Björk's new album came out yesterday, which is weird because it wasn't supposed to come out until March. Who do we have to thank for this earlier-than-anticipated release?
Why, the good people of the internet, naturally! Vulnicura was leaked online a few days ago, and so Björk and her record label responded by rush-releasing the album on iTunes, presumably to stop people from downloading the leaked version and forgetting to buy the real thing in two months' time. The digital version is available now, although you will have to wait until March if you want it on CD.
For my part, though, I'm a little saddened. It seems that artists are no longer in charge of when their albums come out; they simply have to drop them whenever they leak, for fear of losing sales to the fans who just couldn't wait.
Some may not see the problem with this. After all, if the album was finished and ready to go, why should we be kept waiting?
Well, lots of reasons...
- Because release dates aren't just chosen at random.
Vulnicura was originally slated to be released, quoth Wikipedia, "in conjunction with an exhibiton about Björk's career...and the book Björk: Archives." Thanks to the leak, this carefully-planned event is now much less of a story - I'm sure it will still go ahead, but without the anticipation of a new album, it won't mean as much.
Besides, release dates can still be meaningful without books and art exhibitions. How many artists have released albums on birthdays, anniversaries, or other auspicious occasions?
- Because marketing.
I'm not privy to the plans and strategies of One Little Indian Records, but I'm guessing that they weren't just planning to sit on their hands between now and March. Very few labels wait until an album has been released to start advertising and marketing it, and whatever campaigns OLI's marketing department had lined up, one can only assume that they were scrapped last night.
"Ah," you exclaim, "but lots of major news outlets are covering this leak story - surely that's giving Vulnicura more publicity than the label could possibly have hoped for?" That's true, but you've fallen right into the trap of my third and final point...
- Because this whole furore robs meaning from the album.
A few months ago, I wrote a blog about U2's Songs of Innocence, aka The One That's Still On My Goddamn iPhone Even Though I Never Asked For It In The First Place. In that blog (which you can read here), I pointed out that the band's seemingly ingenious strategy of sneaking their new album into every iTunes library on the planet was actually a really bad idea if Bono and the others actually wanted people to pay attention to the songs.
The same point applies here, except this time, it wasn't the artist's decision to let the release overshadow the album itself. U2 have no right to complain about all the writers who completely ignored their new songs, but Björk never intended to release her eighth album in such a newsworthy manner - it just sort of happened, and now everyone (myself included) is talking about the leak instead of the music.
In fairness to Björk, she is trying to steer the conversation back in the right direction. This Guardian article mostly focuses on Vulnicura's rushed release, but the quote from Björk doesn't even mention it:
As Vulnicura was released on iTunes, Björk posted that it had been "a complete heartbreak album … hopefully the songs could be a help, a crutch to others and prove how biological this process is: the wound and the healing of the wound. Psychologically and physically. It has a stubborn clock attached to it."
But, for the moment at least, she's one of the only people interested in talking about the album and its meaning. Hopefully, once everyone's calmed down a bit, that will change. Perhaps I'll buy the album (on CD, on its actual release date) and write another blog about it as an act of solidarity.