Spotify’s Racist “Romance” Category

Spotify’s “Browse” tab lists a bunch of “Genres & Moods” for a user to browse through, with categories that range from the eponymous genres and moods, to activities, identity, and a whole bunch of sorts of things. Each of these Categories has a little icon and image attached to them. My eye caught this one on the way through:

afro

Spotify represents the continent of music with a generic mask and a dusty road crowded with men on motorcycles. Reductive at best, the icon plainly embodies what Spotify thinks its majority white (European and American) audience associates with Africa.

In my occasional browsing, I’ve anecdotally noticed other correlations between the color of people featured in playlist images, the color of the image background/filter, and the types of music or activities associated with them. The “Workout Twerkout” playlist stands out as a clear example (the icon has remained the same for well over 2 years). That orange-ish yellowish color is the default for hip-hop playlists. Correlation between race, image color, and genre. OK.

twerkout

Romance Category

A few days ago I was looking through the categories again and saw “Romance”. What does Spotify think Romance music is? And who is that music for? I did a quick analysis of 25 playlists listed in this category to see how a playlist’s description, image, and genres relate to race.

Type of romance, type of people

Spotify’s Romance playlists fall pretty neatly into two main categories, which I’ve coded as “love” and “sex”.

  • Love” playlists either have the word “love” in their title (e.g., “90s Love Songs”) or have descriptions that are clearly about emotional connection and relationships (e.g., “Going Together” is described as: “Songs of deep relationships to inspire your journey with each other.”)
  • Sex” playlists are generally geared towards “setting the mood” (e.g., “Make Out Jams” [“Set the mood just right…”] and (“’90s Baby Makers”).
  • The “Spooning” playlist I tagged as “love” since it’s described as “the perfect playlist for those cozy moments,” with an image suggesting physical intimacy separate from sex.
  • Some other playlists like “B.A.E”. or “All the Feels” don’t necessarily fit directly into either of these, so I’ve coded them as “Other“.

Playlist images often include people. If all the people in the image are white, I tagged it as “w”. If all the people in the image are black, I tagged it as “b”. If there were some white and some black people, I tagged it as “m”. I left the rest as “o”. I realize this is hella reductive, but this survey is meant as a quick diagnostic of clear racist asymmetries in Spotify’s categories/genres.

Some basic stats about this small corpus of “Romance” playlists. (Caveat: obviously this is a small sample, but it represents a large portion of the playlists Spotify lists in this category. These are all highly visible in a generic browse, so they’re at least somewhat representative):

  • Total Playlists: 25
    • Black: 7 (28%)
    • White: 11 (44%)
    • Both: 2 (8%)
    • No people: 5 (20%)
  • Love Playlists: 17
    • Black: 1 (5.88%)
    • White: 10 (58.82%)
    • Both: 2 (11.76%) have both white and black
    • No people: 4 (23.53%)
  • Sex Playlists: 5
    • Black: 4 (80%)
    • No people: 1 (20%)

Romance genres

I also scraped the genre tags for each artist from each playlist. Find the full table below.

Below is a list of the Top-9 genres for each type of playlist. The number represents how many artists in each playlist-type have that specific genre tag. For example, the genre the 17 “Love” playlists have 317 artists who are labeled as “pop”.  So pop = 317/17=18.65.

Sex genres:

  • pop: 23.0,
  • urban contemporary: 21.8,
  • r&b: 20.8,
  • alternative r&b: 18.8,
  • indie r&b: 14.6,
  • neo soul: 13.8,
  • dance pop: 12.2,
  • deep pop r&b: 11.2,
  • new jack swing: 10.8,

Love genres:

  • pop: 18.65
  • pop rock: 10.82
  • dance pop: 10.47
  • soft rock: 8.18
  • neo mellow: 7.94
  • rock: 7.94
  • mellow gold: 7.76
  • post-teen pop: 5.41
  • indie folk: 5.06

Tl:dr: In its “Romance” browsing category, Spotify disproportionately associates Black people and Black music with sex, while love playlists are targeted to white people and have disproportionately more white music. This is another obvious place where music industrial powers fabricate and maintain a racist musical hegemony.

