Another month, another album streaming exclusively on Tidal.
The absolute mess of Kanye West’s public mid-life crisis means the whole world has quietly backed away from his new album The Life Of Pablo.
His Twitter rants have become so constant that nobody actually pays any attention to what one of the world’s biggest stars has to say. That’s some feat. In amongst all that, the fact that The Life Of Pablo is pretty much impossible to hear was low down on the ways West has messed up in 2016.
“Lemonade is about fighting against poverty. That’s rich, when you have to pay £240 to hear it”
But Beyoncé? We all thought Beyoncé was different. The release of her self-titled album in 2013 was a genuine shock. Arriving overnight on iTunes, its stunning surprise release created the phrase “Doing a Beyoncé” for artists releasing an album with no warning.
Trouble is, no surprise release except David Bowie’s comeback single Where Are We Now? has been released with anything like as much slickness as Beyoncé.
Including, it turns out, Beyoncé herself.
Three years on, Beyoncé’s new album Lemonade arrived overnight on Sunday morning. It was much less of a shock this time – lead single Formation was debuted at the Superbowl, and her tour starts on April 27. Unless she was doing a greatest hits tour, it was pretty obvious there’d be a new Beyoncé album at some point soon.
And so Lemonade arrives – and so too with grim inevitability does the phrase “exclusively streaming on Tidal”.
Let’s be very clear about this: any artist who releases their album exclusively on Tidal shows utter contempt for their fans.
The launch of Tidal in March 2015 was rightly mocked as embarrassing for all the high-profile stars involved. Jay-Z, Kanye West, Madonna, Beyoncé, Daft Punk, Jack White, Rihanna, Arcade Fire… All of them looked utter balloons at the idea of a “high quality lossless” streaming service when iTunes and Spotify were already around.
“Let’s be clear. Any artist who releases an album only on Tidal shows utter contempt for fans”
Spotify and iTunes are free. So how was Tidal going to compete? By charging TWENTY QUID A MONTH.
“No thanks,” said everyone. Except, first, Rihanna’s messy comeback album Anti was released only on Tidal. Like The Life Of Pablo, Anti’s release was so badly handled that nobody was quite sure if it was actually available or not.
Then came The Life Of Pablo, only available on Tidal. One look at Kanye’s Twitter feed and everyone decided to wait until it was on iTunes to get involved.
And now Lemonade. From the woman who invented the surprise release, having her album only available to listen to on a rich person’s toy is extremely dispiriting indeed.
The press release for Lemonade states that the album is about female empowerment and fighting against poverty. That’s a bit rich when you have to pay £240 a year to be able to hear it.
The argument in favour of Tidal is that, unlike Spotify, it gives artists a good cut of royalties. That would be laudable if Tidal had shown any signs whatsoever of helping out artists who aren’t part of its owners’ already wealthy cartel.
The net result of all this is that three music megastars release their new albums within two months of each other. And none of them have made the Top Five.
The public have voted. And Tidal still looks a total racket.
Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn