The Chris Brown problem on Spotify

How do we deal with bad players in music when every listen translates to payment?

For a few weeks in a row now, Chris Brown has appeared in my Spotify Release Radar. I’m not sure why, because I don’t follow him, nor do I really listen to similar music, but that’s a different topic.

The issue I have is: I do not want my streams to put money into the pockets of abusers (Chris Brown has a history of violence towards women, and victim-blaming). So that means I can’t really listen to my Release Radar in the background, or most curated playlists for that matter, because I want to make sure Spotify never plays those tracks to me.

I’m singling out Spotify here, because I’m an avid user: basically all streaming services have this problem. I’ve made the case for a global ban button for particular artists before, when I wrote about the Moby problem on Spotify. Basically, in curated environments, it would be nice to give some control back to the user and let them blacklist certain artists they’re not comfortable with.

Not only would this give listeners a more manageable overall experience, but it would also allow people to immediately make sure their money doesn’t go to abusers (and in the aftermath of the Weinstein fallout, surely Hollywood’s revelations will start spreading to the music business too).

But there’s another issue: in the streaming era, how do we listen to controversial artists without sending money their way?

For example, some brutal details around rapper XXXTentacion came out a while ago. He comes across as an abusive monster, and regularly gets into fights with fans. Yet, he’s still very popular. I’m curious why – is the music that good? I opened Spotify to check him out, but stopped myself from hitting the playback button, being aware that listening means money will go towards him (or his label, and seriously, they should do a Netflix and drop this dude + donate profits to causes that help victims / survivors of abuse).

But the ‘Chris Brown problem’ is that dudes like this keep being put into popular playlists, keep appearing in users’ personal playlists through algorithm recommendations. As listeners, we need a way to shield ourselves, and prevent our money from going into the pockets of these people.

If Spotify and other services are serious about their passive ‘lean back’ experience: give us a blacklist button. Let us ban Chris Brown.

Meanwhile one Reddit user has a suggestion for when artists you like collaborate with such people (which I’m sure a lot of readers won’t like):