If you are an avid listener of K-Pop and make frequent use of the widely popular music streaming app Spotify, there is a chance you have been, or currently are, in a bit of a rage.
On the morning of Sunday, Feb. 28, many K-Pop fans, including myself, woke up to discover that a good percentage of our playlists had been erased from Spotify. Amongst the “oh no’s,” the “d—mn you’s!” and possibly some tears, was just the repeating of the question of why? Why were hundreds of K-Pop songs suddenly snapped out of existence like Thanos snapping half of humanity away?
The answer lies between Spotify and one of the biggest Korean music distributors, known as Kakao M. According to Spotify themselves, the sudden disappearance of these hundreds of K-Pop songs occurred due to an unrenewed licensing deal with Kakao M. Obviously, that answer still raised the question of what did not occur between these two companies in order to secure this very huge licensing contract? This is where the situation begins to become confusing.
Spotify made a recent statement claiming that, “despite our best efforts, the existing licensing deal we had with Kakao M (which covered all countries other than South Korea) has come to an end.” Apparently, the company had attempted for over a year and half to try to get Kakao M to renew their contract, but sadly failed to come to an agreement to make it possible.
Spotify continued by claiming that, “the fact that we have not yet reached agreement on a new global deal is unfortunate for their artists, as well as for fans and listeners worldwide. It is our hope that this disruption will be temporary and we can resolve the situation soon. We remain committed to working with local rights holders including KakaoM, to help grow the Korean music market and overall streaming ecosystem together.”
However, it was also the very same day that Kakao M came out with their own statement, “unrelated to our preexisting global licensing agreement with Spotify, Kakao M has been separately negotiating with Spotify regarding a domestic contract for the supply of music… Unrelated to the domestic contract, which we are still negotiating, we separately received notice of the expiration of our license on February 28, and we requested a renewal of our existing global contract.”
Kakao M went on to claim that, since Spotify currently holds a policy that states that they must proceed with both domestic and global contracts simultaneously, Spotify chose to determine the license. This came about due to Spotify desiring to acquire a separate agreement when it came to the South Korean market, only to then change their minds again and now desire to combine both the global and domestic scenes instead.
The bottom line is that, no matter who is to blame, or who was being difficult with the communication of the renewal of the license, it is expired as of now, and hundreds of songs have been erased from the popular streaming app.
Furthermore, the effect of this license has affected many more artists than one may think. A huge number of artists in the K-Pop industry have deals that are in agreement with Kakao M, as previously stated, due it being the biggest music distributing company in all of South Korea. Popular groups and solo artists such as Seventeen, The Boyz, IU, Monsta X, Gfriend, Nu’est, (G)I-DLE, Astro, Jessi, ONEUS, Pentagon, Golden Child, VIXX, Apink, Sumni, Loona, Zico, Dreamcatcher, Victon, and BTOB are just a small handful of K-Pop artists that were affected in the aftermath of this whole confusing situation. Most, if not all, of these artists’ discographies were obliterated from the app — including all accumulated streams from millions of fans.
An example of the sheer number of streams lost comes from one of the many streaming accounts for the group Seventeen on Twitter. Tweeted on the day of the Spotify fiasco, one post said that Seventeen’s streams dropped from 1,260,197,540 to 297,069,572. A rising K-Pop group called The Boyz went from having 120,759,578+ streams to now only about 12,745,854 streams, added up recently from songs they have left on the platform. In addition, longtime K-Pop soloist IU also suffered a great loss, as it was reported, via Twitter, that her streams dropped from 95 million to 45 million. Again, these are just a few statistics that are a part of the greater loss of this unfortunate incident.
It is of my opinion, and many others, that all of these artists should not have to be the ones to have to suffer from this seemingly confusing divorce between Spotify and Kakao M. The countless years of hard work that so many of these artists have put into their albums and singles has now been spat on by both Spotify and Kakao M. It is obvious that a licensing agreement is necessary in order for Spotify to acquire the right to stream these songs, but I think more time, negotiation, and care should have been put into this agreement due to it affecting such an endless list of artists — especially since, according to Spotify, this was something that had taken over a year and half to discuss, with the result being an agreement still not coming to fruition.
To make matters even worse, Spotify was becoming an even bigger influential platform for both K-Pop artists and fans alike, as the streaming company was finally able to launch in South Korea for the first time just last month on Feb. 1. Having Spotify available in South Korea would allow Korean fans to help contribute to streaming numbers on Spotify and therefore help their artists rise on music charts. However, the new launch has now been tainted and rendered useless due to the licensing issue. The new numbers Korean fans could contribute will not be able to be added to all other territories’ numbers, since, now, all Kakao M artists’ songs and albums are erased from the platform and unavailable everywhere but South Korea.
Despite Spotify’s previous statement that this situation is both unfortunate and regrettable for the artists and their fans, it all just feels like meaningless sentiment. It is understandable that Spotify holds an enormous amount of artists’ music on their platform already, but K-Pop has become such a widely popular genre all across the globe, and to not put in enough effort to keep the contract with Kakao M, when there was a year and a half of discussion put in, just screams insincere sentiment carelessness. Spotify simply produced the standard company jargon that is required for this type of situation rather than giving anyone any real answers or plan of action. No sense of urgency has been conveyed by either side to rectify the situation, nor does it make either side look credible, due to both companies seeming to childishly blame one another for the global fiasco.
Spotify has now begun to see the repercussions of the lack of urgency with the licensing agreement, as it has been reported that many K-Pop fans have already cancelled their subscriptions in response. Many fans of K-Pop, myself included, view the songs their favorite artists compose and put out as a source of comfort and/or motivation, as music serves this purpose for many people. So, can the fans really be blamed for no longer desiring to keep their subscriptions? It is false to assume that, just because someone is a frequent listener of K-Pop, this is the only genre that they listen to. I can personally attest to being interested in other genres of music aside from K-Pop. However, I also admit that K-Pop does take up most of my listening time, so I, myself, have considered going through with giving my money to a different platform, especially since one of favorite K-Pop groups, The Boyz, have had all but two Japanese mini albums erased from Spotify.
Currently, there seems to be no further update from either Spotify nor Kakao M about possibly attempting to work out a new agreement to bring all the music and streams back. K-Pop fans can only hang on to Spotify’s latest statement of hoping to eventually come to a new agreement. Until then, Apple Music and YouTube Music, here we come!
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Rappler