Too personal on purpose: How musicians use the rumor mill to boost album sales
Music is a release, but if it is a great piece, shouldn't it be able to stand for itself? Is there need to use relationships as crutches to climb charts?
If you've got 'Call Out My Name' from The Weeknd's new album on your playlist, how many Bella Hadid references could you spot? Quite a few, we know. There's, of course, some shade at his ex Selena Gomez too — the singer hasn't even tried to hide the disappointment and pain of his 2017 breakup from Gomez. Failed relationships dominate the album, 'My Dear Melancholy', with tracks such as 'I Was Never There' and 'Hurt You.'
What's interesting is how his heartache never made the news during the entire span of the two breakups, since his last album 'Starboy' in 2016, but conveniently found their release just as his new album was launching.
As he sang, "I said I didn’t feel nothing baby, but I lied/I almost cut a piece of myself for your life," there were speculations flooding all our timelines talking about how he wanted to donate his kidney to Gomez, who recently came forward about getting a kidney transplant. Seems strategic, doesn't it?
The album made it to number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart and sold 68,000 copies in traditional album sales.
But Abel, that's The Weeknd's real name btw, isn't the only artist today who has used his personal life as a way to promote albums.
Taylor Swift, the queen of breakup anthems, has been doing it for years. She's written a song about almost everything personal that has happened to her over the course of her music career, with amazing results! Her peppy music also has a part to play, but would she really be as talked about had it not been for the incredible marketing of her personal life? No, there's no denying that.
While it's true that music can be a massive outlet for emotions that we feel, especially for the artist writing or singing them, it's also true that a great piece should be able to stand for itself and not rely on strategies — such as relationships and personal lives — to climb charts.
Unfortunately, this gimmick has been used too often and it is about time fans see through this bogus technique.
Take Zayn Malik, for example. After his breakup with ex-fiancee Perry Edwards from Little Mix, he started dating Gigi Hadid, a model who was a rising star, and the two made the most of the fame that they got together as a couple. Nothing wrong with it at all — they were cute and it was fun. Then, as Zayn and Gigi split earlier this year, both made it look like an amicable breakup. But, as celebrity breakups go, with drama always lurking underneath the surface, the two had their fair share of it.
Then, just as talk of his new album came around, there were rumors that he wanted to scrap most of the tracks on his new album because they reminded him of Gigi and were way too painful to sing. He is said to have recorded more than 30 songs about his supermodel ex. Fans were very disappointed, as expected, and Bam! just a couple of days later, he drops a music video for a new song.
Everyone rushes to take a look at 'Let Me', his new track that features a model eerily similar to Gigi, which climbs charts like it's on hard drugs and ends up being the number one in several countries on iTunes. The song, that was called his most "confident" one so far, is very much like his older tracks — broody and melodic with a hint of catchy beats. It's good, but did Zayn not think it would be good enough without the creating the controversy?
This was similar in the case of his first post-One Direction debut, 'Pillowtalk'. It was around the time Gigi and he were rumored to be dating and the steamy video which featured Gigi catapulted the song onto a hit.
The rumor mill churned out more stories about the two and the song went with all of them — thus feeding the world the track, that was boosted by his romance rumors.
Perry Edwards too took advantage of the much-publicized split with Zayn, and write her own 'Shoutout to My Ex', a bouncing back after a breakup anthem that was all about bashing an ex.
The greatest use of a personal story to boost sales was done by none other than the queen of pop music Beyonce Knowles — and her rapper husband Jay-Z. Prior to the release of her sixth studio album 'Lemonade', Jay-Z's '4:44' had already come out, and there's no prizes for guessing what he spoke about. He seemingly apologized for cheating on someone. Fans put 2 and 2 together and the story of how he could have cheated on Bey started doing the rounds.
Conveniently, when Bey's album finally dropped, there were innumerable stories and speculations as to who could it be and that the answers lay in the lyrics of her new album.
Naturally, her sales soared through the roof — it became the third biggest selling album of 2016 and one of only two albums released in 2016 to sell at least one million copies. The other one was Drake's 'Views'. It made a total of 1.051 million in the US that year. It also debuted on No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and was released with a film that went along with it, with soundtracks from the album. It premiered on HBO.
What was really unsettling was that before this, the two were super private about their relationship ever since they started dating in 2001. They were like the royalty of music and they used it to their benefit — after all, who wouldn't want to know about the dirt on the first family in music?
It is no secret that the husband-wife duo run a massive business together. Worth $1 billion as a couple and a lot of their money is invested in Jay-Z's companies — Roc Nation and Armand de Brignac. The two also hold big chunks of equity in Tidal that Carter purchased a few years ago for $56 million.
While cheating rumors would be devastating for anyone else who has been in a long relationship, Jay-Z and Beyonce showed the world how businesses work. It wouldn't be too far to say that it seems like a marriage of convenience and it works like a charm for their massive business empire. Soon after the rumors died down and they had successfully gotten their albums to the top, the couple announced that they would be touring together, reconciling after the incident for the reprise of On the Run tour from 2014.
When will music start being about talent and not carefully orchestrated acts to boost album sales again? We could be waiting a long time.