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Spotify CEO tries to clear up handling of R. Kelly, XXXTentacion playlist bans

The new policy wasn't about punishing one individual, Daniel Ek says.

Spotify Press Announcement

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek says his company's new hate speech policy wasn't intended to punish one individual.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Spotify

Spotify's CEO said Wednesday the music-streaming service could have done a better job informing the world about its playlist ban, conceding the company "screwed up."

Earlier this month, Spotify initiated a new policy addressing hate speech and hateful conduct that lets the music-streaming service remove music or artists from its service or bury them without any promotion, like banning them from playlists. Under the new policy, it stopped promoting the music of at least two people: R&B star R. Kelly and rapper XXXTentacion. The penalty against XXXTentacaion, in particular, drew backlash from big names in hip-hop like Pulitzer Prize-winner Kendrick Lamar and reportedly sparked a backlash among some of Spotify's own employees. 

Daniel Ek, Spotify's chief executive, now says the implementation of the policy, especially in regard to Kelly, could have been handled better.

"I think we rolled this out wrong and could have done a better job communicating it," Ek said Wednesday during an on-stage interview at Recode's Code Conference, which is taking place this week in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. "The goal for this was to make sure we didn't have hate speech on the service. It was never about punishing one individual."

"What we wanted to be was just transparent," Ek said. "If you are talking about being KKK and doing that kind of stuff, I think it's pretty obvious that we don't want you on the service."

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With 71 million paying members, Spotify is the biggest streaming music service in the world, and its success proved that people would pay a monthly fee for tunes. Apple Music, its closest rival and a later arrival, has 40 million subscribers.

Kelly has come under heightened criticism lately as decades-long allegations of sexual misconduct, sometimes with underage women, took on a new tenor in the #MeToo era. Though Kelly was acquitted in a child pornography case in 2008, he's settled numerous lawsuits, and the accumulation of testimonies about his behavior has mounted. 

XXXTentacion is a lesser-known, younger star, who has been charged with crimes like aggravated battery of a pregnant woman and domestic battery by strangulation, but he hasn't been tried or convicted on those charges. 

While Kelly's and XXXTentacion's catalogs remain on Spotify for streaming, and you can listen to or playlist any songs you like by them, the streaming service itself said it wouldn't be promoting their material on what is arguably the most powerful single force in getting an artist's music heard and getting that artist paid. Spotify reportedly has told music industry figures it will eventually resume putting XXXTentacion music on playlists.  

Ek was contrite about how his company has dealt with the situation and he's looking at how it could have been better handled.

"We screwed up," he said. "We're now taking feedback, taking comments, from a lot of groups."

CNET's Joan E. Solsman contributed to this report.

Originally published May 30 at 10:25 p.m. PT. 
Update May 31 at 5:05 a.m. PT:
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