The saga of the new Kanye West album ‘The Life of Pablo’ goes on. Now with the news that Tidal isn’t reporting streams of it to Nielsen in the US, but separate claims that the release has given Tidal signups a significant boost.
Billboard’s charts boss Silvio Pietroluongo went public with the Nielsen news, explaining to the New York Times why West’s album had failed to chart in its first week.
“Billboard has been informed that Tidal is not currently reporting streams for tracks on Kanye’s album to Nielsen Music. Therefore streams from Tidal for this title will not contribute to Billboard’s chart rankings at this time,” he said.
And the signups? We’d usually look to TMZ as a credible source on celebrity arrests rather than digital-music developments, but the news site claims that ‘The Life of Pablo’ and its live-streamed launch event have been streamed “millions of times”, while “subscribers to the app have more than doubled from around 1 million to 2.5 million” since its launch on Tidal.
Both stories offer food for thought. There’s a clear media narrative around Tidal, which is one of failure and cock-ups. It started with the botched ‘launch’ – many journalists covering Tidal have only a sketchy knowledge (if that) that the service existed long before Jay-Z acquired it – and has continued through to the (undoubtedly embarrassing) dispute with UMG over problems with the launch of Rihanna’s ‘ANTI’. And now West’s album, with its 500k+ pirated downloads.
Tidal has issues, for sure, but there is an alternative way of looking at ‘The Life of Pablo’. We’ve seen its Tidal release described as a “beta”, almost like a tech startup, with even its tracklisting and mastering potentially changing before it gets an official release beyond Tidal (which, despite some of West’s recent tweets, it surely will).
If the release had come with a tighter narrative playing on the beta idea – early access for hardcore fans and the chance for their feedback to influence the ultimate, official version – it might have been seen as a bold and inventive rethink of what an album release can be in the streaming era.
The piracy issue would still have existed, but the ‘failure / cock-up’ narrative might at least have been challenged. And in that scenario, it would be less of a surprise to not report streams to the chart authorities.
We’ll reserve judgement on the impact ‘The Life of Pablo’ has on Tidal subscriptions until after those 1.5 million new signups decide whether to start paying or cancel at the end of their free trials.
Tidal’s iPhone app has slipped from the summit of Apple’s US free-apps chart to 54th place, and 101st in the top-grossing chart – we’ll be watching the latter closely as the Kanye-fuelled trials come to an end.
Even so, the much-derided Tidal has bagged exclusives on the two hottest albums of 2016 so far – albeit limited in Rihanna’s case – and surely has a shot at something similar for the next Beyoncé album.
Tidal still has plenty of challenges and a talent for handing its critics ammunition, but it’s still important to dig below the prevailing media narrative to understand exactly what impact it might have on the industry this year.