Who is Joe Rogan? Ask the millions of Spotify listeners who subscribe to his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, and you still wouldn’t know for sure. Joe Rogan is as carelessly outrageous as your second aunt twice-removed’s Facebook posts. A Playboy playmates-themed episode of Fear Factor, the programme Rogan headed in the early days of reality TV, shot him to infamy. During the 2002 Superbowl half-time performance intended to commemorate the victims of 9/11, Rogan pried away 11 million viewers by—you guessed it—having contestants endure Playboy-themed ‘fear’ tests.
Rogan, relegated some time ago to the fringe of mainstream media, has become the centre of attention once again seemingly overnight. Early last week, Canadian rock veteran Neil Young objected to Spotify giving a platform to Rogan, who was accused of promoting misinformation about Covid vaccines. Young gave Spotify an ultimatum: “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both”, according to a letter to his management team and record label.
But what could have possibly stirred Young now, given the vast menu of controversial conversations and guests Rogan has had on his podcast to choose from? The proof is in the pudding.
Earlier this month, Rogan hosted Dr Robert Malone on his podcast The Joe Rogan Experience to discuss vaccine mandates. Dr Malone was previously banned from Twitter for spreading Covid misinformation, and the men were criticised for promoting conspiracy theories, encouraging listeners take the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin to ‘cure’ Covid, and suggesting that hospitals were financially incentivised to falsely diagnose Covid-19 deaths.
Following this episode and Young’s ultimatum, the streaming giant chose the polemicist over the rocker, removing several items from the rocker’s page, which now features obscure singles and an album from 1989. Spotify didn’t need to justify its decision: the Joe Rogan Experience is the number one podcast on Spotify, which bought the rights for $100 million in 2020, and racks up an average of six million listeners per month. However, support for Young’s call for Spotify to do better has exploded in the past couple of days. Two-hundred-and-seventy scientist and medical professionals signed a letter urging Spotify to take action against Rogan, and there was also an intervention from White House health adviser Dr Anthony Fauci. British musician James Blunt tweeted on Saturday, satirically threatening to release new music if Spotify didn’t immediately remove Joe Rogan from the platform. Joining Blunt, Joni Mitchell has also walked out on the streaming app, removing her music in protest. The latest celebrities on the boycott bandwagon are the duke and duchess of Sussex, who have aired their concerns privately with Spotify, with which they recently signed a multi-million pound podcast partnership.
Just yesterday, Spotify caved to pressure after it lost more than $2 billion in market value. Spotify chief executive Daniel Ek responded in an official statement that sets out the company’s plan to tackle the spread of misinformation on its site. The platform will now require a content advisorywarning to be added to every podcast episode that discusses coronavirus and directs listeners to a dedicated Covid-19 hub, a move akin to Instagram’s advisory banner.
Joe Rogan is a chameleon and a master of reinvention. What the future holds for him, only time will tell.