Behind the Scenes of How Bjork's Team Handled the 'Vulnicura' Leak
On Jan. 20, Bjork announced on Facebook that her album had arrived several months earlier than its March release date. "Vulnicura will be rolling out worldwide over the next 24 hours !!" she wrote. "I wanted to tell you the tale of making of this album." Though she went into great detail about how Vulnicura got here, she declined to say why it was here, now.
What the rest of the Internet figured out just days after the Icelandic singer/unicorn announced her eighth album is that, like Madonna's Rebel Heart in December, the whole thing had leaked online. Bjork was first notified by fans through her website, which they contacted to tell her Vulnicura was available for illegal download. Derek Birkett, founder of her label One Little Indian, tells Billboard Bjork asked him what to do, so he reached out to "a few friends in the business" -- Arcade Fire and Paul McCartney manager Scott Rodger of music management consortium Maverick and Megaforce Records' Missi Callazzo, who handles Bjork's U.S. distribution.
"Overall, the advice was to do a pre-sale on iTunes with the instant gratification of two or three tracks," Birkett tells Billboard. "Bjork ideally wanted to get the whole record out, and to cut a very long story short, she made a mostly artistic decision that she wanted to get it all out. She felt very passionately about it."
Birkett ran into problems with some of his licensees, which argued that uploading the album in its entirety immediately would have an adverse effect on Vulnicura's physical sales (the vinyl is still expected sometime in March). Rough Trade Germany warned him that if they did make the whole record available, it would refuse to work with Bjork going forward. "We had to switch some of our partners for other partners," Birkett says. "It had a massive, massive impact on us."
As release deals continued to fall through, Birkett reached out to iTunes after asking Amazon if Vulnicura could be made available as a free download to those who pre-ordered its physical edition. After initially agreeing, Amazon pulled out once the album became available on iTunes, arguing that One Little Indian was engaging in a marketing scam to make Vulnicura No. 1 on iTunes.
"Basically what happened is I panicked and gave it to iTunes because I told them, 'All these deals are going down and we're losing a lot of money,'" Birkett says. "I told them to put it on the cover and we'd give them the exclusive. Then I realized the political implications of giving iTunes the exclusive." The digital store agreed to maintain the exclusive for a few days, after which Amazon agreed to support Vulnicura.
Despite the "nightmare" behind the album leak, Birkett told Billboard and the New York Times that, unlike Madonna's team, he would not pursue legal action against those who initially posted it online. Largely inspired by Bjork's breakup with artist Matthew Barney, Vulnicura features contributions from electronic producers Arca and the Haxan Cloak and singer Antony Hegarty.