Best Urban Contemporary Album: Meet The 59th GRAMMY Nominees
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Reflecting the range of artistic innovation that defined the year in music, The Recording Academy welcomes the class of nominees for the 59th Annual GRAMMY Awards. The top nominees are Beyoncé with nine, followed by Drake, Rihanna and Kanye West, who each garnered eight, and Chance The Rapper with seven.
The dynamic range of this year's nominees is exhibited across several Fields, including American Roots Music, R&B, Dance/Electronic Music, and Rock, but it's arguably best showcased in the Album Of The Year category, which represents a mix of genres — pop, R&B, rap, and country. These recordings exhibit an even greater degree of musical advancement and sonic experimentation: the emotion-stirring vocals of Adele, who brings a soulful depth to a collection of classically fine-tuned pop ballads; Beyoncé's ability to paint a picture, layering poignant R&B vocals over a tapestry of sounds that range from blues-rock to hip-hop; Justin Bieber's growth as a songwriter and evolution as a pop powerhouse; Drake's continued genre-bending, which now invites island influences to his signature sound; and the definition-defying Sturgill Simpson who made many of us re-explore the vast territories of country music.
"Just as we see emerging musicians experimenting, we're also seeing established artists resisting what's expected of them and, instead, embracing the creative freedom they've been afforded through their success, blurring the lines between music's mainstream and artistic edge," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy.
Following are the nominations in the General Field categories:
Record Of The Year
"Hello" — Adele
"Formation" — Beyoncé
"7 Years" — Lukas Graham
"Work" — Rihanna Featuring Drake
"Stressed Out" — Twenty One Pilots
Album Of The Year
25 — Adele
Lemonade — Beyoncé
Purpose — Justin Bieber
Views — Drake
A Sailor's Guide To Earth — Sturgill Simpson
Song Of The Year
"Formation" — Khalif Brown, Asheton Hogan, Beyoncé Knowles & Michael L. Williams II, songwriters (Beyoncé)
"Hello" — Adele Adkins & Greg Kurstin, songwriters (Adele)
"I Took A Pill In Ibiza" — Mike Posner, songwriter (Mike Posner)
"Love Yourself" — Justin Bieber, Benjamin Levin & Ed Sheeran, songwriters (Justin Bieber)
"7 Years" — Lukas Forchhammer, Stefan Forrest, Morten Pilegaard & Morten Ristorp, songwriters (Lukas Graham)
Best New Artist
Chance The Rapper
Following is a sampling of nominations in the GRAMMY Awards' other 29 Fields:
The nominees for Best Dance/Electronic Album are Skin by Flume; Electronica 1: The Time Machine by Jean-Michel Jarre; Epoch by Tycho; Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future by Underworld; and Louie Vega Starring…XXVIII by Louie Vega.
For Best Rock Album, the nominees are California by Blink-182; Tell Me I'm Pretty by Cage The Elephant; Magma by Gojira; Death Of A Bachelor by Panic! At The Disco; and Weezer by Weezer.
The Best Alternative Music Album nominees are 22, A Million by Bon Iver; Blackstar by David Bowie; The Hope Six Demolition Project by PJ Harvey; Post Pop Depression by Iggy Pop; and A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead.
For Best Urban Contemporary Album, the nominees are Lemonade by Beyoncé; Ology by Gallant; We Are King by King; Malibu by Anderson .Paak; and Anti by Rihanna.
The nominees for Best Rap Performance are "No Problem" by Chance The Rapper Featuring Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz; "Panda" by Desiigner; "Pop Style" by Drake Featuring The Throne; "All The Way Up" by Fat Joe & Remy Ma Featuring French Montana & Infared; and "That Part" by ScHoolboy Q Featuring Kanye West.
The Best Country Solo Performance nominees are "Love Can Go To Hell" by Brandy Clark; "Vice" by Miranda Lambert; "My Church" by Maren Morris; "Church Bells" by Carrie Underwood; and "Blue Ain't Your Color" by Keith Urban.
The nominees for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album are Poets & Saints by All Sons & Daughters; American Prodigal by Crowder; Be One by Natalie Grant; Youth Revival [Live] by Hillsong Young & Free; and Love Remains by Hillary Scott & The Scott Family.
For Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical, the nominees are Benny Blanco, Greg Kurstin, Max Martin, Nineteen85, and Ricky Reed.
This year's GRAMMY Awards process registered more than 22,000 submissions across 84 categories. As the only peer-selected music award, the GRAMMY is voted on by The Recording Academy's Voting membership, who represent all genres and creative disciplines, including recording artists, songwriters, producers, mixers, and engineers. Final-round GRAMMY ballots will be mailed Dec. 14 and are due Jan. 13, 2017, when they will be tabulated and the results kept secret until the 59th GRAMMY Awards telecast.
The Recording Academy will present the 59th GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, live from Staples Center in Los Angeles and broadcast on the CBS Television Network from 8–11:30 pm ET/5–8:30 pm PT. Follow Recording Academy/GRAMMYs on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and use #GRAMMYs to join the conversation.
You've seen the official 59th GRAMMY nominations list, but do you really know the nominees? In case you're not sure, we've dissected the categories to bring you 59 must-know factoids about this year's nominations class. While these facts won't help you predict the winners, they're certain to impress your friends at your GRAMMY viewing party. Read all 59 facts below and be sure to follow your favorite artists on Music's Biggest Night.
Beyoncé received nine GRAMMY nominations this year, more than any other artist. She now has 62 career nominations, extending her lead as the most-nominated female artist in GRAMMY history.
Lukas Graham's "7 Years" is nominated for Record Of The Year. The Danish group is just the second group or duo from continental Europe to receive a nomination in this category. The first was Daft Punk. The French duo won three years ago for "Get Lucky" (featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers).
Rihanna received her third Record Of The Year nomination for "Work" (featuring Drake). All three of these nominations are for collaborations. Rihanna was previously nominated for "Umbrella" (featuring Jay Z) and Eminem's "Love The Way You Lie" (on which she was featured).
Beyoncé landed her fifth Record Of The Year nomination with "Formation." (This counts "Say My Name," which she recorded as a member of Destiny's Child.) This puts her in a tie with Barbra Streisand as the woman with the most career nominations in this category.
Adele's 25 is nominated for Album Of The Year. The singer's previous album, 21, won in this category five years ago. This is the first time an artist's follow-up to an Album Of The Year winner has been nominated in this category since Bob Dylan's Love And Theft (the follow-up to Time Out Of Mind) was a 2001 nominee.
Canadians Justin Bieber and Drake are among the nominees for Album Of The Year for Purpose and Views, respectively. Bieber, from London, Ontario, and Drake, from Toronto, are each vying to become the first Canadian solo artist in 20 years to win the category. Celine Dion won for Falling Into You for 1996.
Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd, who were nominated for Album Of The Year last year for their albums To Pimp A Butterfly and Beauty Behind The Madness, respectively, are nominated in the same category this year as featured artists on Beyoncé's Lemonade.
Sturgill Simpson's A Sailor's Guide To Earth is nominated for both Album Of The Year and Best Country Album. Simpson produced his album. It's the first entirely self-produced album to receive an Album Of The Year nomination since 2014, when two such albums — Beck's Morning Phase and Pharrell Williams' Girl — were nominated.
"Hello," which Adele co-wrote with Greg Kurstin, is nominated for Song Of The Year. A different song with the same title, by Lionel Richie, was nominated in this category 32 years ago. This marks the first time in GRAMMY history that two different songs with the same title have been nominated in this category.
Mike Posner's "I Took A Pill In Ibiza" is nominated for Song Of The Year. Posner wrote the song. It's vying to become the first song written by a single songwriter to win in this category since Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" (2007).
Ed Sheeran is looking to become the first songwriter in GRAMMY history to win Song Of The Year two years in a row. Sheeran won in this category last year for "Thinking Out Loud" (which he co-wrote with Amy Wadge). He's nominated this year for "Love Yourself" (which he co-wrote with Justin Bieber and Benjamin Levin aka Benny Blanco).
Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris are both nominated for Best New Artist. This marks the first time in GRAMMY history that two country artists have received nominations in this category in the same year.
The Chainsmokers are only the second electronic dance music artist to receive a Best New Artist nomination. Skrillex, a 2011 nominee, was the first.
