Spotify CEO apologizes for Joe Rogan’s use of racial slur but says ‘canceling’ the podcast host isn’t a solution
On Sunday, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek apologized to staff for the streaming service’s ongoing crisis over podcast host Joe Rogan, who also apologized over the weekend for his repeated use of the N-word in previous episodes of his show, The Joe Rogan Experience.
“There are no words I can say to adequately convey how deeply sorry I am for the way The Joe Rogan Experience controversy continues to impact each of you,” Ek said to staff in a memo, adding that Rogan’s “incredibly hurtful” use of the racial slur did “not represent the values of this company.”
The latest furor surrounding Spotify’s relationship with Rogan blew up over the weekend after singer India Arie shared a compilation video on her Instagram account of Rogan saying the N-word on air over 20 times.
Rogan later apologized on his own Instagram video, saying the video is the “most regretful and shameful thing” he has ever had to address. Rogan notes that the video compiles clips that were taken out of context and recorded over a 12-year period, but that it “looks fucking horrible, even to me.”
“I know that to most people, there’s no context where a white person is ever allowed to say that word, never mind publicly on a podcast, and I agree with that now. I haven’t said it in years,” Rogan said.
After the video circulated and Rogan issued his apology, media reports claimed that Spotify had quietly removed around 70 episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience. In the staff memo, Ek said Spotify had talked with Rogan about his “history of using some racially insensitive language” and that Rogan “chose to remove a number of episodes from Spotify.”
Still, Ek told staff that he “[does] not believe silencing Joe is the answer.”
“We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope,” Ek said. “Looking at the issue more broadly, it’s critical thinking and open debate that powers real and necessary progress.”
Spotify did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment. The racism row is just the latest controversy to engulf Rogan and Spotify this year.
Last month, singer-songwriter Neil Young quit Spotify in protest over The Joe Rogan Experience, which has repeatedly featured vaccine misinformation. A string of musicians quickly followed suit. On Thursday, Arie said she also was removing her catalog from Spotify so the company couldn’t use revenue from her songs to support Rogan’s podcast.
Many of the musicians boycotting Spotify harbor other complaints against the streaming service. Young has criticized the service for its poor audio quality, while Arie lashed out at the low royalty fees Spotify pays artists.
According to the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, Spotify pays musicians an average of $.0038 per stream. Meanwhile, Spotify paid Joe Rogan $100 million for an exclusive, multiyear licensing deal in 2020.
On Sunday, Ek said in his memo that Spotify would commit, over an unspecified time frame, to spending $100 million to promote the “licensing, development, and marketing of music…and audio content from historically marginalized groups.”
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