Neil Young never was a headline grabber. While the venerable rocker amassed a prolific musical catalog and critical acclaim, he is not the kind of guy who attracts media attention reserved for the likes of Kanye West and others. No, Young is an old-school rock n’ roll iconoclast who prefers to let his music do the talking.
That changed late last month when he challenged Spotify: Joe Rogan’s podcast or my music.
Young was once the guy who kept “rockin’ in the free world.” Yet, of late he does not want to rock on a streaming platform that, he alleges, supports misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccinations.
In the end, as you know, Spotify chose the unvaccinated Rogan and his popular podcast (11 million listeners) over Young’s catalog. While it seemed there was a clear victor, both Young and Rogan scored significant PR gains and more.
Winner - Neil Young
While Spotify sacrificed an extensive collection of hits in favor of Rogan’s commentary, Young emerged with few bruises. In fact, other platforms came out in support of Young.
Furthermore, peers joined him. Joni Mitchell, Nils Lofgren and others are among the first to echo his actions. And let’s not forget the rocker, at 76, is again relevant during a moment when pop, country and hip hop dominate the musical landscape.
Winner - Joe Rogan
Let’s face it, money talks. Spotify signed Rogan to a podcast deal of $100 million. There was no way the platform would renege on it. The platform's CEO doubled down on support for its biggest name.
In addition, from Spotify's point of view, 11 million listeners can’t be wrong. Rogan still is loud and proud on the platform and has picked up unlikely supporters (Howard Stern, Joy Behar). They don’t agree with his anti-vaccine views, but support free speech.
Others have come to his defense as well, and Young’s actions haven’t deterred Rogan’s diehard listeners.
Actions speak louder than words and can have a lasting impact. Young’s move sparked a dialogue that continues. His sense of activism is inspiring conversations on much larger issues.
Likewise, support for Rogan sparked serious discourse on freedom of speech and Spotify and Rogan pledged more balance in COVID-19 coverage. Still, Rogan faces new scrutiny over use of racial slurs, which will, no doubt, pose significant challenges for him and Spotify.
Regardless of right and wrong, people are talking and examining issues more than usual. In an age when accusations and attacks, physical and verbal, are all too common, talking’s not such a bad thing.
Mike Emery is senior director, communications and a lecturer at the University of Houston’s Jack J. Valenti School of Communication
The writer’s views do not necessarily reflect those of the PRNEWS staff.