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Deluxe albums: Commerce before art?

In the modern music landscape, there seems to be one constant: an influx of ever-growing “deluxe” albums that have little reason to exist. June 11, 2021, Migos released “Culture III” after three years of anticipation. Six days later, they dropped the deluxe version of the album. June 25, 2021, Doja Cat released “Planet Her.” Only two days later did she drop the deluxe version of that album. Some albums, such as Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City,” received three different deluxe treatments

There is clear artistic merit in a deluxe album. Historically, deluxe albums have allowed artists to expand upon an album’s original tracklist in a way that enhances the original listening experience. It can be interesting to see an artist release cut songs created in the same creative headspace of the original album. In the streaming era, however, any artist can add hours of new material to their album, usually in an attempt to boost their streaming numbers and hopefully translate that into new sales and buzz.

Two of the deluxe albums mentioned earlier, “Culture III” and “Planet Her,” are the most blatant examples of artists dropping deluxe renditions of their albums for commercial gain. Both albums were vying for a number one spot on the US Billboard 200 chart and faced tough competition. Both albums’ respective deluxe editions were released before the end of their release week, adding little valuable material to albums that hardly had any time to sit with listeners. Both albums ultimately peaked at the number two position. “Culture III'' lost the number one position to Polo G’s “Hall of Fame” and “Planet Her” lost the number 1 position to Tyler, the Creator’s “Call Me if You Get Lost.” 

Within the music industry, less is often more. An album should be able to speak for itself.  It should certainly be given enough time to make a statement before a deluxe version of the album is warranted. I’ve enjoyed such efforts from artists in the past. “Untitled Unmastered” is essentially the side B to Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” featuring demos from the recording sessions that created the latter record. “Untitled Unmastered” serves as a compliment and a continuation of the themes explored on “To Pimp a Butterfly” and plenty of care was put into the beautiful jazzy instrumentals as well. Kanye West released the deluxe version of “Donda” nearly three months after the initial release of the album, with the addition of twenty additional minutes of material. “Donda Deluxe,” released in tandem with Kanye West’s stem player, allows for listeners to customize the album however they wish and essentially make the album their own. The initial album already has bonus material at the end, so a deluxe album with even more content serves this purpose to a greater extent. 

It comes across as lazy whenever an artist repackages their original album, presents a few cosmetic changes to the tracklist, adds a few additional songs and re-releases their album with a “deluxe” at the end of the title. Then, on the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s whatever The Kid Laroi is doing. On July 24, 2020, Laroi released his debut 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 afterwards, released an ‘expanded’ version of that mixtape, titled “F*CK LOVE 3+: OVER YOU.” This is by far the most confusing deluxe release schedule I’ve ever witnessed. Between all 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 tacked onto the first album as a “deluxe” release as opposed to just creating a separate sequel mixtape, but I suppose I can’t deny the commercial effects of his release strategy. With the release of his deluxe mixtapes, “F*CK LOVE” shot to the number 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart, and The Kid Laroi now has over fifty-one million listeners on Spotify. 

Yet that version of a deluxe album dilutes the original album too. While too little additional material begs the question of why a deluxe album was even released, too much additional material begins to spark confusion. What was the purpose of releasing a deluxe album as opposed to just another album? Why drop so much material if it was cut from the original release? When I think of The Kid Laroi’s series of mixtapes, I have no idea what comprises the definitive “F*CK LOVE” listening experience because so much bonus material was released.

Is there a place for deluxe albums? There’s value in releasing leftover music from an album, but it runs the risk of diluting from the original album experience. When a deluxe album is released for no reason other than to boost streaming numbers or to generate unearned hype, it becomes an exercise of commerce before artistic expression.

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