Beyoncé, U2, Drake: Why The Unexpected Album Release Is The New Black

by Alicia Cook

On December 13, 2013, Beyoncé unexpectedly released her fifth studio album without any notice. Basically, her fans lost their minds when they realized what had transpired.

On September 9, 2014, U2 took it one step further and just gave iTunes users their CD without any warning, regardless if they were fans of the band or not.

This one caught some heat. Critics and consumers were critical of the strategy, which was basically automatically adding the album to users' iTunes libraries without their consent.

And, on September 28, 2014, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke released a surprise album to his fans for as little as $6. His band had also released an album in 2011 one day before its actual release date to “surprise” fans.

Today, February 13, 2015, Drake, after only a few subtle hints, surprised his fans with the release of a 17-track mixtape entitled, If You're Reading This It's Too Late.

But, why would any major artist release an album like this in the first place?

With tons of marketing available to them and entire promotion teams behind these key artists, I began to wonder why they would choose to forgo any marketing and just drop albums out of the clear blue sky.

Is selling out major venues in only a few minutes no longer a challenge for these artists? Do they need to see how far their popularity and fan loyalty go in other ways?

With social media making everything so readily available at our fingertips, once artists “make it,” do they need to dole out a ton of cash to promote albums on TV and in stores when they can simply tweet a message to millions of their followers in a few seconds for free?

Is having no marketing strategy the new marketing strategy? Is successfully releasing an album with no prior notice or promotion a way to gauge how much star power one holds?

Or, is this just another publicity stunt to ultimately sell more records than they might have if fans knew an album was coming?

I think it’s a mix of all of the above. A true artist is a chameleon, taking on different “challenges” and “risks” to grow as an artist. Once a star reaches such popularity as say, Beyoncé, perhaps he or she wants to take on the next challenge to push further.

If you Google “Drake” right now and check out the news links, you will see a multitude of articles with titles like “Drake Surprises Fans,” “Drake Drops New Album Without Notice” and so on.

It is clear to me that releasing an album in this style guarantees you a ton of press, tweets from stoked fans and a general excitement around the project that may not have happened as organically had they promoted a head of time.

It seems to me that by doing it this way, the promotions and marketing happen at lightning speed. Also, since it’s a lot of press and word-of-mouth, it comes with little cost to the artist.

Though not a U2 fan, I did lose my sh*t when Beyoncé dropped her album and again, today, when I woke up to a few text messages alerting me Drake had just done the same.

I was sincerely surprised and excited. Honestly, more so than I would have been if I had known ahead of time. The fact that it was sitting on the computer ready to download with just one click of a button made the decision to purchase all the more easier.

Right now, this seems to be becoming all the rage. It's what all the “cool kids” in the music industry are doing. But, even this method of release will grow old I assume.

As more and more artists experiment with releasing full albums with little to no notice or promotion, I can’t help but believe that eventually even dropping albums unexpectedly will become, well, expected.

I would write more about this topic, but I am going to go listen to all of Drake’s 17 new songs again.