Tag Archives: Kanye West

Keep Your Money, I Got My Own: Lemonade and TIDAL Exclusivity

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As has long been expected after Beyoncé released “Formation” and announced a tour in support of a single song, the full album Lemonade debuted exclusively on TIDAL last night, alongside a visual album debut on HBO (which will also be exclusive to TIDAL after a 24-hour streaming window on HBO’s own services).

Like Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo and (to a lesser extent) Rihanna’s ANTI before it, Lemonade’s TIDAL exclusivity fed into the internet’s running joke about the streaming music service, which has struggled to gain a foothold in a marketplace where Spotify was “first” and Apple Music benefits from pre-existing cultural saturation. TIDAL first attempted to differentiate itself based on its streaming quality, but has since focused on its exclusive content, helped by both the immediate social circle of founder Jay-Z and an artist-friendly policy that helps the service attract exclusives like Prince (whose absence from more established streaming services was a significant discourse following his death).

But TIDAL has struggled for a variety of reasons: those who already subscribe to other services (and who have built playlists, gotten used to interfaces, etc.) don’t see the logic of subscribing to more than one, given the relatively small number of exclusives (whereas TV has reached a point where this idea is more palatable); those who don’t subscribe to any services because they listen to music for free on YouTube are growing ever more resentful of paying more music in general; those who actually prefer to buy music resent the fact that exclusive albums like The Life Of Pablo and Lemonade are not (at least initially) available through outlets like iTunes or formats like Vinyl where they prefer to make those purchases. And while The Life Of Pablo did convince some people to subscribe, the album’s eventual release on Apple Music and Spotify (which you can use for free, with ads, unlike TIDAL) actually spurred talk of a class action lawsuit from those angry they’d been tricked into subscribing to the service.

That lawsuit foregrounds how the discursive construction of a TIDAL exclusive has yet to be wholly defined: it’s true that West and TIDAL were never clear whether the deal was long term (not that West is ever clear about anything), but I’m more interested in the way the reasons behind the choice can be articulated. Cynically, exclusive content exists to boost subscriptions, and to help the company’s bottom line when a significant number of the people who sign up for free trials forget to cancel their subscriptions or, in TIDAL’s ideal scenario, enjoy the service and continue to subscribe by choice. But West also used the time The Life of Pablo was streaming on TIDAL to continually tweak the album, the streaming window becoming an extension of the lengthy public tinkering with the album West performed on social media. TIDAL exclusives might be there to drive subscriptions, but they can also serve the artist-friendly brand, giving artists—or, at least artists who are Kanye West and intimately connected with the site’s founder—and their fans hope that it can become a platform for experimental modes of distribution.

The same does not apply to Lemonade: this, like ANTI, is a complete and finished album, and is similar to the surprise release of Beyoncé in 2013 that still launched exclusively, but to the industry standard iTunes Store. The logic there was the presence of the visual album, which required digital distribution, and which at that point precluded the use of streaming services: with both TIDAL and Apple using video—and soon television—as significant parts of their streaming platforms (with Apple the home to exclusive music video debuts like “Hotline Bling,” along with Taylor Swift’s 1989 concert film), Lemonade is an experience fit for the current streaming era, but not one that would have been impossible as a more traditional album release on iTunes. Therefore, it’s easy to read its placement on TIDAL as the most significant effort yet at driving subscriptions through exclusive content (with no clear window on if or when the album will be moving outside of TIDAL*).

* Well, there wasn’t a clear window. Hours later, The New York Times reports that Lemonade will arrive on iTunes at midnight tonight (Monday), per inside sources. Less clear, however, is whether or not the visual album will also be available for purchase as part of the bundle, or whether that content could remain on TIDAL exclusively, which seems like an option. The album, meanwhile, is also now available to purchase on TIDAL, as eventually happened with The Life of Pablo.

But in addition to thinking about the cynical business-oriented decision-making behind Lemonade’s exclusivity, there’s also a narrative of what is being sacrificed by making this choice. This likely includes, at least for the moment, any type of Billboard chart placement: TIDAL did not report its streaming numbers for The Life Of Pablo to Nielsen, meaning that despite obviously being the biggest album release of the year thus far, Beyoncé may not have the number one album in the country unless TIDAL (conveniently, which makes it possible) chooses to report those numbers this week. There are cynical business reasons for this (like hiding how few people are really streaming music on TIDAL, even with exclusives), but it also helps support the idea that TIDAL is doing things differently, and “challenging the status quo”: West eventually celebrated hitting No. 1 with The Life Of Pablo, so they’re not devaluing Billboard entirely, but he did so noting it was the first album to go Number One off of streaming.

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 12.45.13 PMThat’s admittedly a bit misleading, given it was available for sale on TIDAL and West’s website and much—and potentially all, as I can’t get a handle on whether or not TIDAL included streaming numbers when the album went wider—of this likely came from Spotify and Apple Music, but it had the highest share of streaming of any No. 1, and Billboard reports noted the impressive feat of reaching “the pinnacle” even after being “available” on TIDAL for six weeks beforehand. It was West and TIDAL saying “We can offer the album on TIDAL, tinker with it for six weeks, and we’ll still go No. 1 when we release the album wider.” Regardless, it creates the potential for releasing an album on TIDAL as appearing “outside” of the traditional industry standard, albeit on a service that very much desperately wants to become an industry standard, and which is run by an artist who is just as much a business at the end of the day.