Full dataset below. l=love, s=sex, o=other, b=black, w=white, m=mixed, n=none

name description type race genres
90s Love Songs Tight Roll your jeans, break out the CK1, and set the mood… l n pop rock: 31, dance pop: 19, alternative rock: 13, post-grunge: 13, neo mellow: 12, pop: 11, urban contemporary: 10, rock: 9, r&b: 9, permanent wave: 8, hip pop: 8, lilith: 7, new jack swing: 6, europop: 5, neo soul: 5, pop rap: 5, singer-songwriter: 5, country: 5, quiet storm: 4, hip hop: 4, folk: 4, mellow gold: 4, country dawn: 4, girl group: 3, boy band: 3
80s Love Songs The most unforgettable love songs from the 80s. l w soft rock: 44, mellow gold: 41, album rock: 21, new wave pop: 21, adult standards: 14, classic rock: 13, rock: 13, dance rock: 12, new wave: 11, new romantic: 11, pop rock: 8, synthpop: 7, disco: 7, europop: 7, yacht rock: 6, hard rock: 6, quiet storm: 6, folk rock: 5, art rock: 5, permanent wave: 5, motown: 5, dance pop: 4, soul: 4, heartland rock: 3, rock drums: 3
Country Kind of Love Nothing but beautiful country love songs. l w contemporary country: 46, country road: 24, country: 22, country pop: 17, modern country rock: 12, country dawn: 6, pop: 6
Bedroom Jams Slow jams for the passionate. s b alternative r&b: 43, pop: 43, deep pop r&b: 35, indie r&b: 35, urban contemporary: 29, r&b: 28, pop rap: 20, rap: 17, dance pop: 16, trap: 15, trap soul: 14, indie soul: 11, hip hop: 10, None: 10, southern hip hop: 9, neo soul: 7, lo-fi chill: 6, hip pop: 5, toronto rap: 4, uk contemporary r&b: 4, gangster rap: 3, canadian hip hop: 3, melodic rap: 3, dmv rap: 3, chicago rap: 3, bedroom soul: 3, canadian contemporary r&b: 3, post-teen pop: 3
Timeless Love Songs The ultimate romantic playlist. l w pop: 30, pop rock: 29, dance pop: 28, soft rock: 22, mellow gold: 21, soul: 17, neo mellow: 17, motown: 15, rock: 14, urban contemporary: 12, adult standards: 12, funk: 11, quiet storm: 11, europop: 11, neo soul: 10, r&b: 10, british soul: 9, post-teen pop: 9, album rock: 9, dance rock: 9, new wave pop: 9, classic rock: 8, permanent wave: 8, uk pop: 7, disco: 7, brill building pop: 6, classic soul: 6, lilith: 5, rock-and-roll: 5, southern soul: 5, folk rock: 5, new romantic: 5, new wave: 5, canadian pop: 5, piano rock: 4, vocal jazz: 4, folk: 4, singer-songwriter: 4, memphis soul: 4, boy band: 4, soul blues: 3, bubblegum pop: 3, talent show: 3, post-grunge: 3, synthpop: 3, country: 3, country dawn: 3, lounge: 3, new jack swing: 3
Alternative Love Songs A selection of the greatest alternative love songs of all time. l n indie pop: 25, rock: 25, indie rock: 24, art pop: 21, alternative rock: 18, modern rock: 18, permanent wave: 17, dance rock: 15, art rock: 15, new wave: 12, melancholia: 12, alternative dance: 11, electropop: 11, indietronica: 10, britpop: 10, new rave: 9, freak folk: 8, indie folk: 8, slowcore: 8, stomp and holler: 7, anti-folk: 7, singer-songwriter: 7, pop rock: 6, dance pop: 6, pop: 6, chamber pop: 6, dance-punk: 5, chillwave: 5, uk post-punk: 5, shimmer pop: 5, new wave pop: 5, lo-fi: 5, chamber psych: 5, post-punk: 5, dream pop: 4, madchester: 4, shoegaze: 4, english indie rock: 4, new romantic: 3, classic rock: 3, folk rock: 3, psychedelic rock: 3, nu gaze: 3, swedish pop: 3, electronica: 3, neo-synthpop: 3, swedish electropop: 3, indie soul: 3, modern alternative rock: 3, metropopolis: 3
