Kendrick Lamar has surprised fans by releasing a new album overnight, announcing it in a tweet that was immediately retweeted more than 43,000 times in two hours.
It’s a far remove from album releases of the past—when once a new album used to be a huge event in an artist’s career, now they drop with all the ceremony of a bit of fluff falling from their pocket as they search for the right change.
So to celebrate Kendrick’s new release, here’s a run-down of the outrageous, cunning and downright desperate ways record companies have gotten us to part with our cash in the past.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono set the bar way back in the 1960s by stripping naked for the cover of album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, then inviting the world’s journalists to join them in bed.
The stunt was to highlight world peace, but also heralded the fact that Lennon/McCartney had been replaced by John + Yoko, a collaboration that produced three experimental albums in the period from 1968 to 1970. A year later The Beatles were well and truly over.
Don’t release the album
Aaaah. Very clever. The Clash released their debut self-titled album in 1977 in the U.K., but the U.S. division of CBS decided it wasn’t fit for radio play, and didn’t release it. Americans bought over 100,000 imported copies of the record however, making it one of the biggest-selling import records of all time.
Release a movie too
Prince made his movie debut in 1984 in Purple Rain, a rock musical drama released to coincide with an album of the same name. He starred as a young musician on the cusp of huge success, with a rival, a band and a love interest to satisfy. Incredibly, the movie won an Oscar, albeit for Best Original Song Score. It also won two Razzies.
Get naked, part 2
By the 1990s everyone knew that to have a successful album launch you needed raunch, and Madonna was its biggest proponent.
In 1992 she not only stripped off, but managed to persuade Naomi Campbell and Vanilla Ice to do so too, and released the photos in an aluminium-wrapped book called Sex—all in the name of new album Erotica.
Float a statue down the Thames
The big album release surely reached an apogee in 1995, when pop behemoth Michael Jackson sailed a 30-foot statue down the Thames.
That’s right: He sailed. A statue. Down. The. River. Thames.
Nine further statues were erected in European capital cities such as Milan, Paris and Berlin. Alongside this he released a four-minute promo so over-the-top and self-regarding one journalist called it the most “boldly vainglorious, self-deification a pop singer ever undertook with a straight face.” Jackson’s reaction? “Good! I wanted everyone’s attention.”
He sure got it. HIStory went on to sell 25 million albums worldwide, a relative flop in Jackson terms but a megahit by anyone else’s.
Stage a beef
In 2007 50 Cent and Kanye West became embroiled in the softest—and possibly most lucrative—hip-hop feud of all time. It all began when the release date of Yeezy’s Graduation was shifted at the last minute to the same day as Fiddy’s Curtis.
During the promotional slanging match between the two stars, 50 Cent promised to stop releasing solo albums if Kanye’s LP outsold Curtis. It did, but for some reason Fiddy didn’t stick to his word.
Pay what you want
Radiohead released In Rainbows in 2007 for free – or at least under the proviso that you could pay what you wanted.
The whole thing was announced ten days before it was released, making headline news across the world and sparking debate about the implications for the music industry, with Time calling it “easily the most important release in the recent history of the music business”.
Hide it in an ARG
In 2007 Nine Inch Nails teamed up with a marketing company to create an alternate-reality game to rev up excitement for dystopian concept album Year Zero.
Lead singer Trent Reznor had his computer-savvy fans rummage through spectrograms and IP ranges to gather clues and tell the LP’s backstory in the weeks leading up to its release, until it was finally found, on a flash drive left in the bathroom of a venue in Lisbon, Portugal.
Playing on roofs
If it’s not Dick van Dyke and a chorus of chimney sweeps, then it’s bands performing live: London’s rooftops have had to put up with a lot.
In 2009 U2 performed an impromptu gig on top of the BBC’s Broadcasting House, a nod to the Beatles’ last performance on the roof of Apple Records in 1969, and their own attempt to shoot a video for “Where the Streets Have No Name” on an LA rooftop in 1987 – all of it in a bid to promote their 12th studio album No Line On The Horizon.
By the 2010s artists were giving punters less and less notice of an impending album release, with The King of Limbs, Radiohead’s follow-up to In Rainbows, and Secret Halo by Burial both being announced less than a week before they were released.
But in 2013 Queen Bey dispensed with any notice at all, dropping her album Beyoncé with absolutely no warning, and proceeding to “break” the music industry. The album was an audio-visual extravaganza: each of the 14 new tracks was accompanied by a video.
Force it onto people
Not content with trampling on the nation’s rooftops, U2 dispensed with the traditional “opt-in” approach to buying albums in 2014.
Instead they released their first record in five years, Songs of Innocence, for free via iTunes, meaning anyone with an iTunes account received it, whether they wanted it or not. That’s half a billion people, across 119 countries.
The greatest album of all time was released last month—greatest according to its creator Kanye West, that is. After weeks of tweeting mysterious updates and track lists and title changes, The Life of Pablo was finally released on TIDAL only, meaning only people with a subscription to the music streaming service could hear it.
Tweet it, stand back; watch world go crazy
Having released his 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly eight days early, Kendrick Lamar released an eight-track album called untitled unmastered late on March 3, 2016, with a simple tweet:
untitled unmastered. https://t.co/YlAszcK4e4
— Kendrick Lamar (@kendricklamar) March 4, 2016
So there you have it. After all the stunts and ill-advised publicity campaigns, the way to get people hitting the purchase button in 2016 is to do nothing at all.Read More