TIDAL will never be an outright counter-cultural service, but it’s a potential node of articulation as it works to convince the public that its exclusive content is eventually going to coalesce into a competitive advantage in the streaming marketplace. TIDAL is built for a world in which everyone subscribes to one music service or another, but we are not yet in this world, and whether or not the current marketplace can reasonably sustain three major services is still an open question. And while Lemonade cannot alone resolve that question, it certainly brings the conversation around “TIDAL Exclusives” further into the mainstream, and will generate a new wave of free trials they hope we forget about.

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The Dichotomy of Spontaneous Familiarity: Reviewing The Jay Leno Show

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The Dichotomy of Spontaneous Familiarity

Reviewing The Jay Leno Show

Spontaneity is not Jay Leno’s forte.

That’s really the whole point of Leno’s appeal, at the end of the day – people tuned in at 11:30 at alarming rates because of what they deemed his charming nature, making him like just another part of your nightly tradition. But in relaunching himself as part of the Jay Leno Show, which started tonight on NBC and which will air five nights a week until…well, we don’t quite know.

See, what’s strange about The Jay Leno Show is that they want it to seem spontaneous. They want it to seem like an old variety show, with special guests and different bits and no stuffy desk. So when Leno walks out to his new set, a group of people “spontaneously” rush the stage and crowd around to high five their favourite talk show host for a set period of time. It is true that the crowd seems to enjoy having Jay back, but he’s stuck in a really weird place: he has to appeal to those same viewers while enticing entirely new demographics (who weren’t watching his show before) to tune in. As such, he needs to be appear spontaneous in order to broaden his appeal, and yet at the same time not actually be spontaneous at all so as to appease the crowd who watched him so religiously and who will soon have other options (like CBS’ crime shows, which tend to appeal to the same crowd).

In the end, as a hardened critic who’s on the lower end of the key demographic and who has never particularly enjoyed Leno’s brand of comedy, I wasn’t a fan. However, the problem with the show is that it seemed desperate to try to make me into a fan, a position which was neither spontaneous nor charming, and as such my verdict is clear: on every measurable scale of subjective observation, the Jay Leno Show is an egotistical failure.

But if it turns into an economic success, trust that we’ll be dealing with it for a while.

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Glee – “Showmance”

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“Showmance”

September 9th, 2009

As a critic, there are two ways one begins to have doubts about a show.

One is the immediate knee jerk response to a particular development: something happens onscreen which calls itself to your attention as if it were someone wearing a T-Shirt which said “Problem” written on it and waving a giant banner that said “Criticize me.”

The other is a more subtle feeling, a sense that something is wrong that’s below the surface of what you’re enjoying and undermining the show as a whole if not any particular moment.

What worries me about Glee is that for all my love of the show and its basic premise, it managed to illicit both of these responses in the span of its second episode, an hour which went from 0-60 and yet never seemed to go anywhere at the same time. What’s fascinating about it is that the things that make the show so charming one moment grinds it to a halt in the next: its fast pace works great in its dialogue, but when its stories start to move at the same pace it all seems like a blur; and while its quippy dialogue feels right in high school, when coming from someone who’s supposed to be a mature adult it sounds entirely wrong and takes a bad storyline and only makes it worse.

This is the kind of show that I don’t want to have to work to like – I enjoy musicals, I know a lot of popular music, and those elements of the show are obviously its hook. However, as long as the show around it feels more like labour than a labour of love, I’m not entirely convinced that I’m ready to commit to becoming a gleek just yet.

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Saturday Night Live (September 29th, 2007): Lebron James and Kanye West

Through the joys of YouTube, but perhaps not for long, I’ve been able to get a glimpse at what Saturday Night Live brought to the table in their season premiere. The episode always presents the show’s biggest challenge, in that the quality of the season to come will be judged based on this hour and a half. This year, it will be judged based on three qualities: its cultural relevance, its musical guest and, of course, its Digital Short.

Kanye West

Champion/Everything I Am

Stronger/The Good Life

Skit: Kanye West the Awards Crybaby

Ummm…why didn’t Kanye West host the show? Based on this clip, he is infinitely funnier than Lebron James. I’m guessing it was probably a time commitment issue, which kind of sucks, but Kanye West is a funny, funny guy. And the performances are good…the freestyle is a little bit off, as I prefer the actual lyrics of Everything I Am, but what can you do? In other news: “Give a black man…give a SHORT black man a chance” from the skit is pretty well hilarious.

Pop Culture Sendoff 

SNL does High School Musical [YouTube Link]

Ummm…this is not funny. It’s clear that Andy Samberg is being treated like the star of SNL now, but James is rather unfortunately unable to embrace the skit’s real comedy. It’s a rather lazy High School Musical parody that, even with a strong performance from Samberg, never feels like biting satire. In other words, Mad TV could have done this sketch. That’s not a compliment.

The Digital Short 

SNL Digital Short: “Iran f. Adam Levine” [Youtube Link]

A sendoff of Mahmoud, the lovable president of Iran, this digital short is something that many of them have not been: genuinely well-produced and going for a fairly subtle form of comedy. The song is actually fairly catchy, especially with Levine doing the chorus, and the piano riff is apparently from Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th.

And the skit is funny! Mahmoud is performed wonderfully by Fred Armisen, the Jame Gyllenhal cameo is great, and it’s just a very enjoyable piece of comedy. I don’t expect a viral sensation, but I certainly enjoyed it.

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