2008: It May Be The Last Gasp For The Big Pop Album

Sep 9th, 2008 // 11 Comments

AP080905033702.jpgThe latest major artist to somewhat hastily announce a new release for the fourth quarter of ’08: Beyonce, who has a new album coming out in November that will feature collaborations with both Justin Timberlake and “A Milli” “Lollipop” producer Jim Jonsin. It really seems like a lot of albums have recently been put on the docket for later this year, doesn’t it? Between this announcement, the rumors of a new Kanye full-length, and forthcoming releases by the likes of Nickelback, Jay-Z, Fall Out Boy, and Kelly Clarkson–not to mention the increased noise surrounding the eternally delayed Detox and Chinese Democracy–I’m starting to wonder if we’re going to see a last-days frenzy of sorts from the major labels. (For real, this time.)

Looking at headlines from the past few weeks, both music-business-related and not, only adds to the feeling of uneasiness. The biggest brick-and-mortar retailer, Wal-Mart, is planning to whittle down its music-related floor space–and lesser music retailers like Borders are following suit; the economy’s seemingly growing more sour; and the idea of MySpace Music sweeping in and saving the music world is looking less and less likely. Not to mention that in an increasingly crowded cultural space, it’s harder than ever to break a new act–and even if something does hit a consciousness beyond niche appeal, album sales aren’t a given, as Katy Perry’s soft album sales and Atlantic’s experimenting with Estelle have shown.

So big-name artists like the ones who are releasing all these albums are in a way safer for the bottom line, although one could argue that the number of times I’ve had to use the word “disappointing” when it comes to record sales lately might be an indicator that especially now, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. And if any significant number of these albums should tank, the prospect of tumbleweeds rolling around the majors’ release schedules in the earliest months of 2009 is even more real.

New Beyonce Album Arriving In November [Billboard]

  1. Al Shipley

    Pedantry alert: Jim Jonsin produced “Lollipop,” Bangladesh produced “A Milli.”

    Also, I don’t really agree with the premise here. Label politics influence a lot of things, but ultimately artists release albums when they have albums to release, these people just happen to have material ready for the 4th quarter. And even if the seemingly quick turnaround isn’t quite In Rainbows here, I think there is a model being followed, and if anything it’s Jay-Z. His last two albums have basically been announced around September with a preview single and released in November, with a big all-at-once promotional blitz and none of the delays that big event rap/pop albums suffer from these days.

  2. Al Shipley

    also that picture is hysterical

  3. Maura Johnston

    @Al Shipley: Whoops, fixing that.

    I am wondering if the situation is half-intentional, half-not, though. It just seems like the setup for a perfect storm of sorts.

  4. Al Shipley

    Yeah, maybe. It just feels like almost every year around this time, there appears to be this huge cloud of holiday-season releases on the horizon, but it usually ends up dispersing because of a combination of delays, flops that everyone sees coming, and the usual small number of real successes.

  5. djmedi4

    This is, and has been, about the holidays. Oh, and shite pop music. Can both of those hacks in the photo please go away, or at least make some organic music? The heavy-handed, overly compressed production of pop/r&b records makes my ears sleepy and sad…

  6. Al Shipley

    @djmedi4: Can both of these hacks in the photo please use it as the poster for Justin And Beyonce Make A Porno?

  7. Maura Johnston

    @djmedi4: you should listen to the solange record! there’s something about the sound of it that i really love.

  8. DavidWatts

    Yes I would agree with this post, except that there are thousands of people in the record industry who don’t know what else to do with themselves. Slow sales etc. hasn’t stopped Detroit from making cars: they just keep doing it, and running an assload of ads for them, and sponsoring things (like, ahem, concerts) and hoping that people buy them. When no one does, they lay off a few thousand low-level people, switch ad firms, change the design a little bit, and do the whole dance again. I think the music industry will stay in spiral like that for quite for a while.

  9. Chris Molanphy

    @Al Shipley: I too thought Maura was reaching a bit until I got to her point about Wal-Mart.

    Knowing what I know (not a ton, but not a little, either) about label politics and manager prerogatives, I can totally see managers of acts as big as Kanye and Beyonce having worried discussions with their labels to the tune of We release in 1Q09, there may not be a retail sector to release to. Don’t forget, Virgin will be gone by then, too, and all of the big boxes, not just Wal-Mart and Borders, are reducing music shelf space.

    This is now the third time I’ve commented on it, but I find the Kanye rush-release, in particular, suspicious and troubling. He went five-six singles deep on Graduation, and except for the Chris Martin collabo, they all performed decently on the charts/at radio — so you’d think he’d kick back for another six months, at least. I feel like someone in a board room put a bug in his ear, challenging him to make the fourth quarter now that U2′s out of it, and (this would totally work on him) try to match his last opening-week sum while there are still retailers around to make such feats possible.

  10. Al Shipley

    @Chris Molanphy: I dunno, I wasn’t surprised at all by the announcement of the Kanye album just because he’s been so busy since the last album, with the never ending tour and large number of collaborations and production jobs. It’s tempting to speculate that he’s throwing himself into work after his mother’s passing, but either way he’s obviously working harder to stay in the public eye than he did during the 2 years between Late Registration and Graduation (which might also be the influence of Lil Wayne’s nonstop recording regimen getting to him).

  11. DocStrange

    meanwhile, the creators of last.fm cackle on the top of heap of money.

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