404S & HEARTBREAK
WHY THE LIFE OF PABLO, NOW THE HOTTEST ALBUM IN THE WORLD, HAS BARELY SOLD A COPY
In the weeks since Kanye West debuted his new album, The Life of Pablo with an elaborate listening session-fashion show at Madison Square Garden, the music has earned rave reviews, been featured on Saturday Night Live and inspired a rebuke from Taylor Swift onstage at the Grammy Awards.
In the attention economy, The Life of Pablo (Def Jam) is a blockbuster. The only problem: It’s not for sale. According to West, the album is not even finished.
After closing his triumphant SNL performance with a garbled announcement that The Life of Pablo was for sale digitally at kanyewest. com and streaming on Tidal, the music service in which he is a partner, the capricious West quickly pulled the commercial version and has taken to stating his conflicting intentions for the songs in free-form posts on Twitter.
But the unconventional and, in many ways, unpreced- ented album rollout has left some fans without the downloads they already paid for, while streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify remain uncertain as to when or if The Life of Pablo will be widely available.
After SNL, thousands who rushed to pay $ 20 to download The Life of Pablo failed to receive the files despite being charged by Tidal. Those who did receive the download that night experienced their own glitch — instead of the final track, the second-tolast song was included twice. Complaints flooded social media, and Tidal emailed its customers an “The final version of the album will be released in the next several days,” the message continued, offering a refund to those uninterested in waiting.
West then announced on Twitter, his preferred megaphone of late, that he had “decided not to sell my album for another week,” and urged his 19 million followers to subscribe to Tidal, which is owned by his longtime collab- orator Jay Z. “Ima fix wolves,” West added of one track on the album. He went on to say that The Life of Pablo would “never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale ... You can only get it on Tidal.” Apple declined to comment.
Other streaming services are standing by expectantly for the album. Spotify, which has 20 million subscribers, said in a statement, “We hope to have it soon.”
A placeholder for the album on Spotify includes the message: “The artist or their representatives have decided not to release this album on Spotify just yet. We’re working on it, and hope we can change their minds soon.” The same note is used for albums by Adele and Taylor Swift, who have also withheld their music from the service.
Def Jam, West’s label, declined to comment. But a source close to West, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the album’s release, said that there is a plan — including talk of a deluxe physical edition — in the works, although the source could not confirm the timeline, citing West’s creative process.
In the meantime, The Life of Pablo has become a huge hit on music piracy websites. Torrent Freak, a site that tracks BitTorrent and copyright news, estimated that by Tuesday the album had been illegally downloaded more than 500,000 times.
Nielsen, which tracks the official sales and streaming data used in the weekly Billboard charts, has also seen its system disrupted by the unorthodox delivery from a superstar artist. “We are currently reviewing the specifics of this release and have not yet determined how Nielsen will report its sales,” the company said in a statement.
Similar confusion played out on the charts earlier this month with the sudden release of Rihanna’s new album, “Anti.” After it was leaked online, the digital album was given away 1 million times in a sponsorship deal with Samsung and streamed exclusively on Tidal for a week, but Nielsen’s official tallies put it at only No. 27 on the Billboard album chart, with fewer than 1,000 copies sold during its abbreviated debut sales week. Anti rebounded with 124,000 copies sold and 14.2 million streams in its second week, hitting No. 1.
Further complicating things for West, his album was made available for preorder to fans who bought a ticket to see the Madison Square Garden event, which was screened in hundreds of movie theatres around the country.
Jason Nunn, 23, said along with a $ 25 ticket to watch the fashion show and album debut live from Springfield, Mo., he paid an extra $10 for a download of the album upon its release. See Tickets, one of the merchants that sold entry to the screenings, told customers this week: “Upon Def Jam’s official release of the album, you will receive an email with a link to download your digital copy.”
While it has yet to come, Nunn said that he would roll with the punches for an artist like West.
“One of things I admire about him is that he’s transparent and he’s not afraid to change something after he’s released it,” he said. “If that’s holding it up — I’ve heard the record — I’m OK with it.”
For West, he added, “It’s not, like, super out of character.”