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‘Who’s Neil Young?’ A breakdown of Spotify’s new COVID controversy

The musician has removed his music from the streaming service to protest Joe Rogan’s sketchy vaccine claims, and he wants other musicians to follow suit

Earlier this week, the Canadian-American singer Neil Young posted an open letter addressed to his management and record label, demanding that they remove his music from the world’s largest music streamer, Spotify. The reason? He no longer wanted to share the platform with the podcaster, comedian, and self-proclaimed “fucking moron” Joe Rogan.

In the letter, Young explains that he objects to Rogan’s repeatedly-wrong information about COVID vaccines, which Spotify is helping to spread (alongside the “absurd” and “dangerous” climate change theories that Jordan Peterson brought to the Joe Rogan Experience earlier this week).

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” the musician adds in the now-deleted statement (shared via Rolling Stone). “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

On January 26, just two days after he issued this ultimatum, Spotify made its choice. Clearly backing Joe Rogan, the streaming giant removed all of Young’s music, as requested. Should we be surprised? No. After all, Spotify struck a $100 million exclusive deal with Rogan in late 2020, which evidently trumps Young’s six million monthly listeners.

On social media, people’s feelings toward this decision are much less clear-cut (who’d have guessed?), dividing users into several vocal factions. On one side are supporters of Neil Young, who agree that Spotify shouldn't be platforming Rogan’s misinformation. On the other are Rogan fans and free speech advocates, who suggest that – even if the podcaster’s claims are disagreeable – he should be able to air them for his audience to decide.

Then, there’s a third group of people, who just want to know who tf is Neil Young, and why does taking his music off Spotify even matter? Below, we break down Spotify’s misinformation dispute, and why it could affect artists you actually care about.


Joe Rogan’s history of sketchy vaccine discourse goes pretty deep into the pandemic, though he does, admittedly, assert that he’s “not an authority on health”. Still, it’s hard to imagine that he didn’t influence some of his millions of listeners in 2021, when he discouraged young people from getting the vaccine and endorsed the controversial antiparasitic drug ivermectin, as he shared stories of his own COVID infection.

Another particular highlight, shared more recently on his podcast, sees him double down on a point about the risks of the vaccine – versus catching the virus itself – over and over again, despite being presented with scientific evidence in real-time.

“The goal post moving of Joe Rogan after getting fact-checked live is incredible,” writes Eric Feigl-Ding, a Senior Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, sharing the clip.

Last month, 270 figures from the scientific community, including doctors, physicians, and science educators, also signed an open letter urging Spotify to curb Rogan’s claims and establish a “clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform”.


Of course, Neil Young’s stand against Spotify can only make an impact if the “Heart Of Gold” musician, and Spotify itself, are set to lose something from him pulling his music off the platform. As it happens, Young claims that he will lose 60 per cent of his worldwide streaming income “in the name of Truth”.

In a statement posted to his website, he describes this as “a huge loss for my record company to absorb” and thanks the label Warner/Reprise, for taking the hit. Of course, other streaming services have already swarmed to cash in on his departure from Spotify, with Apple Music and Tidal pushing promotions of his work and Sirius XM announcing the return of “Neil Young Radio”.

In a short email statement, Spotify has confirmed that it removed Young’s catalogue but regrets his decision, and hopes to “welcome him back soon”.


In its statement on Young’s ultimatum, Spotify reiterated that it has “detailed content policies” in place, balancing safety for listeners and freedom for creators. “We’ve removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic,” the service adds.

Nevertheless, the streaming service has been inundated with complaints after confirming its support of Joe Rogan, with many suggesting that it reflects a lax approach to its crackdown on creators peddling misinformation. It received so many complaints, in fact, that it reportedly had to shut down its live customer support.

Hashtags such as #CancelSpotify, #ByeByeSpotify, and #DeleteSpotify have also been widely shared on Twitter, as users share screenshots to prove that they’ve deleted their accounts. Others have reported issues with changing their subscriptions due to the system being flooded with cancellation requests.


While Young has received the backing of fans and the medical community – including the WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – real success in his battle against Spotify would require other musicians to follow suit and scrub their music from the service. So far, no high-profile names appear to have stepped up.

“I truly want to thank the many, many people who have reached out to me thanking me for taking this position — people who are health professionals on the front lines, people who have lost loved ones to COVID, or who are worried for their own children and families. I have never felt so much love coming from so many,” Young writes in the statement on his website. “I sincerely hope that other artists and record companies will move off the Spotify platform and stop supporting Spotify’s deadly misinformation about COVID.”

So far, no high-profile names seem to have stepped up, while minor musicians have even more to lose, with Spotify likely representing a larger (if still insubstantial) cut of their livelihood. However, with a growing number of people calling for action against Rogan on social media, it remains to be seen whether other musicians will be moved by their fanbases and devise their own ultimatums.