The Art of the Surprise Album
Recently, mainstream music has seen growing trend of artists releasing their albums with little to no notice, aka “pulling a Beyoncé.” Why are artists doing this? Boredom? Hatred towards their labels? Or maybe they know something we don’t. Whatever the answer, let's dissect what this new trend means for the future of the music industry.
December 13, 2013: The day it all began. Over a year ago, Beyoncé put up what is arguably her best album on iTunes completely out of nowhere, and proceeded to break the internet and shatter iTunes records and first week album sales numbers. While the visual album captured everyone's attention, it put the music industry on high alert and made fellow artists reconsider their strategies of delivering music to their fans.
No longer would artists be required to go through the typical pre-album promo run. Beyoncé proved an album released with no promotion or prior singles can still be received well critically and commercially.
Fast forward to a year later in December 2014, when J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive was released with little advance notice, no prior singles, and turned out to become the best-selling rap album of 2014. Even more recently, Drake released his mixtape, If You're Reading This It's Too Late, on iTunes. He broke Spotify records and went gold in only a weekend.
But to their credit, every artist can’t “pull a Beyoncé.” I can only think of a handful of superstars that could release an album with no promotion and still do well. Newer artists who haven’t achieved massive levels of success yet should probably stick to the typical album rollout. These “surprise albums” also benefit the fans in the sense that it’s way more exciting to receive new music from your favorite artist if you had no idea it was coming. Releasing albums out of the blue is also a foolproof way to avoid leaks. We already live in a digital age where album sales are declining, and the last thing artists want are their albums getting leaked online, days or even weeks in advance, which definitely hurts their album sales. I’ve also noticed that releasing an album with no warning gives zero room for expectations from critics and fans alike. Everybody wins!
Even though this new trend has caused a big shift in the traditional method of releasing music, it adds some excitement and spontaneity to the music world. It’s also no secret that surprise albums tend to have massive levels of success with record sales. Artists realize they don’t need their labels as much as they think, so their attitudes are along the lines of “fuck it.” As long as people get to hear their music, that’s all that matters.
Art by Shawna Rabbas