Two iconic singer/songwriters, 76-year-old Neil Young and 78-year-old Joni Mitchell, recently sent shock waves through the music industry when they announced that they were leaving Spotify in response to the COVID-19 misinformation that anti-vaxxer Joe Rogan has been promoting on his podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience.” The right-wing comedian has also been drawing criticism for racist comments, and liberal Washington Post opinion columnist Karen Attiah — in her February 8 column — slams Rogan and Spotify as textbook examples of how profitable racism can be.
“In America,” Attiah writes, “playing the race card sure is lucrative — to the tune of $100 million, in fact. Just ask Joe Rogan and his benefactors at Spotify.”
The columnist elaborates, “Rogan already faced fierce criticism for promoting COVID-19 misinformation on his mega-popular podcast ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’ — prompting singers such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell to pull their work from the content-streaming giant. But it all got so much worse when singer India Arie posted a video about pulling her music from Spotify and included a compilation of Rogan saying the n-word repeatedly — more than 20 times over the years. Rogan got ridiculously high on the n-word supply. Spotify spent the weekend cleaning up the scene of the crimes, deleting more than 100 episodes.”
Neo-soul star Arie, who hosts the “SongVersation” podcast, announced that like Young, she would be pulling her music from Spotify. And on February 1, 80-year-old singer/songwriter Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills & Nash fame) announced his departure from Spotify for his solo output.
On Instagram, Arie posted, “Neil Young opened a door that I MUST walk through. What I am talking about is RESPECT — who gets it and who doesn’t. … This shows the type of company they are and the company that they keep. I’m tired.”
In her February 8 column, Attiah describes Rogan as a symptom of a larger problem: racism’s profitability.
“It’s true that the problem we face is bigger than Joe Rogan,” Attiah argues. “Indeed, from Rogan to Donald Trump to Fox News, White men have long built cultural, political and media empires off anti-Blackness and the dehumanization of others. In fact, Spotify’s response to the Rogan controversy offers a perfectly curated playbook on how racial capitalism works in America.”
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, Attiah notes, has “said he would not be deplatforming Rogan.”
Although Rogan’s right-wing politics lean libertarian rather than MAGA — he voted for Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, not Donald Trump, in 2016’s presidential election and voted for Libertarian presidential nominee Jo Jorgensen in 2020 — he has featured far-right MAGA extremists like Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes on his podcast. McInnes, in fact, has said that appearing on “The Joe Rogan Experience” helped him recruit new Proud Boys members.
Attiah writes, “Rogan’s choice to platform groups such as the Proud Boys have led to them gaining followers and legitimacy…. Spotify can claim all it wants that Rogan’s speech doesn’t reflect its values, but by keeping its $100 million Trojan horse in the stable, the streaming service shows that racism continues to be quite the valuable asset in America.”
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