The guessing game that the music industry can't stop playing -- Where is Rihanna’s new album? -- has everybody stumped. Ever since the Barbadian megastar unveiled artwork for “Anti” on her Instagram feed two months ago, industry insiders have busied themselves guessing when it might come out.
They have all done a terrible job. The Associated Press published a tweet -- since deleted -- declaring it would be released exclusively on Tidal last Friday, Nov. 27. Hits Daily Double, a longtime source of industry gossip, has already gotten the release date wrong twice, predicting first that it would drop two weeks before Adele’s album, then more recently that it would arrive the week after Thanksgiving.
With an album release as high-profile as this one, Rihanna and her backers are trying to ensure everything is perfect. But the longer they wait, the longer they risk gumming up an expensive and elaborate marketing push that has already started to move forward.
As is true with any high-profile album release, there are a number of stakeholders invested in “Anti’s" success. Yet in subtle ways, their interests differ. Rihanna's label and management, Roc Nation, certainly wants “Anti” to sell well. But Jay Z, who owns Roc Nation as well as Tidal, could be pushing Rihanna to release “Anti” exclusively on Tidal as a way to drive a major surge in subscriptions. While Tidal has touted its ability to offer exclusive content to its subscriber base, it has yet to offer them an album as anticipated as Rihanna’s.
Those aspirations may run afoul of another stakeholder, Samsung. The device manufacturer reportedly shelled out $25 million to sponsor both “Anti” and an upcoming 70-date world tour, whose tickets go on sale Thursday. The company has already begun marketing the album, with slick, cryptic ads that have aired during both the American Music Awards and recent episodes of “Empire,” and the speculation is that Samsung is also expecting to offer exclusive access to Rihanna songs as a way to promote its own music streaming offering, Milk Music.
A third player, Live Nation Entertainment, would probably like to see Rihanna's camp get the show on the road as soon as possible. The "Anti" world tour presenter knows that while it’s not difficult to get people interested in seeing a performer with 10 No. 1 hit songs, it may be slightly tougher when not everybody has had the chance to get comfortable with her latest material, and when most of her biggest songs are several years old. The last time Rihanna scored a No. 1 hit was in 2012, when “Diamonds” streaked to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in early December.
The only thing anybody can be sure of at this point is that the singer is feeling uneasy about an album she expects to debut at the top of the charts. As recently as last month, the singer’s father, Ronald Fenty, told the Sun that his daughter was still fussing with the album and hadn’t even settled on a final track listing.
“Robyn is not happy with the album,” Fenty told the paper, using the singer's first name. “She’s not comfortable with it.”
And until she gets there, industry people and fans will continue to wait.