The combined length of the year’s two most-hyped albums, Kanye West’s Donda and Drake’s Certified Lover Boy, clocks in at 194 minutes – almost as long as a cramped train ride from London to Leeds, or James Cameron’s Titanic.
But the ass-ache of watching floppy-haired Leo flirt with a yuppie Kate Winslet is better than listening to two bored businessmen list their life achievements on a pair of outrageously banal albums that don’t know when to run the credits.
In the wake of these languid releases, posters went to war (typically, by uploading skeleton memes adorned with entry-level burns like “Me after listening to the new Kanye”). Music journalists were also united in calling them “bloated” and in need of an edit. Yet Kanye and Drake (currently number 1 on the US Album charts for the third week in a row) still raked in record-breaking numbers, suggesting that negative public and critical opinion won’t change the music industry’s fixation with releasing exhaustingly long albums anytime soon.
And why would it? Billboard factored streaming into their chart calculations in 2014. Two years later, the Recording Industry Association of America followed suit and did the same thing for album certifications. With artists raking in cash if someone listens to at least 30 seconds of their song, the streaming rule changes provided an incentive for artists to make albums as long as possible. Skipping a song after 30 seconds means streams, resulting in higher sales.
For example, it didn’t matter that Chris Brown’s 2017 album Heartbreak On A Full Moon failed to achieve one Top 40 single in the United States. Instead, the record’s 45 songs ensured Gold status was achieved in less than a fortnight. But the fact this strategy stacks up big bucks doesn’t change one simple fact: the majority of the long albums released since 2016 have stunk out the room.
Whether it’s Migos releasing a career’s worth of Skrtttt ad-libs (43 songs to be precise) on the boring Culture II and Culture III, Lana Del Rey forcing us to sit through one hour and 15 minutes of elevator jazz ballads on Lust For Life, or repeat offender Drake’s disappointing Scorpion (a bone-dry 90 minutes), obscenely long albums have consistently failed to leave lasting impressions.
Musicians used to relish the challenge of putting out a double album. Somewhere, you got an All Eyez On Me or The White Album. But now, it’s as if artists are curating playlists rather than crafting cohesive projects. Songs tap into genres and moods, but fail to provide a through line that ties everything together. As a listener, it’s hard to feel satisfied when it feels like our current crop of behemothic pop stars are dumping their hard drive content onto DSPs.
In fact, while putting out a movie-length record might create a short-term sales boost through initial intrigue, its impact is likely to dissolve very quickly. People’s music consumption has fundamentally changed, with 54 percent of global consumers listening to fewer albums than they did five or 10 years ago. Streaming platform Deezer says 15 percent of its users under the age of 25 have never listened to a full album, with 42 percent of this age group instead opting to put their favourite tracks on shuffle, or play them individually.
In this always-online era – where distractions are everywhere that you turn and it feels like a year’s worth of news is crammed into just a week – no one needs a two-hour pop album. From Nevermind to Illmatic, some of the all time best albums barely went into double figures. Music fans instinctively revisited these favourites over and over, turning them into the soundtrack to their lives.
It’s unlikely the same longevity will be granted to Donda or Certified Lover Boy. Creating long pieces of art is ultimately an indulgence of the auteur, but in a world where few have the time or resources to indulge in anything, these projects feel out of sync with the way we live our lives. So, if you haven’t listened to Donda and CLB in full yet... then don’t. Just watch DiCaprio turn into an ice lolly on Titanic instead.