Yi – formerly known as Kanye West – has lost partnerships with fashion brands including Gap, Balenciaga and Adidas after his anti-Semitic comments in recent weeks. Now, the questions remain About the work that helped propel Ye into the fashion world in the first place: music.
Since 2004 “The College Dropout” – his critically acclaimed debut album which was a commercial success – Yi has been one of the world’s most popular and well-known artists. According to Billboard, he has garnered countless hits and his top ten albums.
But all of that may be in jeopardy due to the performer’s recent behavior and comments.
Over the past month, Yi has elicited backlash by donning a “White Lives Matter” T-shirt as well as making threats on Twitter against the Jewish people. This has resulted in retailers, social media platforms, and fashion and entertainment companies abandoning it in droves.
But what does all this mean for Yi’s musical career?
Universal Music Group – one of the world’s largest record labels – said Tuesday that its relationship with Ye ended in 2021, adding that “there is no place for anti-Semitism in our society.”
“Def Jam’s relationship with Ye as a recording artist, Def Jam’s partnership with GOOD Music, and Ye’s merchandise agreement with Bravado, terminated in 2021,” UMG said in a statement to CNN Business.
“We are deeply committed to combating anti-Semitism and all other forms of prejudice,” the company added.
Sirona Elton, professor of music industry studies at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, believes Yi’s music career now needs to be divided into two parts: “What happens to his existing music on the market? And what happens to any new music he might create?”
“Sure, there will be people who have changed the way they feel about him, and he will make up their minds from now on,” Elton said. “But there will be others, either not familiar with the situation or simply not interested in his opinions, who will choose to focus solely on his art.”
Some have already stopped listening.
Ye songs streams fell 23% in the US between October 13 and October 20, and streaming was down 13%, according to Variety. This prompted some to question whether his songs should be banned by streaming services like Spotify (SPOT) and Apple (AAPL) Music.
Elton says this is unlikely.
“I think music services in general are not in the business of evaluating an artist’s moral position,” she said.
Elton noted that singer R. Kelly, who was convicted on several child pornography charges in September, has not been removed from his music.
Spotify CEO Daniel Eck told Reuters on Tuesday that Spotify will not remove Ye’s music unless his own company requests that it be removed.
“It’s really just his music, and his music doesn’t violate our policy,” Eck said. “It’s up to his recipe, if they want to take action or not.”
Ik added that Ye’s comments were “just shocking comments.”
As for Apple Music, it did not immediately respond to CNN Business’s request for comment on Ye’s music.
One area that could see a financial impact for both Ye and Universal Music Group is licensing his music.
Listeners may continue to buy his albums, go to his concerts, and stream his songs even after the last reaction. However, it’s a steep climb up a hill to convince filmmakers, TV producers, and advertisers to pay big money to join Ye and his songs – no matter how popular his music is.
“I would be surprised if I saw Universal or any company willing to invest in an active effort to promote Yi songs for licensing opportunities,” Elton said. “I think they will redirect their energies somewhere else.”
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