I have mixed feelings about surprise album drops. On the one hand, they’re exciting and daring, and they provide me with an excellent reason to drop everything that I’m doing to go listen. But also, as someone who is basically a ball of anxiety, I really like to prepare and schedule things. So, the idea of surprise releases really stresses me out. What if I miss it? What if my body is not ready?
Yesterday, my fears were confirmed by Donald Glover. Early morning, a fan discovered a new website called www.donaldgloverpresents.com and shared it in a Tweet. It featured a logo, a four panel piece of sketched out artwork that looks like an album cover, and looping audio of Glover’s music.
Donald Glover Presents https://t.co/dg9nzzVK9N— #1. (@FASHIONSPITTA) March 15, 2020
At first, it seemed like a hoax. But then the tweet was retweeted by some of Glover’s management team, and people also started to realize that many of the tracks on there were new, featuring Ariana Grande, 21 Savage, and maybe even SZA. The good people at HipHop-N-More put together a guesstimated track list of the album.
This is BIG news. We’ve heard some new Childish Gambino music like “Summertime Magic” and “Feels Like Summer” in 2018. He’s also shared new music at Coachella and during his This is America tour last year. However, the last time we got a full album was 2016, so the world has been waiting a hot minute for an album from the creative genius that is Donald Glover.
We’ve also known for a while that the Childish Gambino moniker was going to be retired, but this is the first time we’ve seen any music that’s Donald Glover branded. It feels like a new era, although musically, there’s still that distinct Gambino sound and quality that we’ve come to expect.
Then, after about 12 hours, IT WAS ALL GONE! Zip. Zilch. Nada. With no explanation. Of course, that’s also when I discovered the website WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT I WAS WORRIED ABOUT.
Live footage of me trying to piece together any shred of audio that was saved:
Pro Tip: If you search the Donald Glover tag on Twitter, you can find recordings of almost all the songs. Here’s the one with Ariana:
🚨 DONALD GLOVER x ARIANA GRANDE #DonaldGloverPresents pic.twitter.com/d2YJQeOD4t— Complex Music (@ComplexMusic) March 15, 2020
So WTF just happened? This album “release”, if we can even call it that, wasn’t traditional in any sense of the word. We don’t have an album name. The songs weren’t released on any streaming platforms. There was even an empty text field underneath the four panel art piece where users could type and submit their response into nothingness.
Although it’s tempting to label it as a screw-up, there are way too many intentional details that rule this out as a possibility. The retweets by the management team. The branding and URL. The timing. THE 12 HOUR WINDOW. Like if your intern accidentally hit “publish” on a website, you wouldn’t leave it up for 12 hours, right?
So, what was this? Was it a teaser that’s part of a much larger promotional strategy? Was Donald Glover just bored during quarantine? That’s actually a thing by the way. A lot of artists are resorting to what Rita Wilson calls “quarantuning”. It’s where artists share music to cheer up everyone else. But also, social isolation means that there’s probably a lot more time for artists to start creating and jamming in their homes. I feel like there’s probably going to be a bunch of new albums released in like six months to a year, just like how baby boomers were all born right after the war.
This stunt feels very much like Guava Island. Remember? All we got were a few photos of Rihanna and Donald Glover in Cuba along with a bunch of rumours? No one really knew whether it was an album, music video, movie, documentary, or some hybrid of everything. Maybe this is just Donald Glover’s style now, and soon we’ll all be able to predict when it’s going to happen with the accuracy of a Taylor Swift fan.
What Donald Glover has done is reinvented the surprise album. Surprise drops are getting more and more common and less and less exciting. But a 12 hour teaser window with no context or explanation? That’s some next level sh-t. Which makes me think maybe we’re going to start seeing more like it. I’m both stressed out and excited by that prospect.