Ten months ago I heard snippets of an unreleased Rihanna song that was, presumably, one of the tracks on her upcoming, yet-to-be-announced album. Her raw, scratchy vocals evoked a sadness uncharacteristic of the exceptionally GIF-able songstress. The lyrics, which extol the virtues of musing over an old lover while drinking whiskey, drown the listener in a morose vulnerability usually expected of a sensitive singer-songwriter, not one of the biggest, most confident pop stars in the world.
I felt like I was listening to an ethereal being composed of equal parts Alberta Hunter, Dinah Washington and bourbon; Rihanna was singing the blues. I knew at that moment, even though I had only heard about 30 seconds of the song, that I needed to listen to that record ASAP.
Fast-forward to yesterday when Rihanna's new album, "Anti," made an unexpected debut exclusively on Tidal, a not-so-popular streaming music service that she co-owns with other superstars like Madonna and Jay Z. Well, actually, it was kind of expected because it accidentally leaked on Tidal the night before, allowing fans a quick glance at the track listing (OMG -- SZA and a Tame Impala cover) and probably prompting the swift release.
It's a big deal that one of the most anticipated albums of the year was only available for streaming and purchasing on Tidal. (The album was uploaded to iTunes and Apple Music the next day.) Offering exclusive content from some of the world's biggest stars is one of Tidal's biggest selling points. (Sure, the high-quality streaming is also cool, but most people can't even tell the difference.) Hogging a release that eager fans have been waiting for practically since her last album, released in November 2012, is an easy way to lure in new subscribers.
I, personally, have waited 10 months. Her real fans have been waiting almost three years. Three years. For an artist that used to drop chart-topping albums and radio-friendly singles like leaves in the fall, this new album is quenching the thirst of millions, almost literally.
According to Variety, one million people said "yes" to a free download of "Anti" (no longer available) that was coupled with a trial subscription to Tidal. Rihanna's star power proves that people want the exclusive content Tidal provides. That is, when the exclusive content is something of great value to the listener.
But back to me. I'm still trying to find a (legal) way to listen to "Anti." "Just sign up for Tidal, silly", some of you must be thinking.
I tried. I really tried to give it a chance, but I don't like it. So much so that I'm willing to wait a little longer to listen to "Higher", the title of the amazing song described above, in its entirety. Music magazine Fader reports that non-Tidal subscribers like me will have to wait a week for it to be released on other services like Spotify.
Who knows how many new subscribers will continue to use the service after the free trial period is over? (Once you have the album, you can keep it and unsubscribe from the service.) I'm not going to sign up for Tidal again just to listen to Rihanna's "Anti," but if it exclusively released Frank Ocean's elusive, much-anticipated sophomore release, this would be a completely different story; I'd sign up in a heartbeat.
With this type of power in tow, Tidal might just make it if they keep giving the fans what they want.
Editors' note: This post has been updated to clarify that ANTI is now available on iTunes and Apple music.