A lot goes into promoting a new album. From the teasers and singles, to the music videos and live performances, artists try their best to hype up their upcoming records with as much exposure as possible. However, sometimes, they ditch the traditional album promotion cycle entirely. Instead, they debut new music out of nowhere in an effort to avoid leaks and take back control of their work, causing fans to go into a frenzy for not being prepared whatsoever. These 20 surprise albums were some of the most unexpected, taking the whole music industry by storm.
Eminem, Drake, and Beyoncé are the first names that come to mind when thinking about surprise albums. They've perfected the method of dropping music when fans least expect it. Sometimes, they gave fans a few hours' notice before giving them a new project, and at other times, their albums were here before fans could even take a moment to process what was happening. Their spontaneous releases ultimately proved to be successful, as they're remembered for being gamechangers in the world of music.
While other surprise albums didn't make quite the impact some stars hoped for, these 20 records definitely broke the internet.
1. Radiohead: In Rainbows (2007)
A list of the biggest surprise albums wouldn't be complete without Radiohead's In Rainbows, which is often credited as the first nontraditional album release. The group announced it just 10 days before it came out and didn't share any songs ahead of time, but what was most surprising was Radiohead said fans could pay whatever they wanted for it.
2. Frank Ocean: Channel ORANGE (2012)
Frank Ocean wanted to make sure no leaks would spoil his album, so instead of releasing Channel ORANGE on July 17 as was previously announced, he dropped it a week earlier. In a July 13 interview, the singer revealed it was "the plan all along."
"I kinda wanted to mirror what Jay and Kanye did with Watch the Throne, preventing the leak by staggering digital and physical dates," Ocean told BBC 1 Radio, referencing the rappers' 2011 collaborative album.
Channel ORANGE went on to win Album of the Year at the 2012 Soul Train Music Awards and Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards.
3. Jay-Z: Magna Carta Holy Grail (2013)
Jay-Z definitely knows how to make a statement. He announced his 12th studio album Magna Carta Holy Grail during a commercial for the NBA Finals on June 16, 2013 — just three weeks before debuting the project on July 4.
4. Beyoncé: Beyoncé (2013)
Beyoncé didn't give fans any prior notice before dropping her eponymous fifth studio album on Dec. 13, leaving fans totally shook. According to Billboard, she sold 80,000 copies of Beyoncé in just three hours, which should give you an idea of the magnitude of the release. The singer included visuals for each song, which hadn't been done before, making the album experience unlike any surprise release. "I wanted people to hear the songs with the story that's in my head 'cause it's what makes it mine," she said in a promotional video for her record at the time.
5. U2: Songs Of Innocence (2014)
Five years after releasing their previous record No Line on the Horizon in 2009, U2 finally came back with their 13th studio album, Songs Of Innocence. The group partnered with Apple to gift the project to anyone with an iTunes account — a move that was met with controversy since some viewed it as invasive. A few days after its Sept. 9, 2014, release, Apple had to release instructions on how to remove the album due to the overwhelming backlash.
6. Drake: If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015)
On Feb. 13, 2015, Drake released his mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late on iTunes without warning. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking the rapper's fourth trip to the top of the chart. Fans streamed the album more than 17. 3 million times within three days, breaking Spotify's first-week streaming record.
7. Miley Cyrus: Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz (2015)
Cyrus used her 2015 VMAs hosting gig to make a big announcement: Her fifth studio album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, was available to stream on SoundCloud for free after the show. The record was a big deal because it was released independently via her label Smiley Miley.
8. Beyoncé: Lemonade (2016)
After Beyoncé's 2015 self-titled album came her monumental sixth record, Lemonade, which featured collaborations with the Weeknd, James Blake, Jack White, and Kendrick Lamar. It arrived following the singer's hourlong, conceptual short film that premiered on HBO on April 23, 2016, to critical acclaim.
9. Rihanna: ANTI (2016)
Fans got ANTI earlier than expected because TIDAL accidentally leaked the album the same day Rihanna debuted "Work" on Jan. 27, 2016. Although it was only up for a few minutes, fans had already listened and downloaded it on their devices. This caused Rihanna to just release ANTI early.
10. Kendrick Lamar: DAMN. (2017)
11. The Carters: Everything Is Love (2018)
12. Nicki Minaj: Queen (2018)
The release of Nicki Minaj's fourth studio album was a rollercoaster for fans. After postponing Queen twice, the rapper seemed to have finally settled on an Aug. 17 release date. However, Minaj took fans by surprise by dropping it a week earlier than expected.
13. BTS: Love Yourself: Answer (2018)
BTS is known for their album trilogies, so when their second Love Yourself record released in May, fans knew a third one was coming soon. However, they didn't expect Love Yourself: Answer to drop just three months later.
14. Eminem: Kamikaze (2018)
Eminem is no stranger to surprise albums, like his 10th studio record, Kamikaze, which fans had no idea about until it was finally here. Since the rapper had just came out with Revival in December 2017, and he can go stretches of six years without releasing new material, fans didn't expect another album so soon. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, with 434,000 units sold.
15. Bad Bunny: X100PRE (2018)
Bad Bunny is another artist who loves surprise releases. He began using this method right away with his debut LP, X100PRE. The album reached No. 1 on Billboard's Top Latin Albums Chart, despite releasing on a Monday instead of a Friday (when albums traditionally release).
16. Ariana Grande: thank u, next (2019)
Less than six months after Sweetener, which released in August 2018, the singer was already moving onto her next project: thank u, next. The record-breaking album seemed to be somewhat inspired by her nasty breakup from her former fiance, Pete Davidson, and brought hits like "7 Rings," "thank u, next," and "Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored."
17. Eminem: Music to Be Murdered By (2020)
Whenever Eminem drops a surprise album, it's basically guaranteed to go No. 1. Following the success of Kamikaze, his ninth studio record, Music to be Murdered By, also reached the top of the chart, with 279,000 units sold.
18. Agust D: D-2 (2020)
The hype surrounding Suga's second mixtape as Agust D was so real. Although the rapper teased he'd been working on new music for months, fans had no idea when his mixtape would actually arrive. Finally, on May 22, ARMYs got D-2, which debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard 200, making Suga the highest ranking Korean solo artist on the chart.
19. Logic: No Pressure (2020)
Logic's No Pressure was huge because it marked his sixth and (according to him) final studio album. "Officially announcing my retirement with the release of No Pressure executive produced by No I.D. July 24th... It’s been a great decade. Now it’s time to be a great father," the rapper announced on July 16 — just one week before sharing the record with fans. There's much debate surrounding whether or not Logic is really retiring. Only time will tell.
20. Taylor Swift: Folklore (2020)
Swift revealed that due to the quarantine, she was able to finish her eighth studio record much earlier than expected and she'd be dropping it that very night.
"Before this year I probably would’ve overthought when to release this music at the ‘perfect’ time, but the times we’re living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed. My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world," Swift wrote in a July 23 Instagram.
It debuted at No. 1 with a whopping 846,000 units sold.
These 20 records definitely left their footprint on the music industry and fans won't be forgetting about them any time soon.