‘Boys Don’t Cry’. ‘Anti’. ‘Waves’. Three albums from three of the biggest performers in the world, teased, promoted, promised for over a year now, and only now are they beginning to emerge.
Back in April of last year, Frank Ocean announced that his new album, believed to be titled ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, was to be released that July. The news came in the same month that he caused more than a slight stir with a no-show-of-sorts on James Blake’s 1800-Dinosaur UK club tour, which everyone thought he was announced to be playing at. July came and went with many a nail bitten and no more than a sniff of ‘channel ORANGE”s follow-up. Six months later and Ocean’s new record is still no closer to revealing itself.
It’s one example in an emerging trend of the biggest acts in the world giving absolutely nothing away. Either that, or a tiny clue is blown out of proportion, Chinese whispers spreading like nobody’s business. It’s either a coincidence, or this is smartly calculated; a test of how many straws fans will continue to grab, convinced the album is coming “NEXT FRIDAY!”.
Kanye West, of course, is also at the forefront of this apparent new tactic. There’s been quite a few developments in the story of ‘SWISH’ (or should we say ‘Waves’) since we profiled the progress of the ‘Yeezus’ follow-up back in October, but even the recently-announced release date of 11th February - combined with the Madison Square Garden showings - should probably be taken with a handful of salt. Anything can happen on Yeezy’s watch.
Kanye’s latest tactic, ‘G.O.O.D. Fridays’ - releasing a new track, presumably from ‘Waves’, every Friday until further notice - lasted, uh, one Friday, with the release of ‘Real Friends’, before silence fell on the following Friday, with the Kendrick Lamar-featuring ‘No More Parties in LA’ not dropping until the next Monday. Tut tut. But the uncertainty - and the hastily scrawled, handwritten tracklist - is an enthralling spectacle, even from a distance.
New information - however small - is currency, and everything is taken as a hint.
Largely the same process was employed by Kendrick Lamar for last year’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, which was dropped a week early in March, after months of speculation over when and in what format it would arrive. The same can also potentially said of Radiohead’s upcoming ninth album. In this instance, though, 99% of the speculation regarding the album is coming from fans unearthing tiny details that hint towards artwork, collaborators, a release date and the like, and less of a big elaborate strategy on the band’s part. They’ve announced tons of festival appearances - if anything, they’re taking a conventional route. It’s not quite Adele stocking a bunch of CDs in Tesco, but it’s old fashioned by their standards. And again, it’s another example of how exciting it is to sense the new album from one of the biggest bands in the world is close, but quite not enough to touch.
It would’ve been understandable had people also grown tired of Rihanna’s seemingly never-ending build-up to the release of ‘Anti’, her eighth studio album that looks to finally be out this week. We have artwork, the big hits - ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’, ‘FourFiveSeconds’ - and even a bloody stadium tour under the ‘Anti’ banner, but until today there was zero concrete evidence of when it’d actually arrive.
People thought it was dropping on TIDAL on Thanksgiving, then 4th December, then Christmas Day. Hearsay goes a long way. Maybe it’s breadcrumbs left by Rihanna’s team to keep up excitement, or information misinterpreted by fans, but the inner workings of the run-ups to these albums - the most anticipated records in the world right now - becomes irrelevant when you see interest and excitement for an upcoming album only increase from the will-they-won’t-they approach.
From tiny snippets of information being uncovered by the moles on Reddit, or an Instagram comment analysed again and again, the majority of the information gathered about these albums comes from interrogative fans using the Internet as their microscope. New information - however small - is currency, and everything is taken as a hint. It’s becoming easier to gather clues, especially from artists as big and well followed as these, and not all of these are bound to be true. It doesn’t mean the continual stream of tiny snippets of information isn’t intentionally coming from the artists as a new tactic, but the sheer volume of clues unearthed daily means at least a portion of these must arrive from a place of no real substance.
Ever since Radiohead basically started it all with the unannounced drop of ‘In Rainbows’ in 2007, the traditional run-up to an album’s release, with an announcement well in advance, seems a little old and tired, and the knowledge that an album from a band or artist as huge as these could conceivably drop in the next half an hour is enough to keep on digging.
It could, of course, be honest mistakes that keep leaving these deadlines missed, and promises broken, but the seemingly throwaway, casual nature of it all actually makes it all seem more calculated. On purpose or not, the tactics of Kanye, Ocean, Rihanna and more over 2015 have been immensely frustrating, while also keeping fans more excited than ever about their next move. All these albums might arrive by March. Some might not emerge this year at all. But this gossip-first approach is going keep millions on the very edge of their seats for as long as it takes.
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