Credit: 'Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones)' album cover

The mystique of unreleased music

By Konrad Poznanski

A trip into the alternative reality of unreleased music.

While leaked music isn’t anything new, the digital age has made sharing it much easier, making artists much more vulnerable to musical theft. This can have detrimental effects on the artist, as it is often work that is unfinished, being ruined as a result of being shared to the public without their permission. Many artists have voiced their frustration at their work being leaked, with SZA calling fans who do so “selfish” and Madonna calling it “a form of terrorism”. In some cases, it can derail the career of the artist affected. A well known example of this is Jai Paul, a musician who was becoming particularly influential in the early 2010s. In April 2013, over a dozen songs were leaked and uploaded to his Bandcamp page. In addition to this, the press accused him and his label of deliberately leaking the music as a marketing strategy to promote a new album. These factors led him to take a long hiatus from the industry, returning in 2019 with the official release of the original leaks. Had these leaks and resulting negative media coverage never occurred, who knows where his career would be now?

However, there are some artists who use unreleased music to their advantage, as it can be used to build excitement for future projects. An example of this is Lil Yachty, an artist who I’ve unexpectedly come to love over the past year or so. His songPoland” was leaked in late 2022 and went viral for his use of an autotuned vibrato effect on the hook. This was seen by many as a welcome stylistic change from his previously repetitive and monotonous music, and served as a brief introduction to the vocals that would be heard on his psych-rock inspired album Let’s Start Here. Further songs that have either been leaked or previewed by the artist himself span a variety of genres, including jazz, dancehall and country, and this willingness to explore different styles of music makes me interested to see what direction he’ll take. 

What makes unreleased music so intriguing is that it gives us a glimpse of an alternate reality of some sort. Frank Ocean was seemingly in the process of releasing a new album following the release of 4 singles in late 2019 and early 2020, as well as previewing more new music at club nights intended to promote the album. One of the songs previewed was “Little Demon” – produced by Arca and featuring Skepta – and was set to be the next single to release, being made available to pre-order on vinyl. However, the orders were abruptly cancelled and were supposed to be replaced by another unreleased song titled “These Days”, which was also cancelled. The pandemic presumably delayed the release of the rollout given the importance of live events in promoting the (supposed) album, and the death of his brother understandably ended any chance of new music releasing. Additional songs from that period – “Changes” featuring Spanish singer Rosalía and “Lovesome” featuring Dev Hynes – were leaked in 2023 alongside the aforementioned “These Days”, and give us an idea of the creative direction he was heading in before circumstances beyond his control had completely changed the course of his life. It is interesting to think about what life would be like if things had turned out differently, and, to me at least, these songs encapsulate that feeling of wonder, the regret and sadness that comes with reflecting on life, not necessarily through the lyrics or composition but through the context surrounding them. 


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