Chance The Rapper is nominated for Best New Artist. The rapper, 23, wasn't even born in 1989 when Tone Loc became the first rap artist to receive a nomination in this category.
Anderson .Paak is nominated for both Best New Artist and Best Urban Contemporary Album for Malibu. He is the first artist to be nominated for both of these awards in the same year since Frank Ocean four years ago. (Ocean's Channel Orange won Best Urban Contemporary Album.)
Bob Dylan is nominated for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for the second year in a row. The rock legend is nominated for Fallen Angels. Dylan is the fourth GRAMMY nominee to have won a Nobel Prize. The other three are Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and Toni Morrison.
Willie Nelson received his third nomination in the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album category. The country legend is nominated for Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin. Nelson was previously nominated for Moonlight Becomes You (1994) and American Classic (2009).
Barbra Streisand could win her first GRAMMY in 30 years. The star is nominated for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway. Her most recent GRAMMY win was for her first Broadway collection, The Broadway Album, which won for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female (1986).
Herb Alpert is among the nominees for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for Human Nature. (The title track is the John Bettis/Steve Porcaro song made famous by Michael Jackson.) Alpert received his first GRAMMY nominations (and awards) for 1965 for his work with the Tijuana Brass.
Jack White, who is nominated for three GRAMMYs this year, will be honored for his contributions "behind the glass" at the Producers & Engineers Wing's annual GRAMMY Week celebration on Feb. 8, 2017. White is nominated for Album Of The Year as one of the featured artists and producers on Beyoncé's Lemonade; Best Rock Performance for "Don't Hurt Yourself" with Beyoncé (her first nomination in a Rock Field); and Best American Roots Song for "City Lights."
Two of this year's nominees for Best Rock Performance were recorded live on television programs. Alabama Shakes' "Joe" was recorded for the PBS series "Austin City Limits." Disturbed's version of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound Of Silence" was recorded on TBS' "Conan."
The title track from Megadeth's album, Dystopia, is among the nominees for Best Metal Performance. This is the band's 12th nomination in this category (including nominations in the discontinued Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category). The band is seeking to win their first GRAMMY.
Iggy Pop earned his first nomination since 1988: Best Alternative Music Album for Post Pop Depression. In 2016 Pop appeared at the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live for a wide-ranging talk with Josh Homme as part of the Museum’s A Conversation With series.
Radiohead are vying to become the first four-time winner for Best Alternative Music Album. The band is nominated for A Moon Shaped Pool. Radiohead won in this category for OK Computer (1997), Kid A (2000) and In Rainbows (2008). Radiohead are currently tied with the White Stripes as the only three-time winners in the category.
Solange's "Cranes In The Sky" is nominated for Best R&B Performance, marking her first career nomination. Solange's older sister, Beyoncé, has won nine of her 20 GRAMMYs to date in R&B performance categories.
Rihanna is vying to become the first repeat winner in the Best Urban Contemporary Album category (which dates to 2012). Her album Anti is nominated this year. Unapologetic won three years ago.
The Throne aka Jay Z and Kanye West are nominated for Best Rap Performance with Drake for "Pop Style." If they win, it would be their eighth collaboration to score a GRAMMY. Their previous wins together are "Swagga Like Us," "Run This Town" (which won two GRAMMYs), "Otis," "N****s In Paris" (which won two GRAMMYs), and "Church In The Wild."
Drake's "Hotline Bling" is nominated for Best Rap/Sung Performance. The category was formerly known as Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. The change was made to expand the category beyond collaborations between rappers and vocalists to include recordings by a solo artist who blurs the lines between rapping and singing. Drake is the first beneficiary of that change.
De La Soul's Best Rap Album-nominated And The Anonymous Nobody, which they crowdfunded via Kickstarter, is looking to become the first crowdfunded album to win the category. De La Soul were first nominated for a 1989 GRAMMY for Best Rap Performance.
Kanye West's The Life Of Pablo is nominated for Best Rap Album. West is a four-time winner in this category. Only Eminem has received more awards (six) in the category.
Three pop or rock artists are nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. Elle King is nominated as a featured artist on Dierks Bentley's "Different For Girls." P!nk is nominated as Kenny Chesney's duet partner on "Setting The World On Fire." Pentatonix are nominated for their rendition of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," which features Parton.
