Just over a year ago, Beyoncé made people lose their minds when she dropped a surprise album without any promotion or notice. Just a few days ago, Drake pulled a Beyoncé and dropped a surprise album of his own.
The 17-track If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was released on iTunes Thursday night. The question is, did the zero-marketing approach work?
Judging from the iTunes charts this morning, I’d say it did. IYRTITL is currently the #1 album, beating out the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, Taylor Swift’s 1989, Ed Sheeran’s x, and Grammy-winning album of the year, Beck’s Morning Phase. One of the songs, “Energy,” is #9 on the top songs chart.
Still, will Drake have the same success as Beyoncé? I’m not sure. Sure, Drake’s pretty popular, but he doesn’t have an SNL skit about how disliking him is akin to treason (Beyoncé does). Drake is a talented artist with a strong following, but I don’t think he has quite reached the Beyoncé level of public reverence.
When it comes down to it, I think these “surprise albums” only work when the music buyers have a strong personal attachment to the artist. Let’s face it: lesser-known artists drop “surprise” albums all the time – only theirs lack extensive advertising because they couldn’t afford a full-scale marketing push, not because they thought it would be a neat experiment to go without it. People who rushed to buy Beyoncé, who are scrambling to get IYRTITL – they are willing to purchase an album they know nothing about because they’ve been buying into the artists’ brands for some time beforehand. If you’re a diehard Drake fan, of course you’re going to be excited to hear he suddenly dropped his first mixtape since 2009.
With “surprise” albums becoming a recurring theme in the industry, is no marketing the new marketing? I doubt it. While the “surprise” factor is intriguing, it has to be backed up by the social relevance of an incredibly popular artist. And even then, the concept loses its uniqueness – and its intrigue – with each occurrence. The headlines are already saying Drake “pulled a Beyoncé.” Surely the next artist who tried to go the surprise album route would generate headlines saying they followed the approaches of Beyoncé and Drake.
Conclusion: Beyoncé’s surprise album? The concept feels novel, and we’re really excited about it.
Drake’s surprise album? Eh, it’s been done before, but we’ll go for it.
The next surprise album? Ok, we’re kind of over this now.