Going Together Songs of deep relationships to inspire your journey with each other. l w ccm: 48, christian music: 44, christian alternative rock: 40, worship: 39, anthem worship: 32, christian pop: 28, world worship: 17, indiecoustica: 17, neo mellow: 12, acoustic pop: 11, christian indie: 9, pop rock: 9, roots worship: 8, None: 5, indie cafe pop: 4
Wedding Songs The Knot gets John Legend to share his wedding favorites. l b pop: 20, soul: 16, neo soul: 12, r&b: 10, urban contemporary: 10, vocal jazz: 10, motown: 10, adult standards: 9, funk: 9, quiet storm: 9, classic soul: 7, jazz blues: 6, post-teen pop: 6, dance pop: 5, swing: 4, southern soul: 4, disco: 3, hip hop: 3, rock: 3, electropop: 3
Valentine’s Day Love The most romantic tracks of all time, featuring today’s hits and all the classics. l n pop: 41, pop rock: 25, dance pop: 22, neo mellow: 21, rock: 18, post-teen pop: 13, soft rock: 12, mellow gold: 11, permanent wave: 10, classic rock: 10, latin: 9, latin pop: 9, album rock: 9, folk rock: 8, soul: 7, stomp and holler: 7, singer-songwriter: 7, r&b: 6, urban contemporary: 6, contemporary country: 6, canadian pop: 6, uk pop: 6, indie folk: 6, mexican pop: 5, adult standards: 5, funk: 5, acoustic pop: 5, motown: 5, lilith: 5, irish rock: 5, new wave pop: 5, quiet storm: 4, brill building pop: 4, viral pop: 4, folk: 4, piano rock: 4, post-grunge: 4, latin arena pop: 3, colombian pop: 3, neo soul: 3, classic soul: 3, dance rock: 3, lounge: 3, hollywood: 3, indie pop: 3, psychedelic rock: 3, modern rock: 3, alternative rock: 3
All The Feels All the vibes. All the feels. o b pop: 31, alternative r&b: 19, pop rap: 18, rap: 18, hip hop: 13, indie r&b: 12, trap soul: 7, r&b: 7, urban contemporary: 7, trap: 7, indie soul: 6, deep pop r&b: 5, canadian contemporary r&b: 4, dance pop: 4, conscious hip hop: 4, southern hip hop: 4, escape room: 4, canadian pop: 3, uk contemporary r&b: 3, post-teen pop: 3, melodic rap: 3, chicago rap: 3
Make Out Jams Set the mood just right… s b pop: 41, rap: 18, pop rap: 17, alternative r&b: 15, r&b: 12, urban contemporary: 12, hip hop: 11, trap: 10, dance pop: 9, indie r&b: 9, post-teen pop: 7, deep pop r&b: 6, melodic rap: 6, canadian pop: 5, atl hip hop: 5, electropop: 4, canadian contemporary r&b: 3, None: 3, emo rap: 3, tropical house: 3, indie pop: 3, neo soul: 3, trap soul: 3, canadian hip hop: 3, toronto rap: 3
Love Pop Because we all deserve great pop love songs in one playlist. l m pop: 65, dance pop: 29, post-teen pop: 29, electropop: 15, uk pop: 14, swedish pop: 12, viral pop: 11, None: 10, tropical house: 10, indie cafe pop: 10, neo mellow: 9, indie poptimism: 8, pop rock: 7, norwegian pop: 6, swedish electropop: 4, indie anthem-folk: 4, indie pop: 3, australian pop: 3, metropopolis: 3, contemporary country: 3, talent show: 3, indietronica: 3, boy band: 3, danish pop: 3