Dolly Parton is nominated with Pentatonix for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for "Jolene." A master of collaborations, this is Parton's 18th GRAMMY nomination for recordings in conjunction with other artists. Collaborators over the years have included Norah Jones, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, and Kenny Rogers.
Loretta Lynn is among the nominees for Best Country Album for Full Circle. She won in this category 12 years ago with Van Lear Rose. If she wins again, she'll become the first female solo artist to win in this category twice. Lynn, 84, received her first GRAMMY nomination 50 years ago for "Don't Come Home A Drinkin'."
Hillary Lindsey and Lori McKenna, who collaborated (along with Liz Rose) on "Girl Crush," last year's winner for Best Country Song, are competing against each other in the category this year. Lindsey is nominated for co-writing the Keith Urban hit "Blue Ain't Your Color." McKenna is nominated for writing the Tim McGraw hit "Humble And Kind." If either woman wins this year, she would become the first songwriter to win back-to-back awards in this category since Robert John "Mutt" Lange and Shania Twain won for "You're Still The One" (1998) and "Come On Over" (1999).
With her two nominations for Best Gospel Performance/Song and Best Gospel Album, Shirley Caesar is looking to add to her 11 career GRAMMYs, which is the highest total for a female gospel artist. Caesar is among the 2017 recipients of The Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kirk Franklin could become the first artist to win twice in the Best Gospel Album category (which dates to 2011). Franklin won the 2011 award for Hello Fear. He is nominated this year for Losing My Religion.
Hillary Scott, who has won seven GRAMMYs as a member of Lady Antebellum, is nominated for two awards for a family project (Hillary Scott & The Scott Family). Love Remains is nominated for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album. "Thy Will," a track from the album, is nominated for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song.
Joey+Rory's Hymns is among the nominees for Best Roots Gospel Album. The duo received their first career nomination last year for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. Joey Martin Feek, the female half of this married couple, died on March 4, 2016.
Vince Gill's "Kid Sister" is nominated for Best American Roots Song. Gill has won two of his 20 GRAMMY Awards to date for songwriting. "I Still Believe In You" (1992) and "Go Rest High On That Mountain" (1995) were both voted Best Country Song.
Stax Records veteran William Bell, whose R&B hits date to 1966, is nominated for two GRAMMYs. This Is Where I Live is nominated for Best Americana Album. "The Three Of Me," a track from the album, is nominated for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Bell wouldn't be the first R&B veteran to win for Best Americana Album. Mavis Staples took the 2010 award for You Are Not Alone.
Judy Collins is nominated for Best Folk Album for Silver Skies Blue, a collaboration with Ari Hest. Collins received her first GRAMMY nomination 53 years ago for her album, Judy Collins #3. It was nominated for Best Folk Recording.
Ziggy Marley is vying to win his seventh GRAMMY in the Best Reggae Album category for his album Ziggy Marley. Marley won his first three awards in the category for albums on which he fronted Ziggy Marley And The Melody Makers.
Anoushka Shankar is among the nominees for Best World Music Album for Land Of Gold. Shankar's late father, Ravi Shankar, won twice in this category, for Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000 (2001) and The Living Room Sessions (2012). This is Anoushka Shankar's sixth nomination in this category (counting one in the discontinued Best Contemporary World Music Album category).
Punk-rock poet Patti Smith is nominated for Best Spoken Word Album (Includes Poetry, Audio Books & Storytelling) for the second year in a row. She is nominated this year for M Train. She was nominated last year for Blood On Snow. This would be Smith's first GRAMMY win.
Three of the five nominees for Best Comedy Album — Margaret Cho's American Myth, Tig Notaro's Boyish Girl Interrupted and Amy Schumer's Live At The Apollo — are by female performers. This is the first time that female performers have accounted for three of the nominees in the history of this category (which goes back to 1958, the first year of the GRAMMY Awards).
The Original West End Cast Album from Kinky Boots is nominated for Best Musical Theater Album. The Broadway cast album from the show won in this category three years ago. Kinky Boots is vying to become the fourth show to win twice in this category (with two different recordings of the score). The first three were Gypsy, West Side Story and Les Misérables.
