There’s something to the sub-45 minute album. In under an hour, a good artist can make a statement, establish and explore a theme, and get out without risking the attentive listener developing deep-vein thrombosis from sitting too long. It has long felt like the ideal pop record’s length, drummed into us from vinyl limitations, sure, but attested to by the fact that the longest runtimes in music to date, from completely filled CDs to (almost always needlessly self-indulgent) double albums, usually represent a kind of war of attrition between the forces of enjoyment and wanting-to-stop-listening-to-The Beatles-now-even-though-“Cry Baby Cry”-is-just-fine.
If shorter albums are your cup of tea, though, you may have noticed you’re increasingly shit out of luck. The era of the way-too-long record is upon us and, for now at least, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
At Rolling Stone, Elias Leight has looked into the reason for this new trend and pinpoints, unsurprisingly, the influence of streaming services like Spotify. Citing Lana Del Rey’s Lust For Life (one hour and 11 minutes), Drake’s Views (one hour, 21 minutes), Future’s pseudo double album Future and Hndrxx (a combined two hours, ten minutes), and Migos’ Culture II (the Judd Apatow of records, extending to one hour and 46 minutes), Leight finds that Spotify’s “top five streamed albums rose almost 10 minutes [in length] over the past five years, to an average of 60 minutes.”
The reason for this, aside from unidentifiable artistic decisions, is pretty simple: changes to Billboard charts incentivize super long streaming albums. As Leight summarizes,
“In 2014, Billboard incorporated streaming into its chart calculations (1,500 on-demand streams equals one LP), and two years later, the Recording Industry Association of America adopted the same formula for album certifications. Longer albums that generate more streams can lead to Number One chart debuts and gold and platinum plaques.”
There are other factors, too, most of all an attempt to keep less dedicated listeners streaming a single album for a long time before they jump to another one, maybe never to return to the first artist.
It all makes a lot of sense, which is a bad sign for anyone—like those of us who hear double-album songs like Nine Inch Nails’ “We’re in This Together” as an endurance-taunting threat—who prefers shorter records. And yet still, there is some light at the end of the movie-length album tunnel. Among everything else he cites, Leight mentions Bruno Mars’ very successful 24K Magic, which runs for only a brisk 33 minutes and opens the door to maybe the only reasonable way to describe the artist’s output as “punk as hell.” You can save us Bruno. We believe in you.
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