Surprise Albums Work – Sometimes…


Prince, HitNRun Phase One © NPG

Lately, there is less and less fanfare about releasing albums – has anybody noticed this? There was a time when the ‘hot’ new album dropping was truly a gargantuan thing. Nowadays, albums drop – sometimes with lackadaisical promotion – and it’s just not that big of a deal. Sometimes it seems as if the artists and management don’t even expect albums to sell. So why am I rambling about this? Well the ‘surprise’ albums have become a trendy means of releasing albums nowadays.

Sometimes a surprise is just that – a surprise! Being a person who is rarely surprised, hearing an album dropped that wasn’t scheduled for the particular week can be exciting. In this sense, the surprise album restores some of the vigor and energy about the album release process. In an industry where conformity seems to be nearly everything as of late, going against the grain and releasing new music is #winning – in some cases…

So when does the surprise album work and when doesn’t it? Well it’s definitely not an exact science. Beyoncé and Drake have excelled at the surprise album without any extra promotion (Beyoncé, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late and What A Time To Be Alive with Future). Why have these artists been so successful? The reason is because they’re big names. No matter what Beyoncé or Drake drops, it’s likely to get buzz. If Taylor Swift were to drop her next product in this fashion, it would sell. The big names are what do best with surprise albums.

Others have dropped surprise albums with less success. Prince’s latest Hit N Run Phase One was by no means lucrative for the Purple One. The album settled for a tepid #70 bow. There is more to the failure of this particular album than its surprise release mind you – Prince’s sales cooled off tremendously with his two projects last year – but a vet like Prince doesn’t seem to be best suited for a surprise album. Does Prince care? Probably not – he makes bank off of touring and his classics.

The big example of a surprise album failure goes to Tyga. The question is why does Tyga do this to himself? Why drop an album when you’re not in the same league with the crème de la crème (the Beyoncés and the Drakes)? The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty went absolutely nowhere, failing to chart on the Billboard 200. This is obviously just a waste. Arguably, Tyga expected The Gold Album to sell more than the 2,200 copies it did, but still, it’s been a while since “Rack City” or “Faded” were hot.

So in conclusion, it still depends on who you are if you should release a surprise album with no promotional backbone. Then if you go back to the argument that this works for bigger artists, do they really even need to drop surprise albums? Food for thought for sure.

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