The year-end surprise album release is becoming a holiday tradition. First, Beyoncé, then D'Angelo: Each of them released recordings that came out of nowhere to capture the pop imagination just in time for the New Year.
But what happens when an album release is a surprise even to the artist?
That's the bind
Her tactical response, though, was unexpected. She put an EP's worth of tracks from the album, called "Rebel Heart," up for sale immediately on
So what is this six-song partial record intended to be? An album teaser? A middle finger to the hackers? A sign the LP might not be quite finished? Or just something, anything, Madge can do to take back the narrative around "Rebel Heart"?
It's hard to tell if this panic-button release timeline is part of a coherent strategy. Madonna said that she had planned a traditional Valentine's Day single release for "Living for Love," but it's now on the EP, which she called an "early Christmas gift." Perhaps ironically, the sped-up timeline might keep fans coming back.
Serially releasing pieces of a completed artwork can be a successful strategy (see the runaway podcast hit "Serial"). But it's a new twist on the new models we have for putting out LPs.
However, there's not quite the same ravenous demand for a new Madonna album in 2014 (her last one, 2012's "MDNA" was given middling reviews for its late-to-the-game rave sounds and images, and her Super Bowl halftime show was overshadowed by M.I.A.'s possibly obscene hand gestures). But by breaking "Rebel Heart" into smaller pieces, she's actually hewing closer to the release strategies of her beloved EDM acts.
And these six tracks really are a fresh new look for Madonna. Yes, she's a couple of years behind the trap/noise party sounds she's mining on songs like "Illuminati" and "Bitch I'm Madonna." But even this album snippet features production from
A full Madonna LP could have come and gone in a few weeks, to no more notice than the usual flicker of the Internet's content-churn. But the scramble to get something legitimate up from "Rebel Heart" has had a strangely punkish, humanizing effect on Madonna — and right when such an approach is on-brand with her record.