The Short Life of Pablo

Is Kanye’s Latest Project Masterfully Elusive Or Dangerously Exclusive?


“My album will never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale… You can only get it on Tidal”. It seems Kanye West has got yet another bee in his bonnet, not just for Apple, but for the music industry as a whole. The prodigal son’s recent decision to only release The Life of Pablo on Tidal has created a rift within his fan base between those who are willing and those who are either unprepared or unable to shell out their life savings to hear Kanye’s latest genius ramblings. He has created a bubble of exclusivity around his album; he has bestowed only those deserving enough, wealthy enough and daft enough to buy a Tidal subscription with the privilege to access TLOP.

This is a remarkable contrast to Alicia Keys’ comments, not even a year ago, at Tidal’s launch party, that Tidal would be “a place for connection between artists and fans… deliver[ing] music and experiences in a way that is best for the consumer”. Either Tidal has forgotten its founding ‘principles’, or it never truly harboured any. Even if Tidal is an artist-owned streaming service, it is owned by an elite group of musicians whose primary concern is shovelling money into their ever deepening pockets whilst drip-feeding expensive products into our ears. Vaguely claiming to offer “high fidelity music streaming”, Tidal exhibits an exploitative faithlessness to the average music consumer. Tidal is essentially a charity service; only the prosperous are at the beneficial end of the stream – poor Kanye is $53 million in debt, didn’t you know?

And the annoying thing is we buy it again and again. Since TLOP’s debut, the Tidal app has risen to #1 on the app store. Congratulations Kanye, you’ve succeeded at the expense of the consumer. But it’s important to remember that TLOP is an anomaly, hyped by Kanye into a crazy level of anticipation. In the absence of further material, a huge percentage of Tidal’s new subscribers will cancel their free-month subscriptions and return triumphant to the magical world of Spotify and other less costly sources of music. It’s understandable that Kanye didn’t want Spotify and Apple Music to unfairly profit from his own work, but what makes less sense is his refusal to release his latest album in a physical form. Adele proved it was possible to ‘beat’ the streaming services with the unprecedented success of 25, so Kanye’s decision not to follow suit is not just unwise but bizarre. Physical mediums are the best way to listen to music; they present profits to the right people, whilst offering a sound quality fit to match Kanye’s self-professed “best album of all time”.

The question we must ask ourselves now is whether this exclusive mode of release will become the popular trend. If more and more artists adopt Kanye’s tactics, then music will transcend into previously unparalleled level of exclusivity. The whole point of streaming services is to make music more accessible to everyone, but if artists continue to restrict their music’s reception then people are going to lose trust with the music industry and music itself. To listen to music we will have to blindly make substantial investments for unknown products. Rather than fall into this trap, we should follow the example of artists like Chance The Rapper, who appears on TLOP’s opening track ‘Ultralight Beam’, and who releases all of his music for free. He has steadily built a loyal following from this approach, similar to the Arctic Monkeys, who gave their music away to form a solid fan base before releasing Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Exclusive music may benefit the elite artists, but it eliminates the unknown musicians from the equation altogether. It will become even harder for aspiring talent to expand their audiences. To make matters worse, if other streaming services gain exclusive rights to an artist’s music, then we will see the establishment of separate musical pockets. We will have to pay ridiculous amounts to listen to the music that we love, as if we had been asked to pay for each individual TV channel we watch, reducing our discovery of new artists. The only feasible result of a movement such as this is a depressing return to the dark ages of music piracy.

The evidence confirms this; within a day of its release, TLOP had been pirated over 500,000 times. Whilst this shows the consumer’s rejection of music exclusivity, it also undermines the sanctity of music. If Tidal wants to roll with the big boys of music streaming services then it needs to open its pearly gates to a wider audience, rather than simply rely on exclusive material to prop up its poor foundations.

Kanye may believe that “this album’s just embracing the music, embracing joy, and being of service to the people”, but I for one am unconvinced. The exaltation of this album as a collector’s edition will mean The Life of Pablo will be a remarkably short one indeed. What a shame. Pablo’s life story sounded so interesting too.


Robert Cairns

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