Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Has Kanye Correctly Timed the Release of His New Album?

On July 18, 2020, Kanye West tweeted that July 24, 2020 would be the release date of Donda, his tenth album, named in honor of his late mother, Donda West.  Days later, on July 23, 2020, Taylor Swift made a surprise announcement that she too would be releasing a new album on July 24, 2020.  When July 24 rolled around, Swift released her album (folklore) while Kanye didn’t, with some speculating Kanye did not want Swift to outshine him.  (The two have been feuding since 2009 when Kanye went on stage and interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards.)  Since summer 2020, Swift’s folklore won Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards, and Kanye has run for president, been divorced from Kim Kardashian, and dated supermodel Irina Shayk, but he has still not released his new album.  But rather than being a detriment to the album, the long delay has built a massive amount of hype around Donda.

Analysis of Google Trends data, which show the popularity of Google search queries, underscores that the long delay has been extremely beneficial to Kanye.  The Google Trends chart shown below covers Google search queries for the terms “Donda” and “folklore” for the time period from July 1, 2020 (before Kanye or Swift had officially announced a new album) to August 17, 2021.  Searches for both albums peaked on July 24, 2020, the date each was supposed to be released.  However, “folklore” searches significantly outpaced that of “Donda.”  The horizontal axis represents time, while the vertical axis represents interest in a given Google search term, here, “Donda” (represented by the blue line) and “folklore” (represented by the red line).  Regarding the vertical axis – from Google Trends: “Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term.”

Data Source:  Google Trends

After the buzz around July 24, 2020 and the following days, searches for both terms stabilized for almost a year, until search activity for Donda picked up around the middle of July 2021, which coincides with the announcement of July 23, 2021 being the new release date for Kanye’s album.  On July 22, 2021, Kanye hosted a listening event at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium in front of over 40,000 fans, with many anticipating the event would be followed by the album release.  The listening event attracted 3.3 million livestream viewers, breaking the previous Apple Music Global Livestream record of 1.8 million viewers.  The album was not released on July 23, and, as seen in the chart above, searches for Donda dropped significantly.

However, searches for Donda picked up on August 5, which corresponds with Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosting a second listening event which again drew over 40,000 in-person fans and attracted 5.4 million livestream viewers, smashing the Apple Music Global Livestream record set by the first listening event just days earlier.  Additionally, attendees at the second listening event spent $7 million on in-person merchandise.  The album remained unreleased despite speculation of the album dropping after the August 5 event.  Then, music streaming services floated release dates of August 13, August 15, and August 20.  Kanye has since announced a third listening event at Soldier Field in Chicago on August 26, and Apple Music is now showing an August 27 release date.

Rather than disheartening fans, the continual release delays have built a substantial amount of hype around Donda.  The large crowds at the listening events, livestream records, massive merchandise sales, and spike in searches for Donda shown in the Google Trends chart above all indicate Kanye has benefitted from the timing of the album’s release.

As with the product release for any business, though, even the most loyal fans can become frustrated and lose interest when they are continually led on without receiving what they want.  Rather than executing a well-crafted strategy to build hype, businesses (or musical artists) who don’t deliver can quickly lose the tremendous momentum they’ve built.  Both would be wise to consider taking a page from the Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza lands a good joke with his colleagues only to continue talking and make a fool of himself.  Jerry’s sage advice is “showmanship George, when you hit that high note, you say goodnight and walk off.”

Kanye West is one of the biggest showman of the 21st century.  After experiencing such success hyping his new album, it remains to be seen when he will hit that high note and release Donda.  The August 27 release date shown on Apple Music is just days away.

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