Calvin Harris’ Big Idea
Harris pushes the question that has been lingering for years: Why release an album any more?
By Tyler Fitch, Florida State University
Previewing songs on Snapchat is nothing new.
From Lil Uzi to John Legend, at one point or another, we’ve all seen our favorite artist, front-camera headshot bobbing along to their song with the flame emojis as the caption, and thought, “Damn I wanna hear the rest of that song!”
Though whether they ever get released is another story (still waiting on a bunch of songs, Meek…), it does a lot to generate interest from fans.
Toward the end of January, Calvin Harris previewed a new song on Snapchat, which would go on to be the insanely catchy “Slide”; however, the song was remarkable because it featured Frank Ocean in his first musical capacity since 2016’s culture-stopping album, “Blonde.”
Being a major force in the music industry in his own right, coupled with working with the most elusive pop musician in the world, has made Harris ready to unveil his release strategy, one that is tailor-made for today’s streaming age. Rumors have surfaced that Harris will never release another album again (great idea for EDM artists, if you ask me), and instead, will release a slow drip of singles, rumored to be around ten a year.
This new “singles only” strategy shouldn’t come as a surprise to most, as he revealed this plan back in February in earnest. He did indeed have a song with Frank Ocean (as well as the perpetual zeitgeist-surfers Migos), and two days after it dropped, both critics and fans approved.
Over two months later, give or take, the single has garnered well over 80 million streams on Spotify alone, adding over a million in the span of solely the last day.
It charted No. 34 on the Hot 100 (without the aid of a physical release, and yes, radio still has a huge influence) in its first week.
Knowing how to play social media, Harris explained how the song came together in an intimate, wildly entertaining video showing him at work in the studio. Said video went viral almost immediately, showing everything from Ocean’s unforgettable tenor to the staccato verses courtesy of Quavo and Offset, (which, like all the Migos’ best verses, incite the listener to shout along; “Mamma too hot like a—like what? Mamma too hot like a furnace!”) to the muted, plucked guitar strings and even the psychedelic synths.
Harris employed the release strategy again with his most recent single, “Heatstroke.” Featuring a star-studded lineup, including Ariana Grande, Pharrell and Young Thug (!), the new cut has notes of DJ Khaled’s knack for musical miscegenation. The idea of combining these artists and their respective fanbases must have come from either throwing darts at names or an over-worked intern. It’s not as good as “Slide,” but it has Young Thug on it, so I’m sold.
Artists like Harris who can churn out these global smashes are few and far between; ones who can make them every six weeks are even rarer. So when every song Harris releases quickly surpasses 20 million views, why release an album full of hits and have them fight each other for top marks?
“This Is What You Came For,” released as a standalone last year and featuring Rihanna, has gone on to rack up more than 650 million streams on Spotify alone. The numbers don’t lie; this is a remarkable feat in and of its own right, but “My Way,” sans features and also released in the same manner as the latter, has gone on to rack up 350 million plays.
Music nowadays is digested at a much quicker pace than when an artist would only release an album with fifteen songs, and those were the only fifteen songs by that artist until their next album. Dark, lonely times they were.
This new concept of “singles only” takes advantage of the flexibility inherent in the streaming economy, as musicians are now unencumbered by physical releases, releasing music the way fans listen to it and avoiding long-winded, twenty-track novellas.
At the end of the year, Harris may think to take all those audio files and include them in a new playlist, and all the sudden, he’ll have a “new” album. There’s little to no reason to think that this “album” wouldn’t shoot straight up the charts, just like if Drake were to drop an album of just “Hotline Blings.”
We have to wait and see if this strategy works; it has worked wonders for artists like Russ, who has been at the single-only releases for just about two years now, and Playboi Carti, who just released his debut self-titled mixtape after being on the scene for what seems like years now.
The fledging strategy seems to depend on if the new music accommodates the speed at which audiences can engage with his new music. It’s unclear whether Harris will ever be the kind of artist to release an album with seven or eight singles, but he can take solace in the fact that though he might not have the album of the year, he might end up owning spring, fall and winter.