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Neil Young, Spotify, and Joe Rogan – a timeline of the controversy

Published Jan 31st, 2022 7:27PM EST
Spotify logo with earbuds
Image: Newscom/MEGA

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Spotify is at the center of a massive controversy right now related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. It came to a head when Neil Young sent an open letter to Spotify a few days ago. The artist told the music streamer to remove all of his music from the platform, citing the vaccine misinformation that Joe Rogan’s podcast disseminated as the reason. Spotify obliged, and then Joni Mitchell announced she would also be leaving the platform for the same reason. Then, at least one podcaster announced they would suspend their Spotify shows. Finally, the streamer reacted, announcing measures to deal with controversial COVID-19 content on the platform, including Joe Rogan’s podcast. Then, Rogan released a video on Instagram, explaining how he produces his shows, and apologizing for causing trouble.

In what follows, we’ll go through the entire timeline of the ongoing Spotify controversy.

Neil Young’s open letter

Neil Young penned a now-deleted open letter (via Rolling Stone) on January 24th where he asked the streamer to remove his music from the platform.

“I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines — potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them,” Young wrote. “Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule.”

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” he continued. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Spotify removes Young’s music

Spotify obliged, removing all the Neil Young music from its website on Wednesday (January 26th).

“We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators,” a Spotify spokesman said at the time. “We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to welcome him back soon.”

Joe Rogan had yet to react to the unfolding events as Young appealed to others to join him in his Spotify boycott. “I sincerely hope that other artists and record companies will move off the Spotify platform and stop supporting Spotify’s deadly misinformation about Covid,” Young wrote on his website on the day Spotify removed all of his songs.

As The Wall Street Journal explained last week, this wasn’t the first time Joe Rogan created tensions for Spotify. Earlier in January, a group of 270 scientists and healthcare professionals signed a different open letter. They accused the Rogan podcast that it was “promoting baseless conspiracy theories.”

Joni Mitchell joins the protest

Responding to Young’s call, Joni Mitchell announced on Friday, January 28th that she also wanted to have her songs removed from Spotify.

“I’ve decided to remove all my music from Spotify. Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives,” the singer wrote on her website. “I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”

Mitchell also included a link to the open letter to Spotify from healthcare professionals. The letter tackled the December 31st Joe Rogan podcast episode, saying it promoted “baseless conspiracy theories.”

Others join the Spotify boycott

Following Young and Mitchel, other artists joined in. Bruce Springsteen guitarist Nils Lofgren announced on Saturday that he was joining the boycott on Spotify over coronavirus misinformation.

Podcaster Brene Brown said on Twitter that she would “not be releasing any podcasts until further notice.”

Spotify finally responds

Spotify published a response to the Young-vs-Rogan controversy on Sunday (January 30th), announcing the first measures it will take following the recent backlash.

The streamer will add COVID-19 content advisories to podcast episodes that discuss the pandemic. These advisories will lead to the Spotify COVID-19 hub, where users can access updated information about the pandemic.

Spotify’s response also included the platform rules about COVID-19 content. The company said that anyone breaking the rules may have the content removed from the platform. Repeat offenders could lead to account suspension or termination. Per The Verge, an internal Spotify memo revealed that Joe Rogan’s podcast didn’t “meet the threshold for removal.”

Spotify said this was the first time it was transparent about the rules on content, but explained that the rules had been in place for years.

Joe Rogan reacts

It was late on Sunday that Joe Rogan finally issued a formal response to the backlash against his podcast that streams exclusively on Spotify.

He released a 10-minute video on Instagram, seen below, where he addressed the Neil Young and Joni Mitchell departures from Spotify. Joe Rogan explained that his podcasts are conversations he’s having with all sorts of guests. He defended the episodes that featured COVID-19 content that sparked the boycott, and he thanked Spotify for being so supportive.

The podcast host disagreed with his shows being labeled as misinformation. But he said that he agreed with Spotify’s decision to label them with the advisories mentioned above. Joe Rogan also said that he wants to have more experts on the show.

“I will do my best to try to balance out these more controversial viewpoints with other people’s perspectives so we can maybe find a better point of view,” he said, adding that he didn’t want “to just show the contrary opinion to what the narrative is.”

“I want to show all kinds of opinions so we can all figure out what’s going on and not just about COVID, about everything, about health, about fitness, wellness, the state of the world itself.”

Spotify money

Spotify and Joe Rogan reportedly struck a nine-figure deal in 2020 for exclusivity.

Spotify’s market cap fell about $2.1 billion from January 26-28, Variety reported last week. Spotify shares fell 6% during the period, while the NASDAQ index and DOW were up 1.7% and 1.1%., respectively. Spotify continued to drop through Friday, with shares losing about 7.5% compared to January 24th’s open, closing at nearly $173. The stock rebounded on Monday, recouping most of last week’s losses.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.