A week ago, The Weeknd released ‘My Dear Melancholoy,’ a six-song EP that was received with as much hype and excitement as some of his recent albums. The EP totaled a playtime of twenty-one minutes, a tiny piece of work by The Weeknd’s own standards. ‘Kiss Land,’ released in 2013, included only ten songs but ran for fifty-five minutes. Not only was ‘My Dear Melancholy’ The Weeknd’s first official EP release, but it also includes the shortest and most compact package of songs in his discography.
Two weeks before that EP was released, XXXTENTACION debuted ‘?,’ which clocked in at only thirty-seven minutes despite featuring 18 songs. Unlike The Weeknd’s EP, this release was not out of character for XXXTENTACION, as his 2017 ’17’ included eleven songs but only carried twenty-two minutes of music, a relatively minuscule project that was still labelled an album.
2017 seemed to hint at a movement towards shorter projects. Two of the most anticipated joint releases of the year, ‘Super Slimey’ and ‘Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho’ totaled forty minutes and forty one minutes, respectively. Going further back, this trend seems to have grown out of the increase in collaborative mixtures. 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’ combined to produce the thirty-two minute ‘Savage Mode’ in 2016, while Drake and Future’s 2015 ‘What A Time To Be Alive’ included forty minutes of music.
But now, short albums are becoming the domain of individual artists, not just the product of partnerships, as illustrated by the work of The Weeknd and XXXTENTACION. As 2018 continues and we await releases from Cardi B, Flatbush Zombies, Schoolboy Q, Travis Scott, and maybe even Drake, it will be important to notice who is releasing shorter projects and to understand why that might be the case.
Are artists unable to carry an album with over an hour of music? Are they shying away from feature-heavy releases and thus producing shorter songs? Or is this a conscious decision to create shorter songs and shorter albums that will appeal to a young listening audience that might prefer to consume music in half-hour sessions?
The answer might be a combination of all three, but it seems most likely that artists are making a commercial decision to release shorter albums. Certainly, The Weekend and XXXTENTACION are not artists who make music thoughtlessly and without a great deal of intentionality. The Weekend is a massive global superstar, so surely each of his decisions is carefully managed to ensure commercial success and to create as much buzz and attention as possible. Of course, XXX is not on nearly the same level of stardom as the Toronto singer, but if his decision to include instructions for listening on the first track of the album, a track titled “Introduction (instructions)” indicates anything, it is that the artist has certainly considered how he wants his music to be heard and the type of experience that he wants to create for listeners.
Not only do these decisions seem to be calculated, but they are paying off creatively. ‘?’ in particular is an instructive example of the potential benefits of releasing a boiled-down collection of songs. The blend of metal rap, emo rap, rock, and even Latin music that XXXTENTACION includes on the album is a risky mix, and there are undoubtedly sounds that he will discard as he continues to grow. Tracks like “Floor 555,” “Pain = BESTFRIEND,” and “I don’t even speak Spanish lol” are sure to divide opinion and would normally alienate many listeners.
But on an album of only thirty-seven minutes, listeners are more likely to endure short tracks that they don’t enjoy when they know the album’s potential hits are only one track away rather than three tracks and twelve minutes away. The best, or at least most popular, songs like “Moonlight,” “SAD!,” and “going down!” appear next to each other or just a couple of minutes apart, making for an easier listening experience that earns the artist some leeway with if a couple tracks fail to hit.
The Weeknd’s ‘My Dear Melancholy’ is far more mainstream and far less risky than ‘?,’ but the decision to release such a short EP all but guarantees that fans will stick around for all six songs rather than bouncing around the release. In this strange way, making a shorter album allows an artist like XXXTENTACION to get away with more musical risks, as listeners can commit themselves to a half hour of listening time rather than an hour or longer.
What would a cut-down, forty minute Drake album sound like? What if Travis Scott gives us only his best thirty minutes for ‘Astroworld’? If the trends we’ve seen in 2017 and early 2018 hold, we might have the answers to those questions soon.