What Makes an Album Release an Event?

Donna and Yoh discuss the inner-workings of event albums.
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What Makes an Album an Event?

Some albums are flashes in the pan, some are appointment listening, and some are, well, events. You know the type: records that have more than Twitter patiently waiting, that have the pop culture's ear at the behest of the artist. These albums spark conversations even before the music is released, and long after the release date passes. These albums make communal listening feel like a must. These albums are events; you know the type.

But what makes an album an event? How do artists graduate to having their work occupy our minds so? We posed these questions, and more, to DJBooth Managing Editor Donna-Claire Chesman, and Senior Writer, Yoh. 

Their conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

yoh [3:00 PM]

Hi Donna, good afternoon.

donnacwrites [3:01 PM]

Hello Yohsipher, long time no talk.

yoh [3:02 PM]

It has been a lifetime. How are you? Is Donna's world full of sunshine and good music?

donnacwrites [3:04 PM]

Donna's world is filled, alright. Endless interviews and calls, but all good conversations. Something I live for. I've been living for moments more than ever lately, which is the inspiration for this week's conversation. I want to talk to you about big moments in music, specifically, when albums become events. I think of listening as "I'll get to it" listening, "appointment" listening, and "event" listening. There are always albums we'll make our way over to, there are albums we wait up for midnight to dive into, and then there are albums that the music ecosystem is waiting for to consume and discuss.

So, my question to you is, what makes an album an event? What's the last "event" album you recall falling in love with?

yoh [3:14 PM]

Great question. Social media and its ability to allow us to share a listening experience has been instrumental in the "event album." There are a few different ways an album can become an event. Marketing plays a role. A big part of the narrative that surrounded Drake's Views was the expectation that it would be his first universally agreed upon classic album. He was on a great run, and having a "mixtape" like If You're Reading This It's Too Late preceding it only increased the anticipation. Events happen when excitement meets high expectations. There's a promise; we listen to see if the artist keeps that promise.

More recently, I'll say Revenge of the Dreamers III. There's a bit of a bias there. To me, that album feels like the sessions. When I play it, I can visualize the setting. I see the people; I feel the energy. On the flip side, I can also see the social media discourse. In some regards, expectation helped and hurt that album. It's hard to fulfill everyone's wishes. I still go back to it fairly often, for the feeling. 

What about you? How do you define an event album? What was the last event album that you met fulfilled its promise?

donnacwrites [3:21 PM]

An event album is all about hype's intersection with brand recognition. Take Chance The Rapper's The Big Day. That is an example of an event album, without question. We all faithfully pressed play on the album regardless of how much we were or were not looking forward to new material from Chance. Hearing the record felt like a cultural must. That's an "event" album, right there.

The last event album to floor me was Tyler, The Creator's IGOR. After the success of Flower Boy and the way he was changing up his look and rolling out IGOR snippets, it felt like a perfect storm was brewing. Tyler's star had risen dramatically. Tyler's music had matured significantly. He had broken into the upper echelon of hip-hop, and IGOR was going to be his stay-or-go moment. Would he be able to capture and outdo the magic of Flower Boy? Would he be able to cement his place in the hip-hop elite? These questions pushed us all to press play, and we did, and Tyler cemented his place as one of the best artists currently working.

Now, here's a question: can an album become an event in retrospect? After a release is in the world, can an event occur post-drop?

yoh [3:29 PM]

Great question. I want to say no, but I'm thinking about Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan's Rich Gang: The Tour, Part 1 mixtape. I remember the excitement surrounding the release. But it wasn't at the intersection of hype and brand recognition. Both Quan and Thug were still coming into their own, but that mixtape felt special. Their breakup has only increased its cultural value. Both Thug and Quan, five years later, are still asked about their group and if they could ever do it again. 

What do you think? Do you have any examples of albums that became events after their release?

donnacwrites [3:37 PM]

Admittedly, I do not, but I do have a thesis as to how such a thing is possible, which you touched on in your answer. The cultural value of the record, in general, has to increase past its original opening value. If an artist drops to middling success but then goes on a huge press run, we have no choice but to go back and revisit their work. To create an event retroactively is to capture our attention away from the present. It's no easy feat, but a breakup is one such way to make us look back. 

Events are all about capturing our attention, holding our attention, and making the time we spend with the album feel worthwhile. It can't just be a flash in the pan; the album has to outlive your Twitter hot take.

yoh [3:38 PM]

Wow, death is probably the biggest increase in cultural value after an album is released.

donnacwrites [3:39 PM]

It is if we want to go there.

yoh [3:42 PM

Well, we know that artists are worth more dead than alive. Part of that reason is death becomes an event that increases the cultural value of everything you touch. It's a world stopping moment, one that brings the most attention any person can amass in the public eye. That's a dark turn, but it speaks to how difficult it is to create moments. That's the beauty of longevity. If you have talent, keep a consistent output, and improve with every album, you'll manifest an event.

donnacwrites [3:42 PM]

Just reminds me to give flowers while our artists are still with us.

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