The Critic: I’m paying Apple $10 a month and missing out on Lemonade and other buzzy albums
The hotter the album, the less likely it is I’ll get to hear it By Devin Leonard
For many music lovers, the past few months have been a revelation. In February, Kanye West gave us The Life of Pablo, which the mercurial rapper initially unveiled at a fashion show, changing lyrics and shuffling guest stars up until the final hour. In late April, Beyoncé brought out Lemonade, a sonic flowchart of her marital difficulties with husband Jay Z. Several weeks later, Radiohead released A Moon Shaped Pool, a collection of gorgeous melodies, symphonic backdrops, and nihilistic lyrics. All three albums materialized with virtually no warning, making their arrivals that much more conversation-worthy.
But if you subscribe to Spotify, you may have felt as if you were missing out. None of these albums were available on the streaming service in the first weeks after their release, and Apple Music users could stream Pool only in its entirety. You could sign up for a trial subscription on Tidal, the struggling music service Jay Z owns, which had all three albums on the days of their debuts. (No surprise: Beyoncé and West are part owners.) It was a lot of trouble to go through, though, especially if you planned to cancel before your trial period ended so you wouldn’t have to pay for Tidal on top of what you already owe Spotify or Apple.
Wasn’t the promise of streaming services that I’d get all the music I want in one place? For me, the lure of them has never been access to Miles Davis’s Columbia catalog. I’ve been collecting music for decades and have a hard drive full of downloads, racks of CDs, and shelves of vinyl to show for it. I want to absorb
Pablo while the internet is still consumed with Ye’s claim on the album that he made Taylor Swift famous. If Apple Music can’t help me or the rest of its 13 million users join the discussion when it’s white-hot, is it worth my $10? I’m sure some felt sidelined after Prince died, too—none of his classic albums can be streamed on Spotify or Apple either.
Three major artists shunning Spotify, which has 30 million paying users, in a three-month span signals that music’s Next Big Thing might not be as big as we thought. In fact, the value of these services has been debatable since at least 2014. That’s when Swift refused to release
1989 on Spotify because of a royalty dispute. (She’s since put her songs on Apple Music and Tidal.) And last November, Adele declined to make 25 available to stream, saying the technology didn’t move her. “It probably is the future, but eh!” she told Rolling Stone. These were isolated notes, however, not the chorus we have now. Thankfully, West is—let’s be generous—unpredictable: “My album will never never never be on Apple,” he tweeted in February, before allowing
Pablo to appear on Spotify and Apple Music in early April, when no one remembered the thing about … wait, who did he say he made famous?
Right now, logging on to a big streaming service can feel like going to a Barnes & Noble that sells everything but the most popular titles on the New York Times best-seller list. (If you liked The Corrections, you’ll love Anna Karenina!) How long is this going to last? For a while, it seems. In April, Drake released his latest,
Views, as an exclusive on Apple Music. So what if it sounds like something he dashed off in the studio one morning after a Toronto Raptors win. He’s the biggest star in music; whether he drops a great album or a middling one, what he does can’t be ignored.
Big names in the music business have never been shy about trying to grab as much money as they can. They couldn’t spurn places like Tower Records—that’s where they made the most money. But now that the internet has fragmented the old distribution system, the Wests and Swifts have more leverage. Should we be surprised they’re using it?
The only solution is capitulation. I broke down and bought Lemonade on iTunes. It cost $17.99. I’ve never been a Beyoncé fan, but this album, full of wit, rage, and even vulnerability, shattered my resistance; the dreamy, hourlong movie that accompanies it only adds more layers to
Lemonade’s examination of race, gender, and the vicissitudes of celebrity. Best of all, I understood what everybody was talking about. It’s one thing to read about a record like this. It’s another to hear the music. <BW>
THE STREAMING SERVICES MADE LEMONS OUT OF LEMONADE