The Original Broadway Cast album to Bright Star is among the finalists for Best Musical Theater Album. Steve Martin and Edie Brickell collaborated on the score. The two musicians won a GRAMMY three years ago for Best American Roots Song for "Love Has Come For You."
The soundtrack to Amy, a film about the late Amy Winehouse, is nominated for Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media. The film itself won a GRAMMY last year for Best Music Film. A win this year would mark the first time a film and its companion soundtrack each won in their category.
The soundtrack to the hit film Straight Outta Compton is a nominee for Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media. The nomination comes in the same year that N.W.A's landmark 1988 album of the same name is inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame.
Vinyl: The Essentials Season 1, featuring music from the HBO series, is nominated for Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media. It's vying to become the second TV soundtrack to win in this category, following Boardwalk Empire, Volume 1, which won five years ago. Boardwalk Empire was also a HBO series.
John Williams, one of the top winners in GRAMMY history, received his 66th career GRAMMY nomination for Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Williams has now received nominations for six of the seven Star Wars films he has scored. (The lone film in the franchise he did not receive a nod for was 2002's Star Wars: Episode II — Attack Of The Clones.)
Both Stranger Things Volume 1 and Stranger Things Volume 2 — composed by Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein — are nominated for Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media. This is the first time in the category's history two albums from the same TV series have been nominated.
The Revenant, composed by Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto, is nominated for Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media. Sakamoto won in this category 28 years ago for The Last Emperor, which he composed with Cong Su and David Byrne.
Two songs from the film Suicide Squad are nominated for Best Song Written For Visual Media. They are "Heathens" (Tyler Joseph, songwriter) and "Purple Lamborghini" (Shamann Cooke, Skrillex & Rick Ross, songwriters). Last year, two songs from Fifty Shades Of Grey were nominated in this category.
Max Martin is nominated for Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical. The Swedish hit-maker won in this category two years ago. If he wins again this year, he'll become the first producer to win twice in the space of three years since Rick Rubin, who won the 2006 and 2008 awards.
Judith Sherman could win Producer Of The Year, Classical for the third year in a row. To date, only one producer has won this award three years running. Robert Woods won for 1987, 1988 and 1989.
The Beatles: Eight Days A Week The Touring Years is vying for Best Music Film. It would be the third Beatles-related film to win in this category (or its predecessor category, Best Music Video, Long Form). The Beatles Anthology won the 1996 award. The Beatles Love—All Together Now won the 2009 award.
Current nominees Herb Alpert, Blind Boys Of Alabama, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Loretta Lynn, Ennio Morricone, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Barbra Streisand have been previously honored by The Recording Academy with Special Merit Awards. (Lifetime Achievement Award: Blind Boys Of Alabama, Bowie, Dylan, Kristofferson, Lynn, Nelson, Parton, and Streisand.; Trustees Award: Alpert and Morricone).
The 59th GRAMMY Awards will take place Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, live from Staples Center in Los Angeles and broadcast on the CBS Television Network from 8–11:30 pm ET/5–8:30 pm PT. Follow Recording Academy/GRAMMYs on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and use #GRAMMYs to join the conversation.
The Recording Academy's GRAMMY Recordings and Atlantic Records have partnered for the 2017 GRAMMY Nominees album, which is now available in stores and via all digital retailers. Now in its 23rd year, the album features a collection of GRAMMY-nominated music for the upcoming 59th Annual GRAMMY Awards. A portion of album proceeds benefit the year-round work of the GRAMMY Museum Foundation and MusiCares Foundation — The Recording Academy-affiliated charitable organizations focused on music education programs and critical assistance for music people in need.
The 2017 GRAMMY Nominees album highlights 21 hits from this year's GRAMMY nominees, including Album Of The Year nominees Adele, Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, Drake, and Sturgill Simpson; Best New Artist nominees Kelsea Ballerini, the Chainsmokers, Maren Morris, and Anderson .Paak; and Twenty One Pilots, Sia, Sean Paul, Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, Lukas Graham, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Brandy Clark, Thomas Rhett, Miranda Lambert, and Tim McGraw.
