Are Albums A Dying Art Form and Thing of The Past?
After a decade of delivering pop chart primed singles, Anti broke the mold. The overall effect was as though the real Rihanna had finally let loose. In the eight months since it hit radio waves, Anti has become emblematic of a paradigm shift among certain artists. The reverberation of this record and three other buzzy 2016 releases — Lemonade, Coloring Book, and The Life of Pablo — have broken away from conventional music industry rules — and what it means to drop a new album in general.
Selena Gomez, One Direction, and Taylor Swift can keep their elaborate rollouts: Rihanna, Beyoncé, Chance the Rapper, and Kanye West are making (and unmaking) the bedrock of popular music in real time — and, along the way, forcing fans to reconsider if albums themselves actually matter anymore. Like all the best albums, Anti is a complete package: a full narrative arc that carries the listener from beginning to end, one track at a time. But that’s not how you have to enjoy it. By definition, a mixtape is homemade and intimately imperfect, which perfectly befits Chance’s style: independent, unexpected, personal. His latest, Coloring Book, is the final installment of a trio of mix tapes looking back on his life: On 10 Day he was a truant teen, tickled by a school suspension; on Acid Rap, he did drugs and began to make his way through adulthood; Coloring Book paints a full future, in vivid color.
In the case of The Life of Pablo, forever incomplete: So far as we can tell, Pablo will never really be finished. Since its February debut, many of the songs have been made and unmade, scratched out, chopped up, and pasted back together before our very eyes. There’s one thing that Anti, Lemonade, Life of Pablo, and Coloring Book all have in common: They are all highly introspective albums. Another: They all reject the limitations of what it once meant to make and release a record. Lemonade isn’t just a record: It’s a rally cry. Pablo encapsulates what it means to make music in the digital age, when you can literally tinker and re-release forever. Coloring Book rejects the idea of the record in the first place. Anti eschewed radio-ready singles, choosing instead to finally reveal the woman behind the music. Today, you might call each of those releases an album. But the truth is that artists are evolving toward something entirely new.