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Rihanna ‘ANTI’ sparks flame war between UMG and Tidal


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Just when you thought the launch of Rihanna’s ‘ANTI’ couldn’t get any stranger, the album has sparked a dispute between label Universal Music and streaming service Tidal that is being played out in the media.

It’s all down to the accidental leak of the album on Tidal last Thursday, which led to it popping up on piracy sites before a rushed official release on the service.

Tidal’s claim to Spin that the leak was due to “a system error caused by Universal Music Group” went down badly at UMG, to say the least.

“This accusation is both ridiculous and false… They are trying to pass blame for their own incompetence,” a Universal executive told MBW.

“This whole thing is absurd, we would have taken responsibility if it were our error,” an exec told Billboard. “Instead of having their flack flail around trying to revise their own media spin, maybe they should just focus on serving Rihanna – that’s what we’re focused on.”

Tidal’s relaunch event last year may have been widely criticised, but such a public dispute with the largest major label is a much more serious problem for the artist-owned streaming service.

Rihanna is one of those co-owners, yet her album’s debut on Tidal has so far fuelled piracy, and caused a fissure with the label that she’s signed to, the implications of which may not be fully clear until… well, until the next time Tidal is renewing its licensing deal with UMG.

At least the album is selling, although the figures are a separate topic for debate. 1m downloads of ‘ANTI’ were given away on Tidal through a promotional deal with Samsung last week – which led to the RIAA certifying it as platinum.

Tidal told the New York Times that it sold a further 484,833 copies of the album after the giveaway, as well as streaming it 5.6m times. Yet Nielsen’s figures suggest it sold 460 copies in the last chart week.

Tidal’s explanation for the disparity is that it only started selling ‘ANTI’ a few hours before the chart deadline, meaning that the bulk of purchases will slip into the next week’s chart calculations. It’s also unknown how many of the 484,833 claimed sales were outside the US.

Even so, ‘ANTI’ hasn’t been one of Tidal’s finest moments: a long-awaited album from one of its most high-profile co-owners, backed by one of the world’s top consumer-technology brands, should have been a showcase for how Tidal can differentiate itself in the streaming world.

Instead, it’s so far sparked controversy and confusion in equal measure.

Stuart Dredge

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