First Neil Young, then Joni Mitchell. Next Prince Harry and Meghan Markle? Big-name talent continues to stand up against the streaming giant Spotify as its controversial podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, faces criticism for propagating harmful misinformation about COVID-19.
Harry and Meghan haven’t ripped up their contract yet, but their Archewell Foundation has issued a statement noting that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have shared “concerns” to Spotify about the “all-too-real consequences of COVID-19 misinformation on its platform.” Moreover, the statement expresses that they first brought this issue to the company’s attention in April. The pressure on Spotify has intensified of late with an open letter from 270 doctors, nurses, professors, and health scientists also raising concerns about pandemic misinformation on the platform and pointing to a recent Joe Rogan episode, where his guest, Dr. Robert Malone, promoted unfounded conspiracy theories.
When Harry and Meghan stepped down from their royal duties, they brokered deals with media companies like Spotify and Netflix as opposed to roaming around America like vagabonds as if this were a Mark Twain story. The Sussexes’s company, Archewell, formed Archewell Audio and signed an exclusive agreement with Spotify in December 2020. At the time, the streaming behemoth wrote that Archewell’s action of “embracing the extraordinary capacity of podcasts on Spotify while also seeking to elevate underrepresented voices is a testament to their appreciation for the potential of audio storytelling.”
The Archewell deal is worth a reported $25 million. Since the announcement, there’s only been one item produced, a December 2020 holiday special, 33-minutes in length, that features the first heard words from Harry and Meghan’s son, Archie, plus appearances by Stacey Abrams, Christina Adane, José Andrés, Dr. Brené Brown, Rachel Cargle, Deepak Chopra, James Corden, Matt Haig, Sir Elton John, Hussain Manawer, Naomi Osaka, Tyler Perry, and George the Poet. As recently as last week, Spotify was still hiring additional producers to work on Archewell content.
Nevertheless, Sunday’s statement from an Archewell spokesperson suggests that there is a degree of unease between the two parties. The statement in full reads: “Since the inception of Archewell, we have worked to address the real-time global misinformation crisis.”
It continues: “Hundreds of millions of people are affected by the serious harms of rampant mis- and disinformation every day. Last April, our co-founders began expressing concerns to our partners at Spotify about the all-too-real consequences of COVID-19 misinformation on its platform. We have continued to express our concerns to Spotify to ensure changes to its platform are made to help address this public health crisis. We look to Spotify to meet this moment and are committed to continuing our work together as it does.”
Archewell does not mention Rogan by name in their statement. Rogan has an exclusive licensing deal with Spotify reported to be worth over $100 million. The Joe Rogan Experience was Spotify’s number-one podcast worldwide in 2021, and is an endless well of controversy. One day Rogan is just a “regular guy” talking about tripping out in an isolation tank like the movie Altered States, or landing good media gets like Kanye West or Bernie Sanders for lengthy, free-form discussions. Other days, he’s using his platform to let the ridiculous blowhard Jordan Peterson partake in absurd blather.
And then there are days, like December 31, 2021, when he hosted Malone, who compared the current climate to Nazi Germany and promoted a “mass formation psychosis” conspiracy theory. Malone has been dismissed from Twitter.
Both CNN and Reuters have reached out to Spotify for comment, and did not hear back.
As Variety notes, Dr. Brené Brown, who has an exclusive deal for two podcasts with Spotify, has also said she is putting her shows on hiatus. A June issue of Texas Monthly profiled Brown with the headline How the Pandemic Turned Brené Brown Into America’s Therapist. No specific reason was given for her decision, but one need not be Jessica Fletcher to notice that Dr. Brown appeared on Harry and Meghan’s holiday podcast, so there might be an alliance of ideals there.