It’s hard to be creative. Or rather, it’s hard to be creative and make something good, that’s really worth something, that brings joy to a lot of people. One of the biggest rewards after all that work is getting to release your work into the wild and watch how it’s received. It’s nice to hear your fans’ anticipation about a new project.
So when people betray trust and leak the work, it’s frustrating. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of listening/reading/watching some leaked content from our favourite people, but next time, maybe we should try to resist. FKA Twigs this week announced that she wouldn’t be releasing her new album due to 85 leaks. Is it an overreaction? Or a lesson?
Of course, leaks are nothing new, and if I’m being really cynical, some, I’m sure, are leaked on purpose, to create some hype. But that defeats the point if the artist is leaking it: it’s theirs to leak. I feel for FKA Twigs, regardless of whether or not you like her music, she seems to me to be one of the few true artists we have producing new and interesting music at the moment. She has artistic integrity, and people looking to ruin it have undermined everything she’s worked for. In an age where we’re used to having everything instantly, has it dulled our attitude towards waiting for new music? Not to mention clips on Instagram/TikTok, footage of rehearsals etc. diluting what we see as a leak. In our current culture, perhaps we don’t value the artist half as much as we should.
Leaks over the years have been met with indignation, appeals for hackers to cease, and public complaints. Lady Gaga’s first track of Artpop, ‘Applause’, was leaked before release, and the star tweeted her disappointment. Not least because it was the second time this had happened to her – ‘Judas’ had leaked two years earlier (the irony of one of Gaga’s inner circle leaking a track called ‘Judas’ is not lost on me). Kanye West, Madonna, Katy Perry and Beyonce have also suffered at the hands of leaks. Nobody is safe – the bigger you are, the more people in your team have access to your music.
Sometimes (and this is where you should prepare to feel extremely young, as I tell this by candlelight) I long for the times when to get your hands on new music meant waiting for a physical object. Of course there have always been leaks, but it’s a hell of a lot harder to get music out there when you have to copy a tape and cycle through the rain to get other people to hear it.
There’s something sacred about waiting for something new in 2023. When a television series is released weekly, you feel a shared sense of excitement with people who are watching it too. Succession is one of the few big shows choosing this release method recently, and I think it’s fair to say that was quite popular. With everything being available all the time, perhaps we’ve lost a bit of romance when it comes to enjoying, and respecting art. At the risk of sounding like a British meme account, a queue for something you’ve been waiting for with other people who are similarly excited is an antithesis to the antisocial act of listening to leaked tracks alone in your room. Perhaps that’s why vinyl has surged in popularity again in recent years. It’s communal.
FKA Twigs said on her Instagram story that she was going ‘back to the drawing board’, adding that she ‘got hacked and somebody leaked 85 of my demos well done no new music for a while now bye’. Which touches on another problem with leaks: often they’re not the finished article. You’re hearing demos, the work-in-progress, something that by the time it’s finished, might not sound anything like that. Why would you want to see half a film? Read an unfinished book riddled with plot holes? Buy a painting with the faces not done? You wouldn’t. So at the risk of sounding like the famous ‘You wouldn’t start a night like this’ binge drinking advert, you wouldn’t buy anything else that wasn’t ready, don’t do it with music.
In 2023, when artists are already strangled financially, have their songs streamed the world over for free, and have to hope that maybe they can make money from touring, or merch, let the actual music remain sacred. We don’t know how many other artists will take FKA Twigs’ lead after seeing her reaction this week. If you love the art, respect the artist. Good things come to those who wait.