In recent months, many of the world’s most popular artists have decided to release surprise albums, works that are shoved on the public without pretense. Evidently, many artists have decided that whether or not the next content will be good is not enigmatic enough, and the date and reason for album releases should be a mystery as well. Perhaps this technique is a way to break free of standard musical production tropes, or maybe it is a way to distract the public from less-than-life-changing musical works. Regardless, artists are doing it, so that means somebody should be reviewing it.
A lot of the time, an artist or musical group will make some sort of announcement about a release time of an album and then the avid fans can expect to see their favorite’s work come out four to six months late. (Looking at you, Frank Ocean.) The buildup to the piece’s release is a lot like watching the previews from an IMAX 3-D movie: by the time the content you want comes out, you already have such a migraine from the previews that you can’t be anything but comatose for the feature production.
The standard album release protocol is really the only option for 90 percent of artists. Now I hate the cliche of the struggling artist as much as Rafael hated Michelangelo’s muscular Christ figures, but this is definitely a big problem in the music industry. Since the synthesis of humanity, people have always wanted to cheat each other. This is something that you can see universally, across every media of expression. In the music world, terms like “limewire” or “Spotify” or “youtubetomp3.com” come to mind. And that’s just in my short digital lifetime. The point is, artists have to do what they can to avoid losing money to Spotify, which itself is losing money while it’s customers lose patience with the constant ads. It’s a lose-lose situation, especially for up-and-coming musicians, which each and every student at Vassar pretends to be interested in.
So what happens when musicians the likes of, say Beyonce, release a secret album? The first thing that occurs is that a lot of questionable news sources start posting links to it on Facebook. Remember that these accounts stem from those old school Facebook pages where you had to like the page to see a “mind blowing” picture. The malware that fans receive on their computer is a con of the surprise release.
One benefit for fans is that this scourge of media attention caters to the band-wagon leapers. The artist’s “true” fans, are just as susceptible to malware as the new fans. . Surprise albums, like surprise parties can foster a sense of community among the vaguest of acquaintances.
I’ve discussed some pros and cons for the fans, but what do surprise albums bring to the few artists for whom it is economically feasible to do them? Firstly, it gives these musicians a chance to procrastinate. To best illustrate this, I’m going to compare this to my area of expertise: no, not the Humor section, but undergraduate academia.
Imagine, if you could, just hand in your paper of any topic to a professor whenever you want, and the whole department would go nuts about it. Who cares if it was supposed to be 10 pages about “The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” written in present tense? Your 370-word treatise about saving Dining Bucks written entirely in the passive voice will no doubt be hung on the English Department’s bulletin board.
Overall, the concept of surprise albums is a total cop out. It gives artists the chance to feed into the clickbait hysteria online, while also being able to put out questionable content. For the indignant reader, this is not a jab at Queen B (I haven’t listened to “Lemonade,” as weird as that is to say out of context). I’m pointing out that the surprise album format gives leniency for a artist to not produce content that the listeners were requesting. After all, the concept of “surprise” means they weren’t expecting anything at all…