referring to a recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience with the controversial academic and YouTube personality Jordan Peterson (who, by the way, is also a podcaster). As The Hollywood Reporter pointed out, the episode included a portion where Rogan commented, during a riff, that it was “weird” to regard Black people as “Black” unless they were “100 percent African, from the darkest place, where they’re not wearing any clothes all day.”
February 1 also saw the author Roxane Gay, who hosts a Luminary original podcast called The Roxane Gay Agenda, announce that she would stop distributing her show through Spotify.