Drake is Famous. When he performed the closing set at a de facto OVO Sound showcase at the FADER Fort in Austin, Texas, during this year’s SXSW Music, people had been baking in the sun for hours, desperate to catch a glimpse of the international pop star. Since rumors about his surprise performance first started spreading earlier that afternoon, even the VIP line had been snaked around the block, as people jockeyed for position to catch what would ultimately be a 13-minute set. It’s safe to say that any “OVO” moments are closely monitored; even those in the bathroom. As one of the world’s most famous pop stars, it makes sense that he would leverage that fame into promoting artists on his label, teasing us with the news that Views From the 6 would be forthcoming in April.
So it’s big news when Drake evacuates two new singles, as he did yesterday with both “Pop Style” and “One Dance.” They’re fine, as far as Drake songs go; Kanye’s brief verse on “Pop Style” is more entertaining than many on The Life of Pablo, and countless tweets have offered “insight” into Jay-Z’s two bars. But the most interesting thing about these songs is that they exist. They’re ostensibly there to promote Views From the 6, but if the album never came out, would it even matter?
Do we need Views From the 6? Does Drake? The album as a format might still be important for art, but music is also a business. These days, fame can be better leveraged than using it to build hype for a blink of an album cycle. If Drake releases three hit singles every year, and pops out a viral meme every once in a while, who cares if he moves 1,000,000 units or 10,000? Rihanna went platinum before her album even dropped, because Samsung sponsored the album and subsequent tour in return for her help selling smartphones. These days, the promotion IS the profit. Album sales are little more than good PR.
Drake is a meme machine. These days, a hit is measured by how viral it gets, how often it’s remixed, who uses it on their mixtapes; essentially, by its ubiquity. To achieve these goals, you’re better off firing carefully constructed shots — like, say a single with “The Throne” — than throwing a whole album’s worth of shit against the wall in hopes that there’s a hit in there somewhere. With “Hotline Bling,” Drake’s risk was so minimal that it was a no-brainer. Since Apple paid for the video and used the whole thing to promote their Apple Music service, it could have been a huge flop and he would have just gotten a free video out of it, in addition to whatever he’s paid as their ambassador.
The current pop music market is more obscured than ever, in the sense that very few people know exactly how much money anyone is actually making. Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo is about to debut on the Billboard 200 at No. 1 despite it barely selling any copies at all, digital or otherwise. In fact, West went out of his way to make it as hard as possible to pay him money to own a copy of his music — it was far easier to steal The Life of Pablo than actually pay for it, in whatever version you could muster… a rough bootleg of the live stream, a lossless copy of the version streaming on TIDAL, or the updated version later pushed to Spotify and Apple music. He’s probably still working on it.
So who will be the first pop star to ditch the album format entirely? There’s never been a candidate better than Drake. With every album release, the album seems more redundant.