Students reflect on Spotify, cancel culture

Lucy Reynal, Staff Reporter

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In the absence of an effective legal framework for accountability, how do we contend with artists who have allegedly committed acts of violence? What does it mean to “cancel” someone? According to senior CeCe Alder, “It’s just an act of resistance that happens on the individual level in hopes of creating positive change on a larger scale.”

In the era of the #MeToo movement and in the wake of the docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” Spotify has rolled out a blocking feature that allows users to mute artists. This tool is the latest manifestation of a movement to cancel, or punish via social exclusion and economic boycott, artists accused of sexual assault and misconduct charges.

“I think that it’s a perfect solution. It leaves the decision to engage with an artist entirely up to the individual, and people who have suffered from trauma don’t have to worry about stumbling upon music from artists who can bring up difficult emotions,” Alder said.

Though many students share in Alder’s enthusiasm, it is not universal. Student reception of the Spotify blocking feature is varied, ranging from exuberance at the ability to literally mute an artist to skepticism at the true impact the “cancel feature” will have.  

“Artists make most of their money off of streams in the current industry. This could be a good option to reduce that,” sophomore Jewell Prim said. “But there are still people streaming the music that feel like the artist are good people. I feel like it’s more appeasatory if anything,”

The issue of sexual violence is pervasive within the undergraduate population. In January 2018, Tulane released the results of the campus climate survey on sexual assault and violence, reporting that 41 percent of undergraduate women had experienced sexual assault during their time at Tulane. The conversation surrounding what to do about this violence, and the prominent cases that continue to arise on the national stage, is simultaneously incredibly complex and deeply personal for students who do not see an abundance of accountability for their peers.

Though the climate survey and the national movements surrounding the uplifting of survivors of sexual assault have created a conversation on campus about what kind of culture we want to have, some feel that words have not yet given way to action.

“I understand that many people have these discussions more on social media than anywhere else. I think parts of our generation have been led to believe that this is enough,” Prim said.

WTUL, Tulane’s radio station, has no official policy on the music of accused artists.

“[With] the general culture here, I would not expect anybody to play music that they know is supporting somebody accused of sexual violence or harassment,” General Manager Fiona McMurtry said. “When we as a society know that it is unlikely that people accused of these acts will be legally brought to justice, it creates a much bigger role for us to socially sanction them and say, even if our legal system can’t handle this, we can stop supporting you and at least in some way, you’re going to consequences for your actions.”

Though some students maintain they would not support those accused of sexual assault, they feel that there are also students who might not care.

“Most people I know wouldn’t press play on an R. Kelly song with a 10-foot pole. However, Tulane has shown on numerous occasions that it is willing to tolerate egregious acts committed by its most privileged students,” Alder said.  

Both on the national level and around campus, it seems the dialogue surrounding accountability for sexual violence is far from over.