An investigation by the BBC has revealed that explicit lyrics are being shown to young music fans on Spotify, even when the “radio friendly” version is playing and their parents have blocked potentially offensive content.
Spotify declined to comment on the investigation when approached by the BBC.
Spotify has more than 500 million users, making it the world’s most popular music streaming service. The company boasts that: “With Spotify, it’s easy to find the right music or podcast for every moment… whether you’re behind the wheel, working out, partying or relaxing, the right music or podcast is always at your fingertips. Choose what you want to listen to, or let Spotify surprise you.”
The first online controls to prevent children hearing explicit or offensive lyrics were introduced in 2011, when streaming music providers were instructed to display the word “explicit” by potentially offensive tracks… although some argued that just as the “Parental Advisory” warning stickers became a badge of honor for many bands through the 1980s and 90s, so seeing the word “explicit” next to a track could make it seem more attractive to an impressionable audience.
Following this, in 2018 Spotify rolled out a system on its Premium service whereby the apps settings could be adjusted to prevent explicit songs from playing altogether, with “clean” versions offered instead.
That move was prompted in part by an online petition started by British parent Nicola Ford. Speaking at the time, she said: “I'd had quite a few awkward moments, where the kids had been listening to songs on the radio, and suddenly our home filled with swear words when they played the same songs on Spotify. I set up a petition online and found that lots of people were petitioning for the same thing, so I got a lot of interest.”
But the BBC investigation has now found that even when this filter is turned on, the lyrics for many of those songs remain unchanged – meaning that although a user might be listening to the clean version, the lyrics could still contain offensive language and racial slurs.
The organization claims that “Currently more than a third of the songs in Spotify's UK top 50 chart contain explicit lyrics. Of those, half show the explicit lyrics on screen when the clean edit is played,” and that it “found 100 more high-profile affected tracks, including some that feature in children's film soundtracks or on child-friendly playlists.”
Among the songs it found to be showing explicit lyrics even when playing the radio-friendly audio were Olivia Rodrigo’s “Bad Idea Right?”, Dua Lipa’s “IDGAF”, Travis Scott’s “Goosebumps” and Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”.
The report also acknowledges that some of the lyrics to offending tracks have been removed after Spotify were alerted to the issue. The organization adds that it “understands the company is aware of the problem and [is] working to fix it.”