Last year, MTV News relaunched itself as an ambitious new journalistic enterprise, hiring a gifted, diverse, young roster of writers and giving them space to write long, sharp, considered pieces about a ton of different topics. (Full disclosure: A number of Stereogum contributors and friends of the Stereogum staff worked there.) It didn’t last. Earlier this week, as Variety reported, MTV switched up its tactics, promising to target millennials by posting short-form video content and laying off many of their writers. And now we’ve learned one of the main difficulties in turning MTV News into a source for considered music journalism: Artists could put pressure on MTV to force the network to delete any articles that were even remotely critical.
Our friends at SPIN just published a massive investigation into everything that happened at MTV News, and the most fascinating part of the story might be two anecdotes about artists who leaned on the network and got them to take stories down. First up was Kings Of Leon. The site published a short review of the band’s “Waste A Moment” single, calling it “almost aggressively anonymous.” In response, the band threatened to cancel its appearance at the MTV Europe Music Awards. The article was soon deleted, and MTV’s corporate executives put into place a new policy that the site would no longer post reviews that ran less than 500 words. According to SPIN’s Jordan Sargent, “MTV associated those kinds of blog posts with snarkiness and criticism, both of which were deemed detrimental to the network’s broader ability to work with artists who may be the subjects of such posts.”
Something similar happened when the site published a concert review that discussed the “emotional disconnect” that the writer felt while listening to Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book. Chance’s management, upon noticing the review, said that Chance would never work with MTV again. MTV again deleted the article. In an email to SPIN, Chance’s manager Pat Corcoran confirmed the story, writing:
Upon the publication of the article, Chance and I got together & both agreed that the article was offensive.
When we brought our concerns to MTV, our rep agreed that the article was “a harsh shot” & took ownership of the editorial misstep.
From there, MTV chose to, on their own volition, to remove the piece.
We have a long history with MTV, which we cherish.
You may notice, Chance will be appearing in the season opener of Wild ‘N Out tmw night (6/29) on MTV.
This was evidently a constant threat at MTV; the SPIN piece quotes an editor telling the staff not to cover DJ Khaled “unless it’s like, KHALED IS GREAT.” And, to be fair, that balance between pleasing artists and keeping editorial integrity is a constant internal discussion at every music publication that depends on access to artists — which is every music publication of any size, including Stereogum. It’s long been widely understood that this is how MTV works. But it’s still striking to see just how much control the site gave over to the artists it covered. And it’s especially surprising to see Chance, an artist who gets near-universal critical praise for everything he does, effectively admitting to putting the lean on.