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The music streaming service cited multiple violations of its new policy on “Hate Content and Hateful Conduct.”

For anyone who hasn’t heard the news, the 19th century German composer Richard Wagner is, without the slightest shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest composers of all time, and in my view and that of many others who are much more qualified to make such a judgment, the single greatest composer of operas. A dazzling innovator and visionary who made an indelible mark upon music history, Wagner was #9 on this New York Times top-10-of-all-time list, and #4 on this other list. But here is an apt description of Wagner from that second list:

One of the most hateful and unpleasant people who ever walked the earth. Wagner despised Jews, and blamed all the problems of the world on them. But you can’t hold any of that against him when you hear his music. It transcends all the idiocy of the man himself.

Along similar lines, The New York Times list, in giving the edge to Verdi (#8) over Wagner (#9), had this to say:

They may be tied as composers but not as people. Though Verdi had an ornery side, he was a decent man, an Italian patriot and the founder of a retirement home for musicians still in operation in Milan. Wagner was an anti-Semitic, egomaniacal jerk who transcended himself in his art.

For instance, a notorious essay of Wagner’s “Das Judenthum in der Musik ” (“Jewishness in Music”), expands upon the pernicious influence of Jews in German culture and society and was “an important landmark in the history of German antisemitism.” Not surprisingly, Wagner was Hitler’s favorite composer, and his music was performed at Nazi party rallies.

Moreover, while R. Kelly — recently targeted as the first victim of Spotify’s new “hateful conduct” policy for his sexual misconduct and indiscretions — at least didn’t write songs promoting the ideas underlying his actions, Wagner wrote anti-Semitism into some of his greatest operas, with both the Ring Cycle and Parsifal making extensive use of negative Jewish stereotypes.

Here is Spotify’s announcement of its “hate content & hateful conduct” policy, and here is the policy itself: Policies - FAQ - Spotify for Artists
Insights, guides, and tools to help artists get the most out of Spotify.artists.spotify.com

Here are some highlights:

We believe in openness, diversity, tolerance and respect, and we want to promote those values through music and the creative arts… That’s why we do not permit hate content on Spotify, and remove it whenever we find it…

What do we consider “hate content?” Hate content is content that expressly and principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual based on characteristics, including, race, religion, gender identity, sex, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, veteran status, or disability….

What if content violates our policy? When we are alerted to content that violates our policy, we may remove it (in consultation with rights holders) or refrain from promoting or manually programming it on our service….

What about hateful conduct by an artist? We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions — what we choose to program — to reflect our values. When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful (for example, violence against children and sexual violence), it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.

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So, while R. Kelly merely ran afoul of the “hateful conduct” prong of the policy, Wagner not only (by publishing some of his writings) conducted himself “hatefully” but also violated the “hate content” prong of the policy by writing his hatred into some of his music. For this reason, Spotify has not only ceased to promote Wagner’s music to its listeners or include him in its curated playlists but has also removed all recordings of Parsifal and the four operas of the Ring Cycle from Spotify.

Of course, this didn’t really happen (yet). I’m making it up. But I’m doing it to make a very simple point. The slippery slope that begins with R. Kelly (to whose music I personally have no particular attachment) logically ends in a wholescale (pun intended) scrubbing of music history to sweep it clean of any unsavory notes and characters, until, accompanied by a final, cacophonous crash of cymbals, the percussion mallet falls on some of our greatest musical icons, creators and composers. The Metropolitan Opera’s long-time conductor James Levine was recently #MeToo’d and removed for his sexual “infractions,” so Spotify should certainly stop promoting all his recordings, right? Hip hop mogul and producer Russell Simmons has been accused of rape and/or other sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women , so anything associated with his influential and path-breaking Def Jam label should get swept up. And if the #MeToo mullahs had been on patrol back in his day, they would’ve gotten Elvis big-time for his pedophilia and sexual violence, so Spotify, time to say bye-bye to the King. the stories about Michael Jackson and little boys, so there’s another King of Pop’s bubble bursting. Legendary conduct Herbert von Karajan was a card-carrying Nazi, and the great 20th century composer Richard Strauss had a relationship with the Nazis that might best be characterized as complicated but that includes lowlights such as pledging loyalty to the Fuhrer. The prominent British composer Benjamin Britten had a thing for adolescent boys. Frédéric Chopin, the guy who composed all those beloved, romantic piano études, was like Wagner, an anti-Semite.. And Beethoven was generally an awful, nasty, smelly, ugly human being who had a tendency to fly into violent rages, so why not add him to the “ban” list for good measure?

The point, by now, should be clear: Spotify needs to stop virtue signaling and get out of the business of promoting its own views of truth, justice and progressive politics. We, as consumers of music, great and otherwise, must be given the discretion to make our own listening decisions, and whether we are follow-the-herd-minded progressive purists who insist on injecting ideology into our musical preferences or whether we are frenzied Nazi-sympathizing reactionaries who have a different kind of approach to “purity” and have a single playlist entitled “all-Wagner all-the-time,” or whether we are just ordinary lovers of extraordinary music who will listen to anything that moves and inspires us, no matter its “hate content” or the “hateful conduct” of its creators, that’s really absolutely none of Spotify’s damned business.

Alexander Zubatov

by Alexander Zubatov

Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, essays and polemics.

New York, N.Y.