Sweden is generally considered one of the world’s more genteel places – the land of ABBA, IKEA, Absolut vodka, Avicii, Volvos and Spotify.
But to end this week, that last one – the global music streaming service – finds itself at the centre of a debate about censorship and Australian national identity thanks to a conservative senator who put together a playlist of 100 songs to try and make a statement of his discontent about the national broadcaster, the ABC.
Now people are threatening to uninstall the music app from their smartphones in a debate over free speech, copyright, artistic freedom and much more, as the scabs of every festering political debate from last year were ripped off and fought over all over again.
But first, you have to understand how the nation got here.
Late last year, Triple J, the country’s “youth” music station, announced it was shifting the date of its annual music countdown, the Hottest 100, from January 26 because of continued controversy over Australia Day, which commemorates arrival of the First Fleet arriving in Sydney to establish the penal colony that would become the foundation of modern Australia. This is a contentious day for indigenous Australians, encapsulated in how it is referred to as “invasion day” by objectors.
As debate around Australia Day intensified in recent years, Triple J found itself a key focus of the #changethedate movement.
“The Hottest 100 wasn’t created as an Australia Day celebration,” the station said at the time, pointing out it only moved to that date in 1998. But the Hottest 100 has become something of a ritual for people to throw parties to, as they listen to a countdown of the most popular songs of the previous year, as voted for by listeners.
But that announcement provoked howls of protest from conservative politicians and many others old enough to be the fathers of Triple J’s audience, including communications minister Mitch Fifield, who is in charge of the ABC. He said he was “bewildered” by the decision.
And Cory Bernardi, the South Australian senator who defected from the Liberals last year to form his own party was among those to complain loudest.
Bernardi has been a vocal campaigner against same-sex marriage, the Safe Schools program, Islam and halal certification, to name just a few hot button items in a long list of grievances. He’s also an unabashed self-publicist who likes to portray himself as a martyr for his conservative cause.
Even charitable activities have been targets of his political attacks. Last year he railed against a primary school taking part in the “Do It In A Dress” fundraiser, which aims to educate girls in Africa, saying it was proof of “gender morphing”.
Bernardi and his political party took things one step further in the Triple J debate and this week, released a party-approved “hottest 100”, a playlist he compiled on Spotify.
.@CoryBernardi launches the #AC100, an alternative to @TripleJ "Hottest 100" after they abandoned #AustraliaDay. Click to listen to the @spotify playlist and vote for your favourites: https://t.co/qlknkhHH5j #auspol #ABetterWay pic.twitter.com/GHy6GDe659
— Aust Conservatives (@AuConservatives) January 17, 2018
It’s not a bad list, especially if your tastes in music are based on growing up in Australia in the ’70s and ’80s.
And given the views espoused in some of the songs, there are some surprising choices, which reminds us of former Prime Minister John Howard once saying he was a Bob Dylan fan for the music, but didn’t agree with the lyrics.
But not every musician featured on Bernardi’s playlist was happy to be a part of it and made their feelings known on Twitter.
The working class man himself weighed in:
Why would you listen to anything @corybernardi says, especially about music?
— Jimmy Barnes (@JimmyBarnes) January 18, 2018
Others sought to distance themselves from the stunt:
Bernard Fanning does not endorse the inclusion of any of his
music in the @AuConservatives Hottest 100.
— Bernard Fanning (@bernardfanning) January 18, 2018
Just been told my music is in the @corybernardi hottest 100 list , I don’t want to be in it and I don’t endorse any political parties . These are some of the strong men in my Family and they wouldn’t want me in this list either ,Music brings people together and doesn’t divide. pic.twitter.com/eEkX35To7F
— Troy Cassar-Daley (@troycassardaley) January 18, 2018
The Hilltop Hoods were less than polite about it:
Go fuck yourself @corybernardi.
— Hilltop Hoods (@hilltophoods) January 17, 2018
Trying to be polite didn’t get Darren Hayes anywhere anyway:
— Cory Bernardi (@corybernardi) January 17, 2018
Now Hayes, a solo artist after being part of the global pop duo Savage Garden, is a gay man who married overseas because until late last year, same-sex marriage – something Bernardi campaigned vociferously against – was unable to marry in Australia.
Music is for everyone, but not marriage in the senator’s world.
