Does Spotify Have an Explicit Content Problem? New Report Exposes Serious Gaps in Lyrics Filtering

Spotify explicit content filtering problem report
  • Save

Spotify explicit content filtering problem report
  • Save
Photo Credit: EJ Hersom

Spotify users are seeing explicit lyrics even when users have blocked explicit content, a new report from the BBC finds.

Young fans on Spotify are discovering that the platform is showing them explicit lyrics even when users have blocked explicit content and the “radio friendly” version of a song is playing. The BBC found the issue in dozens of songs from major artists, including Olivia Rodrigo, Eminem (pictured), Dua Lipa, The Weeknd, Lil Nas X, and Drake.

Spotify is said to be aware of the problem and working to fix it, though the company declined to respond to media requests for comment. The music streaming giant introduced a system for dealing with explicit content in 2018 following pressure from concerned parents, with explicit songs marked with an E.

Users who want to avoid hearing explicit lyrics can choose to block that content in their settings, opting for “clean versions” to be offered instead. But the lyrics for many of these edited versions have not been updated in Spotify’s database, so the explicit lyrics remain, even for users listening to the clean version of a song. Over a third of the songs in Spotify’s UK Top 50 chart contain explicit lyrics, and half of those show the explicit lyrics on screen even when the clean radio edit is played.

The BBC identified over 100 high-profile songs outside of the UK Top 50 that are affected, some of which feature in the soundtracks of children’s films or in child-friendly playlists. That list includes songs from Kanye West, Travis Scott, Megan Thee Stallion, and Nicki Minaj.

Spotify has reportedly removed lyrics for a “small number” of songs on Wednesday, January 31, after the BBC alerted them to the issue. The problem stems from users accessing the web version of the platform, where the lyrics of explicit versions of songs can be seen by clicking on the track names from a search or artist profile page, even if the explicit versions of the tracks are blocked by the user’s account settings.

Producer James Roach, who has also written for parenting publications, says that when people upload songs to platforms like Spotify, they have the option to submit different lyrics for different versions of songs. But sometimes they may use the same lyrics for both versions.

Further, many music streaming services like Spotify source their lyrics from Musixmatch, a firm which describes itself as “the world’s largest collection of song lyrics.” The platform allows fans to add, correct, or translate lyrics in exchange for “kudos.”

“You would like to think that at Spotify headquarters they’ve got a process in place,” says Roach. “It’s a surprise that they’re outsourcing.”