Big Important Bands in 2013 don't just announce and then release an album. Nowadays, a "buzzy" album release functions more like a guerrilla marketing campaign that withholds nearly all information about a band's new album as a method of building hype for its eventual release. While the album-as-publicity-stunt concept isn't new, technology and the hope of "going viral" have arguably enticed bands to go to greater lengths than ever before to make their new releases stand out. From internet treasure hunts to cryptic TV commercials to corporate sponsorships, a look at seven bold promotional stunts bands have staged recently:
1. The album: Reflektor, Arcade Fire
The stunt: Grammy-winning indie collective Arcade Fire announced its upcoming album by hiring graffiti artists around the world to plaster buildings with a cryptic grid bearing the word "REFLEKTOR." It didn't take long for the internet to correctly surmise that the word would be the title of Arcade Fire's new album, so the band upped the curiosity factor by dropping a new single and accompanying video. In a final act of hype-building, the Montreal band capped off its appearance on SNL's season premiere with a 22-minute "concert film" shot by Roman Coppola. The fever-dream of a special featured three new songs and gratuitous celebrity cameos.
2. The album: Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
The stunt: Since the hype surrounding the robot-masked French DJ duo never really disappears, it's hard to say exactly when they began promoting 2013's Random Access Memories. But between a mysterious Coca-Cola ad, a tantalizingly short 10-second ad broadcast on SNL and during Coachella, and a spontaneous performance at a farm show in rural Australia, it's safe to say that Daft Punk has mastered guerilla marketing.
3. The album: Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay Z
The stunt: Proving once again that he's "not a businessman, but a business, man," Jay Z made the first million copies of his 2013 album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, available for free download — but only for Samsung customers. The phone company agreed to pay $5 for each copy of the album, meaning that the rapper theoretically grossed $5 million right off the bat. As for Hov's Samsung-less fans, they had no choice but to acquire the album the old-fashioned way.
4. The album: Yeezus, Kanye West
The stunt: Ahead of the release of his game-changing Yeezus, Kanye spontaneously premiered a new track in cities around the world by projecting the video for "New Slaves," on buildings worldwide. To add to the curiosity factor, Kanye also projected an American Psycho-themed album teaser featuring Kardashian-in-law Scott Disick.
5. The album: Tomorrow's Harvest, Boards of Canada
The stunt: The reclusive Scottish ambient duo Boards of Canada emerged from hiding to announce their first album in eight years via a cryptic and complicated Record Store Day stunt. The band planted a mysterious 12-inch vinyl in several stores on Record Store Day, and rabid BoC fans snapped them up, immediately taking to message boards to report that each of the records contained a 20-second audio clip of a voice reciting a six-digit number. All the numbers pieced together created a password, which unlocked a video announcing Tomorrow's Harvest on the band's website. To top it off, the band also debuted a new song and projected visuals on a building in Tokyo, and played the entire album for a small group of intrepid fans in an abandoned water park in the California desert.
6. The album: Year Zero, Nine Inch Nails
The stunt: For the band's 2007 dystopian concept album Year Zero, Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor enlisted the help of a marketing group to create an alternate-reality game that would give fans a taste of the world described by the album. The band hid USB drives containing mp3 files of new songs at venues around the world, and also hid clues about the album in spectrograms, on websites, and in phone numbers.
7. The album: Curtis, 50 Cent
The stunt: Who needs an elaborate marketing scheme when a simple public comment will do? In 2007, during promotional interviews for his upcoming album, Curtis, 50 Cent threatened to retire if his album failed to outsell Kanye West's Graduation. The beef between the rappers, which started when Graduation's release date was moved to coincide with Curtis', actually ended up being good for everyone involved: While Kanye did end up outselling 50 Cent, Curtis still sold a whopping 691,000 copies in its first week, marking the first time since 1992 that both the No. 1 and No. 2 albums on the albums chart sold more than 600,000 copies in their debut week. And of course, 50 Cent didn't actually retire.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why Texas' abortion rates aren't falling as quickly as everyone expected
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- The 6 best low-cost smartphones
- Why all drugs should be legal. (Yes, even heroin.)
- Yes, Republicans can impeach President Obama
- What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex
- The 5 best and worst states for a well-lived life
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
Subscribe to the Week