I listen to a ton of music. I often fill every available minute I can with music. According to Spotify, I listened to 43,252 minutes of music last year. Music holds a special place in my heart, as it does for many people. Some of my friends have playlists of every song they listened to in a month, compiling playlists like pages in a scrapbook. Other friends of mine make their own music, posting it on Bandcamp and Spotify.
Notably, Spotify will recommend artists to you based on your listening habits, which can lead to interesting discoveries. Sometimes, this system is incredible; some artists the algorithm recommended to me, like the Cocteau Twins, have been life-changing. At the start of this year, I was singing Spotify’s praises for introducing me to JANK.
JANK is a pop-punk group with a sense of humor and a wealth of musical talent. I listened to their only album relentlessly, shocked that I hadn’t found them sooner. JANK’s lyricism and musical ideas etched themselves deep into my mind.
This process of music discovery can feel deeply intimate. There’s so much music in the world that stumbling upon emotionally resonant music is awesome. Music has the potential to validate existence—a reminder that the human condition is not a wholly solitary experience.
Spotify pointed me to a new band that captured that very existence affirming feeling I search for in music. Or that’s what I thought until I learned that JANK’s lead singer admitted to one instance of sexual assault and has been accused of sexual assault in another instance.
In a much different way, learning of their awful actions felt violating. JANK’s music resonated with me because I let it. Their music had deep meaning with me that I cannot forget. Listening to artists who have a history of sexual assault supports them monetarily and signals that their artistry can overcome the pain they cause. As a result, you won’t find abusers on my playlists or listening history. And because of my inattention, I let an abuser into some of the most private and emotional spaces of my mind.
Though it can work beautifully, Spotify’s recommending system entirely lacks the ability to filter out abusive bands. I foolishly placed my trust in the streaming service that cannot account for the behavior of artists outside of their music. It is true that Spotify considers these issues, which is why they removed R. Kelly’s music from the platform. Yet, the unfortunate reality is that there are too many bands that contain a sexually abusive musician for Spotify to adequately police their platform.
But as it stands, I must do background research on every new band I encounter. As a result, a long running list sits in my mind of bands to avoid—a far from perfect system. An easier solution would be an option to block a band.
The music industry, thanks to the internet, functions like social media more than ever. Anyone can record music today and upload it directly to streaming sites. Bands are simply collections of people. This may be obvious, but there is a far thinner barrier between artist and audience than ever in the U.S. music industry today.
But social media sites, unlike streaming services, provide an option to block people. Imagine a social media platform that doesn’t allow you to block your abuser. That’s exactly how Spotify functions. Victims of abusive bands exist in unfortunately high numbers, and they have no option to ignore their abusers. This is especially horrific because Spotify will not only recommend music but play music on its radio pages, automatically playing artists. It’s entirely possible that a survivor of assault will encounter their abuser’s music because Spotify played it without their consent.
At the beginning of the year, Spotify revealed that they’re planning on adding a block feature. But because of their monopoly on the streaming market, they are certainly taking their time. And it stated that the feature would be available in their iOS update, meaning that non-Apple users are neglected in the update. Because of the popularity of Apple, Spotify’s Android version is wholly glitchy and lackluster. As an Android user, I can attest that they pay as little attention as possible to their Android version. And because their only legitimate competitor is Apple, Spotify couldn’t care less about the functionality of their Android app. They cornered the market.
Spotify can’t be everything. I get it. But they could at least implement a block system. Even YouTube allows the user to filter out content they don’t want to see. Without this feature, Spotify continues to direct me to abusers like Brand New, Pinegrove, Tool, and JANK. This system not only forces victims to encounter their abusers regularly, it also creates a dynamic that inherently benefits perpetrators of sexual assault. Abusive bands will continue to flourish if unsuspecting listeners stream their music and boost the band’s popularity. The more popular a band gets, the better they do in Spotify’s algorithms.
Worse yet, Spotify only stands to benefit from the success of abusive bands. The more any band is streamed, the more money that goes into Spotify’s pockets. Perhaps giving abusers more streams is only in the best interest of the platform. Why should they change to accommodate the countless survivors of the countless bands with sexually abusive members?
Connor Aberle is a member of the class of 2019 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.