In 2020, Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia,” one of the year’s most anticipated pop albums, was leaked a week before its release. What was supposed to be released on April 3 came out a week earlier on March 27. In the aftermath of the scandal, Lipa tried to address the leak on an Instagram Live, only to break down in tears over the sabotage of her sophomore album. The emotional livestream took place days before the album came out and brought to light the reality of music leaks and how artists could prevent them going forward. As social media continues to advance hand-in-hand with the rest of the internet, finding information regarding artists and their upcoming projects has become deceptively easy for fans itching for more details.
Though projects continue to hold some semblance of mystery to fans, artists have begun taking what could be considered scandalous and using it to their advantage. They are redefining what it means to leak music by doing it themselves, often through social media posts accompanied with no caption or explanation, leaving fans to speculate about what is to come. From industry giants such as Ariana Grande and The Weeknd to lesser-known artists like Dove Cameron and Maisie Peters, musicians are now leaking their own music on social media as a way to build hype around the official release.
Ariana Grande and The Weeknd
A few of the biggest social media platforms for artists who want to “leak” their music are Twitter and Instagram. For example, in September 2020, Ariana Grande posted a video on her Instagram of just the vocals of her soon-to-be-released single “Positions.” The sound bite, which was only a few seconds long, featured the caption, “brb.” Due to the nature of the caption and the vagueness of the clip, some fans believed the post to be a mistake. The tease appeased fans leading up to the announcement of Grande’s album, which was set to release the following month. As the weeks drew closer to the album’s release, the entire project suffered a leak from an outside source, making Grande consider legal action to save such a personal body of work.
Months later, Grande cryptically posted another video to Instagram of her own vocals but tagged The Weeknd alongside teardrop and sound emojis. Fans correctly guessed the two would collaborate on The Weeknd’s song “Save Your Tears,” which was released shortly after. In the two examples, the turnaround for the releases was quite short, allowing less time for leaks of the actual projects to occur. As seen with “Positions,” however, it is still possible for fans to get their hands on either finished or unfinished projects and release them to the public. As social media continues to bridge the gap between artists and their fans, platforms like TikTok have allowed a new generation of musicians to market their music through a once-infamous phenomenon.
Dove Cameron, known for starring in various Disney projects in the 2010s like “Descendants” and the show “Liv and Maddie,” went viral in January 2022 on TikTok for leaking her song “Boyfriend” in one of her posts. What makes this more of a “leak” is that Cameron featured the song as mere background music for her TikTok, not intending for the video to go viral. However, due to how fast content can spread on the platform, especially when created by a celebrity, the song caught much more attention than Cameron had anticipated. Needless to say, fans wanted more.
What is unusual about Cameron’s actions compared to the habits of intentional leakers is that her song “wasn’t actually supposed to gain popularity and be released,” as reported by Dexerto. However, sharing the song with a fanbase like hers on TikTok suggests otherwise: Her intentions are similar to that of leakers, who intend for fans to find what they put out.
Cameron also went on to say that the video had empowered her and motivated her to market upcoming releases the same way, dangling the tune in front of her fans like a carrot on a stick. Prior to this, Cameron released a handful of other singles, but none have built anticipation for her EP like the marketing she has done for “Boyfriend.”
lemme know if i should release this one 🥺😮💨💀
Another modern artist who used TikTok to leak her upcoming songs is indie star Maisie Peters. To kick off the chaotic journey of an unreleased tune, Peters leaked its intro in a post, informing her 341,000 followers that it was written about her best friend’s brother — with the song being appropriately titled “Cate’s Brother.” Despite Peters not initially intending to finish the song, the singer shared it with glee, making fans wonder if this was even a leak at all. Ultimately, the video garnered over 500,000 views on TikTok alone and was shared on Peters’ Instagram and Twitter for extra “chaos,” as Peters called it.
There have been various follow-up videos and tweets created by Peters to document the progression of her song. Despite willingly sharing pieces of the track, Peters has called it “leaking” on numerous occasions, as if taking back the word for herself and using it as a marketing tactic. While the current fate of the song is unknown, fans anticipate that Peters will continue to “leak” snippets across her social media in hopes of a massive streaming day when it is finally released.
As the music industry continues to adapt to the world of social media, so must the artists within the industry. Along with the demand that streaming places on artists, fans clamor for more content faster than they can consume it. The smallest snippet or shortest video may be enough for fans to dwell on for several months at a time. Platforms like TikTok present a solution that will keep the buzz alive until release day. This steady and constant flow of content may also ward off leakers, seeing as there is enough material to keep fans satisfied before release. As long as artists understand how to build anticipation before debuting their projects, leaks by outside sources may be a thing of the past. Artists may find ways to reveal pieces of the puzzle to fans without the help of traditional leakers. Rather than incidents like Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” fumble, opportunities to drip-feed fans and enable them to reap rewards from the smallest of breadcrumbs will be presented in the future.