Surprise, surprise! How surprise albums shaped 2016’s agenda

Everyone’s at it, releasing the year’s biggest albums without warning. But what constitutes a ‘surprise release’, and who benefits from it?

Every massive act under the sun wants to release their album without warning. The days of announcing a record and waiting a few months are long gone. Everyone’s on their toes, waiting for so-and-so to make their next move. But is all of this worthwhile? Are artists getting back some of the power they might have lost when music started being sold for pennies? And most importantly, is this actually any fun?

Very few musicians could announce a record, put it out immediately and get the attention they deserve. But that doesn’t mean other chancers aren’t trying it.

In the last six months, giants like Radiohead, Beyoncé, Kanye West and Drake have all gone for this option. James Blake, Chance the Rapper, M83 and Skepta have also taken the route of saying their album’s coming out, waiting between four hours and two weeks, before dropping the thing.

These aren’t all strictly ‘surprise releases’. We know they’re coming, in some shape or another. But they all play a similar game. Most of the fun happens when fans are unlocking cryptic clues, gossiping on forums about the last Drake billboard they saw in Toronto, or figuring out what year Frank Ocean meant exactly, when he said ‘Boys Don’t Cry July’. This is happening months before a record comes out. It’s like having a front-row seat to the world’s most all-star pop show, without knowing who’s going to peer out from behind the curtain first.

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