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Neil Young debunks conspiracy theory about his Spotify protest, admits a mistake of his own

By | Published on Tuesday 15 February 2022

Neil Young

Neil Young has been busy both debunking and correcting, as his big beef with Spotify continues. He’s been correcting himself, but the debunking relates to a conspiracy theory that has been circulating that he’s only complaining about COVID misinformation in the Joe Rogan Experience podcast because vaccine maker Pfizer owns his songs catalogue.

It does seem unlikely that a pharmaceuticals company would own Young’s songs, but there is a sort of logic to how this conspiracy theory came about. And, in fact, for said conspiracy theory to stand up, all you need to do is ignore most of the facts. Like all the great conspiracy theories.

The basic allegation runs as follows: Pfizer is an investor in Hipgnosis and it was Hipgnosis that acquired a 50% share in Young’s publishing catalogue last year. Linking all that together, some believe it’s obvious that Pfizer has been very busy of late exploiting its control over Young’s music to pressure him to start a big old fuss in order to convince young people to eat up their yummy vaccines.

However, the one issue with this is that Pfizer isn’t an investor in any of the various Hipgnosis ventures. A former CEO of the company is a senior advisor to investment outfit Blackstone, which has set up a music rights investment fund with Hipgnosis and bought into the Hipgnosis Song Management company.

But that’s a pretty weak connection between the pharma firm and Young. Plus Blackstone has no direct involvement in the specific Hipgnosis Songs Fund that has a stake in his songs catalogue.

“The publishing share Hipgnosis has in my copyrights is in the Hipgnosis Songs Fund that is publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange”, wrote Young. “The Blackstone investment went into a separate Hipgnosis Private Fund and none of that money was used for the Hipgnosis Songs Fund. Pfizer has not invested in Hipgnosis but a past Pfizer CEO is a senior advisor for Blackstone”.

Referencing the Farm Aid initiative he helped launch back in the 1980s, he concluded: “So much for big Pharma. So much for PHARM aid! Clever but wrong”.

As for Young’s big old correction, that related to past messages posted on his website regarding his decision to remove his music from Spotify because of COVID misinformation in Rogan’s Spotify exclusive podcast. That boycott, he has repeatedly stressed, was prompted by an open letter to Spotify about Rogan’s COVID misinformation signed by 270 experts.

Well, Young said “doctors”. And not all the signatories of that letter were in fact doctors, he has now admitted, but he originally believed they were due to confusing headlines in The Guardian and Rolling Stone saying as much. “The letter that prompted me to act on Spotify was written by 270 hundred medical professionals, not doctors”, he has now clarified.

“I erroneously said they were doctors after having read disinformation on the internet”, he added. “About a third of them were doctors. But many of the rest were nurses and hospital assistants. I respect and honour all those people and the work they continue to do as I write this”.

“I read their whole letter”, he went on. “I still support them. My mistake was calling them all doctors. I read and usually believe The Guardian and The Guardian made a rare mistake”. He then cited the misleading headlines. The Guardian had written “Menace to public health: 270 doctors criticise Spotify over Joe Rogan’s podcast”, while Rolling Stone went with: “A menace to public health: Doctors demand Spotify puts an end to COVID Lies on Joe Rogan Experience”.

“So I was misinformed too”, he continued. “Glad it wasn’t a life and death decision for me. I still stand beside the medical professionals and others who signed that great letter. I stand with them, at their side”.

This – like Young’s original post on his website criticising Rogan’s podcast – has since been deleted for reasons unknown. Still, that means that the latest post on said website is that in which he calls on Spotify staff to quit their jobs, so that’s fun.

Whether any did – just like whether or not a significant number of people have closed their Spotify accounts in solidarity with Young – remains unclear.