Why Did Hundreds of K-Pop Songs Suddenly Disappear From Spotify?

The “K-pop purge,” as some fans call it, removed songs by popular artists like IU, MAMAMOO, and Epik High from the streaming platform.
March 2, 2021, 11:14am
iu concert in taiwan
South Korean singer IU performs on Nov. 30, 2019 in Taiwan. Photo: VCG/VCG, Getty Images

All over the world, K-pop fans are known for their fervent enthusiasm and unlikely political activism, united by a dedication to their K-pop idols that transcends language barriers. But if you’re a K-pop fan living outside South Korea, you might have awoken this morning to half of your K-pop tracks erased from Spotify playlists.

Turns out, this unwelcome surprise was a result of failed negotiations between Spotify and Kakao M, the top music distributor in South Korea.

Spotify said that its existing licensing deal with Kakao M, which covered all countries other than South Korea, has ended despite their “best efforts.” Starting March 1, hundreds of K-pop tracks included in Kakao M’s music catalog were no longer available to international Spotify users.

However, Kakao M said in its statement that Spotify was the one that refused to renew the agreement, adding that negotiations for the supply of music on Spotify in South Korea were still underway.

Kakao M runs Melon, the largest music streaming service in South Korea. Some observers speculate that the failed agreement between Spotify and Kakao M signifies the fierce rivalry between the two platforms fighting for the lion’s share of the South Korean market. 

Popular artists like IU, SEVENTEEN, MAMAMOO, MONSTA X, and Epik High were among those affected by the recent change. Needless to say, K-pop fans around the world are devastated.

Some noted that K-pop artists may be limited in their international reach as a result of this policy change. 

Tablo, the leader of K-pop group Epik High, expressed his exasperation at the tricky situation. 

“Regardless of who is at fault, why is it always the artists and the fans that suffer when businesses place greed over art?” he wrote in a tweet that has since garnered over 256,000 likes and 138,000 retweets.

Meanwhile, some K-pop fans are already canceling their Spotify memberships in protest of the sudden loss of K-pop tracks on the platform.