This isn’t the first time Beyoncé has dropped an album out of the sky. Nor is it the first ‘visual album’ to appear. Nontheless, it’s been three years since her last album and the hype has reached a critical level because, well, it’s Beyoncé.
After releasing ‘Formation’ in February 2016 and appearing at the Super Bowl half-time show, there has been much anticipation building around her next album – whenever that would be. So her 6th album, Lemonade, has been dropped in much the same fashion as her eponymously titled 5th – this time round being dissected for references to Jay Z’s alleged infidelities.
While some will claim that the ‘visual album’ thing is old hat, Lemonade is a beast of a slightly different stripe. Instead of releasing music videos for every track individually, the 12-track compilation has been produced within a feature-length film, including references to pioneers in feminism as well as African- American civil rights activists.
Unsurprisingly, the release was windowed on Tidal – the third big exclusive for the streaming service in 2016 alone, following Kanye West’s bloviating Life Of Pablo and Rihanna’s (somewhat shambolic release of) Anti. They were all, you may have noticed, shareholders in Tidal and stand to benefit financially from its commercial success or future acquisition. Lemonade doesn’t appear to be as much of a pantomime as Rihanna’s windowing experience, where Anti arrived on Tidal accidentally, before being laughed off as a system error, put up for download on iTunes, and given up for a couple of million free downloads. It certainly got people talking – but almost always for the wrong reasons. As one might expect with Beyoncé, Lemonade has been a much slicker release.
While Lemonade’s streaming exclusivity with Tidal is said to be “in perpetuity” (it’s also available for download on iTunes, Amazon MP3 etc.), we hope that Beyoncé sticks to her guns and doesn’t “do a Kanye”. He promised that Life Of Pablo would never be available outside Tidal; that’s until it appeared on Spotify less than two months later. Last month, opportunistic “fans” of West filed a lawsuit against the rapper and Tidal, alleging that they were tricked into signing up to the service (which significantly boosted its subscribers thanks to West’s promises that here was the only place you could hear the album).
While available on multiple download services (which won’t hurt the week- one chart position), so far it would seem that Beyoncé is set on sticking to her plan of streaming exclusivity on Tidal. Spotify was, predictably, not impressed and suggested the move was harmful to both fans and the industry. “Artists want as many fans as possible to hear their music, and fans want to hear the music they’re excited about,” said the company’s Jonathan Prince. “Exclusives get in the way of both.”
In any case, even a truncated week on iTunes was enough to send Lemonade to #1 in multiple markets, with all 12 tracks breaking into the Billboard Top 100 (eclipsing Taylor Swift’s record of 11). It appears you can have your cake (streaming exclusivity on a niche service you have a financial interest in) and eat it (get a #1 album driven in a large part by downloads).