Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and the album comeback

Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and the album comeback

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Beyoncé surprised fans by releasing two albums at once, while Dua Lipa treated her fans to three. However, Taylor Swift took a different approach, keeping everything under wraps.

Last week, The Tortured Poets Department dropped without any singles released in advance, and next month, Billie Eilish plans to follow suit.

For years, commentators have been speculating about the decline of albums in favor of singles. This trend has been attributed in part to streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, which allow listeners to pick and choose individual tracks and create personalized playlists.

However, the decision by two major stars to forgo singles could potentially revive interest in albums.

Billie Eilish, in announcing her album Hit Me Hard and Soft, expressed her desire for fans to experience the album as a cohesive whole. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she elaborated on her decision, stating, “Every single time an artist I love puts out a single without the context of the album, I’m just already prone to hating on it. I really don’t like when things are out of context. This album is like a family: I don’t want one little kid to be in the middle of the room alone.”

Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish

Martin Talbot, the chief executive of the Official Charts Company, confesses that despite overseeing the weekly Official Singles Chart, he personally leans more towards being a fan of albums.

“It’s fantastic to see artists like Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift taking steps to encourage music fans to appreciate the concept of an album,” he tells BBC Newsbeat.

Talbot emphasizes the significance of albums, stating, “There is a danger that music fans lose sight of what an album is and what an album represents. The album represents the apex of the creative vision of a particular artist. It’s really important for the creative health of music and the cultural environment that we preserve that.”

Fans take control

In the 70-year history of the charts, Martin notes that the process of compiling the top 40 singles has undergone significant changes. Initially, it involved contacting a few record stores each week to inquire about the best-selling singles, which were typically specially selected and released by musicians.

However, with the advent of streaming platforms, the landscape has shifted dramatically. Now, anything can be considered a single, and any track has the potential to enter the chart.

“The digital environment empowers consumers and music fans by putting control in their hands,” Martin explains to Newsbeat. “Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift may only be releasing albums, but each individual track from those albums is available for streaming independently. If these tracks accumulate enough streams, they have the potential to enter the singles chart, regardless of whether the artist intended them to be singles or not.”

For established artists like Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish, the traditional concept of releasing singles may become obsolete. While Taylor did release a music video for one song, “Fortnight,” on the day her album dropped, other tracks such as “Down Bad” and the eponymous “The Tortured Poets Department” also debuted in the top five without official promotion.

However, for emerging talents like Beth McCarthy, singles remain as crucial as ever.

“Singles are a significant part of launching your career,” says singer Beth in an interview with Newsbeat.

She explains, “Releasing singles allows artists to share their music without the pressure of creating a full album and establishing a complete sound. It gives people the opportunity to get to know you through shorter, bite-sized pieces of music, rather than tackling a larger project all at once.”

Beth, hailing from London, is set to perform at Radio 1’s Big Weekend in May on the Introducing stage. She is also gearing up to release her debut album.

“I’ve been focusing on singles and EPs because they offer a more concise way to release music without diving straight into an album,” she explains. “For me, creating an album is a significant endeavor that I want to approach thoughtfully and ensure it comes together cohesively, feeling like a true work of art.”

Aside from refining an artist’s sound, another benefit of releasing singles is their ability to generate excitement for a new album.

“The single remains one of the most powerful promotional tools for an album,” says Martin.

He cites Beyoncé’s release of “Texas Hold ‘Em” as an example, one of two singles from “Cowboy Carter,” which directly contributed to the album’s success, debuting at number one. Martin emphasizes that for most artists, singles play a crucial role in maintaining album sales.

“Releasing singles helps keep the album in the public eye and ensures that people are continually reminded of its existence,” he explains. “It’s easy to fall off the radar otherwise.”

For Taylor Swift, who broke Spotify records with over a billion streams within five days of releasing “The Tortured Poets Department,” and achieved number one on the UK charts, disappearing from the spotlight may not be a concern.

Could this signal a resurgence for albums?

Finneas, Billie Eilish’s brother and collaborator, believes so, suggesting a return to listening to albums in full. He acknowledges the current trend of consuming music in bite-sized soundbites on platforms like TikTok but predicts a shift back to immersing oneself in albums.

Taylor and Billie’s decision to eschew singles is not unprecedented, but it’s noteworthy that two mega-stars have taken this approach at similar times.

“It won’t be the last time they do it,” Martin predicts. “And it doesn’t mean the old model of releasing singles will disappear entirely.”

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