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Here’s Why Hundreds of Korean Songs Disappeared from Spotify Today

Artists such as I.U, Epik High, Code Kunst, MAMAMOO, Zico, Monsta X and more suffer the consequences of a dispute between two music giants, Spotify and Kakao M

Divyansha Dongre Mar 01, 2021

Seventeen are one of the many artists whose discographies have been sliced in half thanks to the dispute. Photo: Courtesy of Pledis Entertainment

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On March 1st, several Spotify users around the globe reported the absence of songs by several dozen of their favorite Korean artists on the platform. After a storm of confusion on social media, Spotify released a statement announcing that songs distributed by South Korean entertainment giant Kakao M would no longer be available to its users from this month on due to a license expiration. “We have been working with Kakao M over the last year and a half to renew the global licensing agreement,” the streaming giant explained, further adding, “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.”

A couple of hours later Kakao M, which distributes a large share of music from Korean artists across several genres and runs Korea’s biggest streaming service MelOn, countered Spotify’s statement, claiming that despite Kakao M’s best efforts, the Swedish streaming platform chose not to renew their agreement.

Both parties have stated that this dispute is unrelated to Spotify’s policy which requires domestic and global distribution of music–many suspected this to be the reason behind this dispute as Spotify launched its services in South Korea earlier this month. Kakao M clarified, “Unrelated to the domestic contract, which we are still negotiating, we separately received notice of the expiration of our license on February 28th, and we requested a renewal of our existing global contract.” Spotify’s spokesperson added, “The matter of our global licensing agreement is unrelated to the launch of our service in South Korea.”

With no prior notice given to artists or their management, several musicians such as rapper and producer Tablo of Epik High expressed their disbelief on social media: “Regardless of who is at fault, why is it always the artists and the fans that suffer when businesses place greed over art?” Others–like producer Code Kunst–posted screenshots of Spotify playlists shared by their confused fans on Instagram, stating that they were unaware of the current events and looking into the matter. A fan on Twitter meanwhile compiled a master list of the artists who have suffered what Twitter has dubbed the ‘Thanos snap of K-pop.’

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Artists affected include Monsta X, Seventeen, Loona, DPR Live, Zico, MAMAMOO, Pentagon, GFRIEND and many more. With several comebacks lined up in March, artists and labels who are currently on Kakao M’s roster are actively reaching out to other distribution partners– P NATION’s HyunA and Jessi (the latter of whom is preparing for her comeback on March 17th) acted quickly by reaching out to a separate distributor. Their music is now back on Spotify. Other artists like OnlyOneOf have uploaded their entire discographies as playlists on YouTube for fans while the situation gets resolved. 

Due to the ongoing repercussions of COVID-19 on the live music industry, streaming acted as a primary source of revenue for several artists. With 345 million monthly active users across 175 countries, Spotify enabled musicians to reach a wider, diverse audience and build a strong international fanbase. Though Spotify has assured that the dispute is temporary, in a time such as today where music has proven to provide solace to listeners, the friction between the Kakao M and Spotify will most definitely hamper the music listening experience of several fans.

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