Warm Fuzzy Feeling Beautiful songs to give you that warm, fuzzy feeling. l w pop: 44, neo mellow: 20, post-teen pop: 18, dance pop: 17, pop rock: 17, acoustic pop: 10, indie folk: 9, None: 7, uk pop: 6, viral pop: 6, contemporary country: 6, stomp and holler: 5, electropop: 5, modern rock: 5, indiecoustica: 5, indie pop: 5, new americana: 4, indie cafe pop: 4, tropical house: 3, indie rock: 3, neo soul: 3, indie anthem-folk: 3
B.A.E. Hip-Hop + R&B Before. Anything. Else. Cover: Cover: \nChris Brown and Young Thug o b rap: 30, pop rap: 29, pop: 22, trap: 18, hip hop: 17, r&b: 14, urban contemporary: 13, dance pop: 11, southern hip hop: 10, deep pop r&b: 10, atl hip hop: 10, alternative r&b: 8, melodic rap: 8, gangster rap: 5, brooklyn drill: 5, nyc rap: 5, dirty south rap: 4, underground hip hop: 4, trap soul: 4, hip pop: 3, chicago rap: 3, None: 3, trap queen: 3, toronto rap: 3, new york drill: 3, cali rap: 3
’90s Baby Makers What we’re gonna do right now is go back—back in time. Here are all your favorite ’90s R&B slow jams! s b r&b: 38, urban contemporary: 38, new jack swing: 34, neo soul: 33, quiet storm: 29, hip pop: 28, dance pop: 23, hip hop: 15, funk: 10, pop rap: 9, pop: 8, boy band: 7, atl hip hop: 5, southern hip hop: 5, soul: 5, None: 4, rap: 4, girl group: 4, deep pop r&b: 3
70s Love Songs The most unforgettable love songs from the 70s. l w soft rock: 30, mellow gold: 25, adult standards: 20, motown: 13, bubblegum pop: 13, quiet storm: 12, soul: 12, disco: 11, classic rock: 11, folk: 11, album rock: 10, country rock: 10, folk rock: 10, brill building pop: 9, rock: 9, yacht rock: 8, classic soul: 7, funk: 6, philly soul: 5, southern soul: 5, urban contemporary: 4, lounge: 4, country: 3, rock-and-roll: 3
Love Ballads Some of the worlds most beautiful love songs. l w pop: 30, soft rock: 24, dance pop: 22, mellow gold: 21, pop rock: 17, adult standards: 15, quiet storm: 13, album rock: 12, europop: 12, rock: 11, urban contemporary: 11, soul: 11, motown: 10, r&b: 9, new wave pop: 8, neo mellow: 7, classic rock: 7, neo soul: 7, new jack swing: 7, disco: 7, boy band: 7, None: 6, hard rock: 5, folk rock: 5, classic soul: 5, funk: 5, swedish pop: 5, post-teen pop: 4, dance rock: 4, hip pop: 4, canadian pop: 4, glam metal: 3, british soul: 3, folk: 3, lilith: 3, new romantic: 3, permanent wave: 3, uk pop: 3, yacht rock: 3, singer-songwriter: 3, brill building pop: 3, rock-and-roll: 3, viral pop: 3, lounge: 3
You & Me It’s just us—and this awesome alt soundtrack. l w modern rock: 42, indie pop: 26, modern alternative rock: 26, rock: 25, indietronica: 19, pop rock: 14, indie poptimism: 12, shimmer pop: 12, stomp and holler: 12, indie rock: 11, electropop: 9, pop: 9, indie folk: 9, alternative dance: 7, chillwave: 7, metropopolis: 6, vapor soul: 6, neo mellow: 6, alternative rock: 5, english indie rock: 5, alternative metal: 4, post-grunge: 4, la indie: 4, folk-pop: 4, australian indie: 3, art pop: 3, brooklyn indie: 3, acoustic pop: 3, stomp pop: 3, indie anthem-folk: 3, indiecoustica: 3
