One of the sub-dramas bubbling beneath the last two weeks of Frank Ocean-dominated news has been over the artist’s method of release for his two (!) albums. Last week, it was reported that Endless, the visual album that Ocean released a few days before Blond, counted as a full record towards Ocean’s deal with Def Jam; as a result, Blond was an independent release. Then there was the issue of Apple Music and the exclusive that Ocean had offered them. Ocean might well have signalled the beginning of the end for streaming exclusives, with Universal Music Group sending round a memo stating their intentions to push away from such deals.
Either way, Blond is probably going to number one on the Billboard 200 — hardly a surprise for an album so highly-anticipated and immediately acclaimed. According to Billboard, however, Endless won’t be joining it. “The 45-minute long music video is available, only as a full-length stream, exclusively through the Apple Music streaming service,” they wrote this morning, “and because of that uniqueness, it is not currently eligible to chart.
It makes a lot of sense. There’s no way to buy Endless—it’s available only as a stream on Apple Music—and therefore there’s no way of figuring out how it has performed up against albums that have been purchased. Billboard may have (somehow) come to the conclusion that 1,500 streams is the equivalent to one album sold, but visual albums are more difficult to pin down. And, as Billboard suggest, they’re rare enough that they haven’t really had to think it through quite yet.
If you’re wondering why Beyonce’s Lemonade was able to shoot to the top of the Billboard charts, there’s an answer for that, too: “…Lemonade—the film of which premiered on April 23 on HBO, and the audio album of which was initially streamed exclusively through Tidal—was accompanied two days later by a 12-track companion album released through Parkwood/Columbia Records available through other digital retailers,” they write. So, yeah, the visual streams of Lemonade didn’t make a difference; it was the 485,000 physical copies and the mass of audio streams through Tidal on top that pushed it.
Let's not lose track of what's important here, though: Frank Ocean has released two albums in the last two weeks.