Whew, I didn’t know if we were going to make it through that. I’m not talking about the album, or even the pre-release hype cycle of name and tracklist changes, or even Kanye’s extracurricular twitter emissions (Innocent ?????? Yeah right), but I’m talking about the nonstop internet chatter and complaining about all of the above. Yeah, he changed the name at least three times, yeah, he was still putting it together, in a very public manner, up until, and past, the release date. Get over it, no one needs another “ugh Kanye enough already” comment on the music journalism website of your choice (and if you are a “Waves is the superior album title” truther, you can just get out). Was the rollout for The Life of Pablo kinda annoying? Sure it was. But you know what, it was also fascinating. I have read a couple different articles analyzing the rollout for The Life of Pablo as a potential game-changer for the way we conceptualize music releases, which no longer need to be tethered to the permanence of the physical record in our digital world. Following this idea, musical releases never need to be ‘complete’ so to speak, but can continuously be worked on, added to, improved, and updated. Thinking about this as a possibility is doing all sorts of crazy things to my head (like, what do we do with poststructuralism if the creator of the work still holds power over the work even as you listen to it on TIDAL, and can alter it at will? Is the author only dead now once they have logged off their computer? But I digress). This is also freaking me out a bit because the compartmentalizing, quantifying side of my personality likes having that little square in my iTunes that represents a whole project, that I can satisfyingly put into one of my various (don’t ask how many) genre playlists. Having something morphing and changing right under my fingers like that would be a little unsettling for me. Not only that, but as others have pointed out, a release model based on The Life of Pablo could quickly turn sour in the way that the video games business has, in which music projects are sent out into the world incomplete, and “patches” for the merely sketched-in songs will be delivered later.
Do I think that Pablo will change music in the way that’s been outlined above? Probably not. I mean, sure, it could cause a minitrend like Beyoncé did with her last surprise album drop. Oh, bring me back to 2014, when it seemed like every other week another band or rapper let loose their own full-length without any advance warning. That trend seems to have played itself out by 2015, assimilating itself into business as usual as big name stars (well, as big of a name that Grimes is outside of the indie world) would announce their surprise album months in advance. Kanye is also guilty of this. I also remember 2013 (old grandpa senior getting on his stoop here), when Kanye dropped Yeezus and plenty of very savvy music writers prognosticated that we would bear witness to a new wave of artists taking Kanye’s hyper-aggressive, punkish sonics from that album and use them as their own. Did that happen? Nah, not really. You can probably blame Drake for that.