By Shannon Carlin, with additional reporting from Jeremy D. Larson
2013 will forever be known as the year of the spectacular album rollout. No longer could an artist just simply have their publicist whip up a press release to announce his or her upcoming project. No, the pop stars, indie rockers, rappers and electronic duos of the world had to come up with clever stunts so that three, four, and in some cases even, six months down the line, people would actually want to pay for their record.
Promotional stunts are nothing new — Madonna did it in 1992, releasing her headline grabbing coffee table book Sex as the companion to her album Erotica and in 1995 Sony Music spent millions to erect statues of Michael Jackson throughout Europe in hopes to boost sales of HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1 — but this year, 11 different artists had to reach deeper into their bag of tricks to come up with something original.
While Miley Cyrus took control of the Twitterverse, Vampire Weekend took advantage of happy accidents. Katy Perry burned her blue wig, Boards of Canada staged a scavenger hunt, Justin Timberlake counted everything down, Eminem left no one out and Jay Z started a new precedent for how album sales are tallied thanks to an innovative business move.
Lady Gaga and Kanye West entered the world of high art, while Arcade Fire made statements in chalk. And Daft Punk got fans so excited about “Get Lucky” that they created a 10-hour remix that we can only hope got someone lucky.
All of these acts — excluding the heady electronica of Boards of Canada — saw chart success, debuting at No. 1 with sales that ranged from 134,000 to 968,000 copies sold. These numbers prove that these tactics managed to do something the record companies haven’t been able to do in a long time: get people excited about buying records again.
But in our opinion, first week sales are only half the battle. You have to hold people’s attention in the days after your album actually comes out. Once the spectacle charade is all said and done.
Who really did it best? You’ll have to read our list to find out.
(Ed. note: Beyoncé just trumped all these guys and gals by releasing her album today (Dec. 13) without any notice whatsoever, but unfortunately she released her record a day too late to make our list. But know, we bow down to Queen Bey and her sneak attack. )
11. Lady Gaga – ARTPOP
Release Date: November 6
Metacritic score: 61
First week sales: 258,000 copies, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard 200
Biggest Stunt: Throwing an artRAVE the weekend before her album release, complete with the unveiling of her flying dress and artwork from Marina Abramovic and Jeff Koons, who debuted the giant sculpture seen on her album cover, which features Gaga, legs open, with a giant orb between her legs. Someone might be overcompensating a tad.
End result: Gaga’s nearly two year long promotion — made longer by a hip injury, which left her out of commission for several months — seemed to be filled with disappointment. On November 11, she revealed the release date of her album and touted her ARTPOP app, which since the release of the record no one has spoken about. Her first single, “Applause” leaked, leading Gaga to release it earlier than planned and even with that extra time it still hasn’t been able to top the charts. And though ARTPOP debuted at No. 1, in its second week it only moved 46,000, copies, dropping 82 percent to No. 8. In the end her best move was hosting SNL for the first time. The episode — the highest rated of this season — showed off Gaga’s comic timing and had her channeling her inner Elton John on “Gypsy.” We won’t try and explain what that was she did with R. Kelly. Tip for Gaga when it comes to promoting her next album: Ditch the high concept and keep it folksy. Fans really do like you just the way you are.
10. Miley Cyrus – Bangerz!
Release Date: October 4
Metacritic score: 61
First week sales: 270,000 copies, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard 200
Biggest Stunt: Wearing a teddy bear teddy, Miley twerked her way into the zeitgeist and stole the MTV VMAs right out from under Robin Thicke’s nose. Her cameo ended up becoming the most talked about performance of the night. Because of her, no one will ever quite be able to look at foam fingers the same way again.
End result: If Justin is the King of Countdowns, Miley is the Queen of Twitter. Her Smilers are like a well-trained army. If Miley says tweet, they say how much. Most of their tweeting was relegated to using hashtags like #WeCantStop, which she encouraged fans to tweet during this summer’s Billboard Music Awards where she revealed the title of her new song and talked about her new direction. Her young internet savvy fans were not only able to get Miley-centric hashtags trending, but set viewing records for her music videos. The clips for “Wrecking Ball” and “We Can’t Stop” are the first and second most-viewed videos on Vevo, respectively. But for someone with so much personality, the nearly five month album campaign was a little bland. Sure, only God can judge her, but we’d imagine even He’d tell her to let her freak flag fly a little higher the next time around.
9. Katy Perry – Prism
Release Date: October 18
Metacritic score: 61
First week sales: 286,000 copies, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard 200 and earned the year’s highest album sales week for a female artist
Biggest Stunt: A golden semi-truck riding through the streets of Los Angeles helped announce her follow-up to 2010’s Teenage Dream.
End result: After giving her new album a title and a release date, Katy set her sights on teaser trailers that featured her burning her blue wig, eulogizing her candy coated persona and proving a cat’s roar is actually worse than its bite, all in anticipation of her empowerment anthem “Roar.” The track ended up selling 557,000 downloads in its first week, earning Katy her personal best sales week and the biggest for her label, Capitol Records. But all of these teasers were meant to usher in a new era of Katy, a much darker, more goth version of the California Gurl. In the end though, her album is just as sugary as the one before, leading us to feel a little betrayed by Katy’s promises of something more brooding.