October 6, 2010


Singles Scene

Daniel Boczarski
Daniel Boczarski

Inimitable rapper/arbiter of taste/rabble rouser Kanye West is never short on ways to capture our attention, and his GOOD Fridays singles giveaway has proven just how deft he can be—post-Taylor Swift—in generating goodwill. However, last week, West announced that he would stop celebrating GOOD Fridays (through which he has gifted us with the most excellent "So Appalled" and "Monster") as cultural retribution after at least one unfinished song from his November album, titled My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, leaked online.

Bloggers were universally bummed. "It’s messed up that one hacker can mess everything up for everyone," West declared on his favorite forum, Twitter. “It would have seemed like since I give free music every week even the lowest form of human being would respect that enough not to leak unfinished songs from my real album.”

We all know that West can be a little, oh, temperamental. We also know that, frankly, it was just a matter of time before his album leaked. But in this case, it was interesting to witness the rapper attempt to leverage his much- anticipated giveaways against pirated freebees. And we truly felt a bit of a sting, because the gratis material he’s been releasing through his website (including "So Appalled" and "Monster") has made us believe his own hype.

Then, the morning of what would be possibly his best TV appearance ever (on Saturday Night Live, once the site of his worst performance ever, an atonal "Love Lockdown"), Yeezy changed his mind and dropped “Christian Dior Denim Flow” anyhow. You get the sense that he enjoyed toying with our expectations.

Clever as he may be, West is not the first person to resurrect the modern-day singles club, most famously pioneered by Sub Pop, which inaugurated its paid-service by releasing Nirvana’s debut track, "Love Buzz." As albums continue to wither as commercial forces—slowly shifting the music industry back to a singles-based model—several artists and companies have been making nice with the zeitgeist by regularly rolling out songs online for free. This drums up anticipation, stokes curiosity and promotes a digital-collectors’ sensibility. It also appears to spark imitation, since currently these makeshift singles clubs can be found everywhere.

Beck frequently drops indie-star-studded covers through his Record Club. (Some past participants: members of Wilco, Liars, St. Vincent, Sonic Youth, and MGMT.) M.I.A. has been randomly releasing bonus tracks such as "The Message" and "Lemme Hump You" through websites with URLs bearing smartass names. Mountain Dew's Green Label Sound has debuted tracks from Wavves, Neon Indian, and Theophilus London. Dr. Martens will soon complete unfurling the slew of reworked tracks it commissioned from indie artists such as the Raveonettes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to commemorate its golden anniversary. Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim recently completed its Singles Program, which featured original tunes from Madvillain, Washed Out, Black Lips, and Cults, among others. And Urban Outfitters offers a Music Monday five-song mixtape, featuring non-exclusive tracks from up-and-coming artists. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the occasional star-studded cut commissioned by Converse (which this summer paired Kid Cudi with Best Coast and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij) or the renegade efforts of producer Diplo, who uses Twitter to occasionally tip off fans to unheard tracks he’s worked on (such as this unreleased collaboration with M.I.A.).

Obviously these updated singles clubs are efficient ways to disseminate material; they’re the next logical step, it appears, after exhausting download-capped hip-hop mixtapes and the cesspool of tracks that flood MySpace via its clunky player. Will GOOD Fridays help West sell more albums? This we do know: Even if the larger release itself may not be moving units like it used to, music still obliquely sells things—buzz, cultural cachet, artistic license. And we, the listeners, are happy to profit off that.