"The 2017 GRAMMY Nominees album provides a unique playlist, and showcases some of the greatest songs and talented artists that make up this year's incredible nominees," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "We are pleased to collaborate with Atlantic Records on this project, which provides support for the invaluable programs and initiatives our charities produce throughout the year."
The 59th Annual GRAMMY Awards will be held on Sunday, Feb. 12 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, and will be broadcast live on CBS at 8p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
Shopping for the latest album releases used to be so easy. Physical product would be delivered to national retail chains, heralded either by hit singles on the radio, ads in the local circulars, a late-night TV appearance, and maybe even a larger-than-life billboard looming over Sunset Boulevard or Times Square.
The wireless wonder of the Internet was just a sci-fi fantasy when the rock and roll revolution was fueled on the relative low-cost ability to cut 45s, whose instant messages — whether it was "Hound Dog," "Eve Of Destruction," "Like A Rolling Stone," or "Ohio" — were the adolescent CNN of their day, beamed directly into the brainwaves of teen consumers, thanks to the jukebox, then the car radio and home stereo.
These days, a new album needs a lot more than a billboard or hit single to galvanize the public's attention; it takes a nonstop barrage of social media and news headlines to force a commensurate Skinner box nibble by the masses, just as surely as 1,500 streams equal an album sale, according to Billboard.
With that dizzying kind of competition for attention, it's no "surprise" that artists ranging from David Bowie, Beyoncé and Drake to Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, and Radiohead have employed a new album release model built upon various surprise elements, to varying degrees of success.
Bowie's Blackstar, released Jan. 8 on his 69th birthday, became his first No. 1 album, though his death just two days later surely launched it into the media zeitgeist. The fact that Bowie had kept the recording of the album a secret up until he released its first two singles was more the source of amazement — with both the title track and "Lazarus," in retrospect, forming eerie, meticulously planned farewells — as the media-savvy, always futurist provocateur managed to successfully hijack the Internet and Google searches. It was almost as if he worked his own mortality into the marketing of Blackstar, reinforcing his sharpened sense of how theatricality and art intermingled with life and death.
"Release dates is played out. So the surprise is gonna be a surprise," declared West during a radio interview prior to the release of The Life Of Pablo.
West's much-anticipated album premiered for a celebrity-packed Madison Square Garden during a fashion show for his Yeezy Season 3 collection on Feb. 11, only to crash Tidal's servers the next day. For someone as meticulous as West, the endless tinkering allowed by the Internet's malleable, open-ended deadline proved too much to overcome, prompting more than a half-million illegal downloads and an estimated $10 million in lost sales when its release to other digital services was delayed until April. The album did end up accumulating more than 250 million streams during its first 10 days of availability on Tidal and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, becoming the first album to do so with more than 50 percent of sales from streaming.
"Piracy remains a large issue," says American Association of Independent Music CEO Richard James Burgess, regarding artists wanting to control Internet leaks and a new album's narrative. "As soon as legitimate copies are available, they are up on YouTube and that undercuts any kind of marketing campaign. Lead times aren't really necessary in a world where you can reach your fan base with a flick of a key."
Rihanna brushed aside traditional promotional schemes with her aptly titled 2016 album, Anti. Released as a Tidal exclusive on Jan. 28, the album was "officially" announced via a tweet by the singer on Jan. 25, with the caption "listening to Anti." A single, "Work" featuring Drake, was released on Jan. 27, which was followed by a "leak" of the album on Tidal. With the streaming leak came the track listing, which spawned song excerpts to surface on Twitter among fans. The eventual No. 1 album was officially released for sale via other retailers on Jan. 29.
Less than one month following his heralded 58th GRAMMY performance, Lamar dropped a surprise collection of previously unreleased, untitled and unmastered songs to digital retailers on March 4. Like Rihanna, Lamar tapped Twitter to announce the project. Debuting at No. 1 in its first week, sales of the unmastered collection dipped 78 percent in its second week, despite the release of the album on LP and CD on March 11.
