Art gifts

Luxury albums: trade before art?

In the modern musical landscape, there seems to be one constant: an influx of ever-growing “luxury” albums that have little reason to exist. On June 11, 2021, Migos released “Culture III” after a three-year wait. Six days later, they dropped the deluxe version of the album. On June 25, 2021, Doja Cat released “Planet Her”. Only two days later, she abandoned the deluxe version of this album. Some albums, such as “Good Kid, MAAD City” by Kendrick Lamar, have received three different luxury treatments.

There is an obvious artistic merit in a luxury album. Historically, luxury albums have allowed artists to expand an album’s original track list in a way that enhances the original listening experience. It can be interesting to see an artist post cut songs created in the same creative headspace as the original album. In the age of streaming, however, any artist can add hours of new material to their album, usually with the goal of increasing their stream count and hopefully translating that into new sales and buzz.

Two of the previously mentioned luxury albums, “Culture III” and “Planet Her”, are the most egregious examples of artists abandoning luxury renditions of their albums for commercial purposes. The two albums competed for No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart and faced stiff competition. The respective deluxe editions of the two albums were released before the end of their release week, adding little valuable material to albums that hardly had time to sit down with listeners. Both albums eventually peaked at number two. “Culture III” lost first place to Polo G’s “Hall of Fame” and “Planet Her” lost first place to Tyler, the “Call me if you get lost” creator.

In the music industry, less is often more. An album must be able to speak for itself. He should definitely have enough time to make a statement before a deluxe version of the album is warranted. I have appreciated such artist efforts in the past. “Untitled Unmastered” is essentially the B side of Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly”, with demos of the recording sessions that created this latest record. “Untitled Unmastered” serves as a compliment and a continuation of the themes explored on “To Pimp a Butterfly” and a lot of care has also been taken with the magnificent jazzy instrumentals. Kanye West released the deluxe version of “Donda” nearly three months after the album’s initial release, with the addition of an additional twenty minutes of material. “Donda Deluxe”, released in tandem with Kanye West rod player, allows listeners to customize the album as they wish and essentially make the album their own. The initial album already has bonus material at the end, so a luxury album with even more content serves that purpose to a greater extent.

He seems lazy every time an artist repackages his original album, makes some cosmetic changes to the tracklist, adds a few more songs, and re-releases his album with a “deluxe” at the end of the title. Then, on the other side of the spectrum, there’s everything The Kid Laroi does. On July 24, 2020, Laroi released their first mixtape, “F * CK LOVE”. He released a deluxe version of his mixtape, titled “F * CK LOVE (SAVAGE)”, which included seven new songs. Subsequently, he released a deluxe version of the deluxe version of his album, titled “F * CK LOVE 3+: OVER YOU”, and subsequently released an “extended” version of this mixtape, titled “F * CK LOVE 3+: OVER YOU.” This is by far the most confusing luxury release schedule I have ever seen. Between the three deluxe versions of the initial mixtape, The Kid Laroi released 20 new songs. I have no idea why such a volume of new material was added to the first album as a ‘deluxe’ release rather than just creating a separate sequel mixtape, but I guess I can’t deny the commercial effects of its exit strategy. With the release of its luxury mixtapes, “F * CK LOVE” rose to number one on the Billboard 200 charts, and The Kid Laroi now has over fifty-one million listeners on Spotify.

Yet this version of a luxury album also dilutes the original album. While too little additional material begs the question of why a luxury album is even released, too much additional material begins to confuse. What was the point of releasing a luxury album as opposed to just another album? Why drop so much material if it was cut from the original version? When I think of The Kid Laroi’s mixtape series, I have no idea what constitutes the definitive “F * CK LOVE” listening experience because so much bonus material has been released.

Is there a place for luxury albums? There is value in taking leftover music out of an album, but it may dilute the experience of the original album. When a luxury album comes out for no other reason than to increase the number of streams or generate undeserved hype, it becomes a business exercise before artistic expression.