Silk Sheets Sensual silky sounds for the sheets. s n alternative r&b: 31, indie r&b: 26, indie soul: 12, pop: 12, None: 10, deep pop r&b: 7, rap: 6, trap soul: 6, neo soul: 5, hip hop: 5, urban contemporary: 4, escape room: 3, underground hip hop: 3, r&b: 3, lo-fi chill: 3, uk contemporary r&b: 3, trap: 3
The Sweet Suite Come inside The Sweet Suite and get in the mood with some amazing R&B ballads from the past and present. s b urban contemporary: 26, quiet storm: 23, r&b: 23, neo soul: 21, new jack swing: 19, funk: 15, soul: 14, hip pop: 14, dance pop: 13, pop: 11, motown: 8, disco: 6, deep pop r&b: 5, indie soul: 4, pop rap: 4, alternative r&b: 4, hip hop: 4, post-disco: 4, indie r&b: 3, None: 3, southern hip hop: 3, adult standards: 3, rap: 3
Acoustic Love Songs to soundtrack your love story, from butterflies and first kisses to bittersweet memories and everything in between. l m indie folk: 38, new americana: 25, stomp and holler: 23, None: 13, folk-pop: 12, neo mellow: 11, acoustic pop: 11, irish singer-songwriter: 6, deep new americana: 6, indie anthem-folk: 6, folk: 5, singer-songwriter: 5, pop rock: 5, indiecoustica: 5, british singer-songwriter: 5, pop folk: 5, pop: 5, indie pop: 4, melancholia: 3, lilith: 3, modern folk rock: 3, art pop: 3, modern rock: 3, ambient folk: 3, uk americana: 3
Sexy as Folk Heady lyrics, driving rhythms… o w indie folk: 15, stomp and holler: 8, new americana: 6, neo mellow: 6, irish singer-songwriter: 5, british singer-songwriter: 5, art pop: 4, melancholia: 4, singer-songwriter: 4, pop: 4, ambient folk: 4, irish rock: 3, pop rock: 3, acoustic pop: 3
Spooning This is the perfect playlist for those cozy moments. l w pop: 40, dance pop: 21, neo mellow: 14, uk pop: 12, post-teen pop: 10, urban contemporary: 10, indie folk: 10, r&b: 9, neo soul: 9, pop rock: 9, british soul: 7, tropical house: 7, electropop: 6, indie anthem-folk: 6, None: 6, europop: 5, pop rap: 5, stomp and holler: 4, hip pop: 4, indie electropop: 3, indie pop: 3, indie poptimism: 3, nyc pop: 3, new americana: 3, indie r&b: 3, boy band: 3, viral pop: 3
Love Letter Eclectic love songs from throughout the years. l n permanent wave: 6, rock: 6, pop: 6, indie pop: 5, neo mellow: 4, modern rock: 4, classic rock: 4, mellow gold: 4, vapor soul: 4, indie folk: 3, alternative rock: 3, pop rock: 3, art rock: 3, melancholia: 3, folk rock: 3, album rock: 3, singer-songwriter: 3, indietronica: 3, electronica: 3, indie soul: 3, art pop: 3, indie rock: 3
Winter of Love Your ultimate snuggle playlist l w modern bollywood: 45, filmi: 40, desi pop: 32, sufi: 32, desi hip hop: 20, indian folk: 12, None: 5, deep indian pop: 4, classic bollywood: 3, ghazal: 3, punjabi pop: 3, classic pakistani pop: 3

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