Beyoncé is arguably the queen of the surprise release model, dating back to her stealth 2013 self-titled album. More recently, Queen Bey began to plant seeds for the release of 2016's Lemonade several months prior by posting a video for "Formation" on her YouTube channel on Feb. 6, the day before she performed the controversial song, in Black Panther military-style uniforms, during the halftime of Super Bowl 50. Just prior to the album's release on April 23, HBO aired an hour-long visual treatment of all 12 songs on the album. When it was released — first as an exclusive on husband Jay Z's Tidal service, then to other digital retailers — Lemonade was streamed 115 million times, and sold 485,000 album downloads and another 168,000 in track-equivalent and stream-equivalent albums, for a total of 653,000 equivalent album units in its first week of sales. All 12 of the album's tracks also debuted simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100, constituting a record.
Still, what about the beleaguered brick-and-mortar retailers? Bob Say, proprietor of Sherman Oaks, Calif., vinyl-heavy indie retailer Freakbeat Records, says he had to wait two weeks after Lemonade's April 23 release to receive his shipment of the CD and accompanying DVD. Acknowledging his store's indie demo isn't exactly Beyoncé's audience, Say ultimately ordered a half-dozen copies of the album. He says he received a single call about the album, and ended up selling just one copy.
Drake had been touting the release of Views, his latest studio album that recently debuted at No. 1, since an August 2014 tweet. In between, he dropped another album, If Youre Reading This Its Too Late, on Feb. 13, 2015, without any prior announcement. The surprise release, which earned a Best Rap Album GRAMMY nomination, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling 535,000 equivalent album units. It was also streamed 17.3 million times in three days on Spotify, a mark eclipsing his previous streaming record for his 2013 GRAMMY-nominated album, Nothing Was The Same.
When it comes to guerilla releases, Radiohead are perhaps the pioneers, launching the Internet-only In Rainbows in 2007 just days after it was announced with their novel pay-what-you-want scheme, an approach that led to what they claimed was their biggest-ever payday, selling more than 3 million copies without a label. For their new album, A Moon Shaped Pool, the band is also selling digital copies via their website as well as paid subscription services Apple Music, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Music, and Tidal. However, the album is not available at Spotify, which bandleader Thom Yorke once famously referred to as "the last desperate fart of a dying corpse." The album debuted at No. 3 with 181,000 equivalent album units, representing their biggest bow since 2003's Hail To The Thief entered with 300,000.
The extent of the marketing campaign for A Moon Shaped Pool included a pair of singles/videos and wiping the band's Internet footprint clean the week of its May 8 release, while emailing their database about the new album's availability. The physical album, which includes limited deluxe editions and vinyl, won't be released until June 17, but Freakbeat Records' Say insists they are one of the few bands who can get away with such a plan.
"Their hardcore fans have that collector's mentality … they want every piece of product they can get their hands on," he says.
One artist who is still a big believer in physical product is Adele, who combined traditional and surprise release elements for her latest studio album, 25. She not only personally announced 25 with an open letter just one month ahead of the album's release, she also decided to initially withhold it from streaming services. "I believe music should be an event," Adele told Time. "I don't use streaming. I buy my music. … I know that streaming music is the future, but it's not the only way to consume music."
Adele's call not to stream did not hinder 25's success. The album tallied a gaudy 3.48 million equivalent album units in its first week of sales, 3.38 million of which were pure album sales — marking the single largest sales week since 1991.
Streaming exclusives versus physical product? To surprise release or not to surprise release? With artists such as Taylor Swift, Metallica, Foo Fighters, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, and Jay Z currently in between new album cycles, it's fun to speculate how album release schemes will continue to play out.
Ian Montone, the manager for artists such as Jack White, Foster The People, LCD Soundsystem, Run The Jewels, Vampire Weekend, and Danger Mouse, among others, admits the surprise release strategy is probably more effective for superstars than young artists. He also emphasizes that despite their potential big-splash impact, a surprise album release should be one component to an overall campaign strategy.
"With streaming continuing to grow, as we get away from the shackles of 'first-week' sales determining an album's life or death, [surprise releases] may be a good thing," says Montone. "We still need to work campaigns just as long or more so, be it radio, your digital and streaming partners, or your label. It's a two-year game, not just a first week, and streaming makes this conversation even more relevant."
(Roy Trakin is a news editor for All Access and has written for Billboard, Hollywood Reporter, HITS and hundreds of music publications that have gone the way of 8-track tapes.)