And there’s an additional irony to senator Bernardi’s demand to use the music.
Here’s an excerpt from a September 2016 column he penned, titled “Freedom to refuse must be defended”, as part of the debate over marriage equality.
And this is the essence of the dilemma we now face; is it okay for any business to say they simply don’t want your business for any or no reason? Personally I think it is, but that freedom has to be defended and protected so that it applies to any business, no matter what side of a debate they are on.
Which must mean businesses should have the right to refuse service, except if you’re in the music business.
When Men at Work’s Colin Hay also chimed in saying about their song, saying, “It would appear that the true meaning behind Down Under is lost on @corybernardi. When the lyrics were written some 40 years ago, I was worried about people like him, and movements he represents. Turns out I had good reason to be”, the Senator didn’t hesitate to go straight for the jugular.
— Cory Bernardi (@corybernardi) January 18, 2018
(A copyright case in 2010 found that the band has used two bars of the children’s song “Kookaburra sits in the old gum free” without permission – an idea that only emerged because of a question on a ABC music quiz show in 2007, nearly 30 years after the song was recorded.)
It wasn’t long before the debate’s initial sparks became a bonfire, and Spotify found itself tied to the stake.
The company issued a statement yesterday, saying:
Spotify has actively supported marriage, gender, and indigenous equality initiatives over the last five years, and believes in a diverse and multicultural Australia.
We want to make clear we do not endorse this playlist, nor do we have any official ties to the Australian Conservatives party nor any other political party.
Then someone complained about Bernardi’s playlist and like all digital businesses, Spotify’s automated system kicked in, and sent him an email that read:
Hi, we’ve received notice that your uploaded content has been reported as including inappropriate or offensive content and violates our Profile and Playlist Image Guidelines.
We’ve removed it from Spotify. If you believe you received this notice in error, please respond back to this email with an appeal within five (5) business days and we will look into the case.
And thus the martyrdom the senator regularly seeks to prosecute his case was granted.
Music for everyone – unless you're a conservative.@SpotifyAU has deemed our festive #AustraliaDay playlist of 100 Aussie classics 'too offensive'.
Disagree? Join our Australia Day campaign at https://t.co/IbA3nt8GW0 pic.twitter.com/FXu6XcnNKN
— Aust Conservatives (@AuConservatives) January 18, 2018
Help! Help! Bernardi and conservatives are being oppressed!
And as if to demonstrate just how oppressed and censored he was, he promptly went on air on one of the biggest radio stations in the country, Sydney’s 2GB, to complain that the artists who spoke out against him have substance abuse problems.
“Now let’s put it in perspective: these people are lecturing me and other Australians on what we’re allowed to believe, what we’re allowed to see,” he said.
“They say this is wrong for Australia Day, it’s wrong for conservatives, it’s wrong because of the political views, it’s wrong because of indigenous issues, and yet there are an assortment of people who have had drug problems, alcohol problems, plagiarism problems.
“They hardly are the bastions of morality in our community, and they’re lecturing us on what we’re allowed to like, what we’re allowed to listen to and what we’re allowed to do on Australia Day.”
On Sky News, Bernardi lectured them on one of his areas of expertise: hypocrisy.
.@corybernardi: Let me point out the hypocrisy- musicians will take your money for a concert and let you buy their album. But they won't let a conservative like me use their music. #SummerEdition pic.twitter.com/9gqX1oCBE3
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) January 18, 2018
Today Spotify issued another statement. The company said:
We have investigated reports of a playlist being removed from our service and have concluded that these reports are incorrect.
The playlist in question has always been available for listening; however, what was in fact removed was the title and/or image for the playlist created by the user.
This action was an automated response addressing user complaints about the playlist.
Media reports began to state that the playlist was banned – and even the Senator himself – from Spotify. It never was, but by now it was too late.
Conservative supporters were outraged and the backlash had begun. Spotify were “cultural marxists”. Those who normally mock the Left for engaging in consumer boycotts were now embracing them.
— MARRIAGE REALITY (@MarriageDefence) January 19, 2018
— Cammy(ex Lib) #MAGA (@Cam178) January 19, 2018
But the Australian Conservatives were claiming a victory “for common sense” because the playlist is still there
If music be the food of love, play on.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.