As messy as the rollout was, the LP connected with fans instantly, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and spawning a year's worth of hits, including the Hot 100-topping advance single "Work." More importantly, ANTI recalibrated the perception of Rihanna as an albums artist, similarly to Beyoncé's self-titled set, as it was hailed as Rihanna's most sophisticated, forward-thinking set to date.
"Messy" barely even began to describe the lead-up to the year's next major release. Kanye West had cemented his status as the most acclaimed artist of his era with his first two LPs of the decade, 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and 2013's Yeezus -- but his third solo full-length of the 2010s spent years stuck in development hell, changing its name several times and seemingly coming no closer to actual release.
Then, in 2016, the album finally debuted (with a couple weeks' notice) as The Life of Pablo, in a livestreamed gathering held at Madison Square Garden, which turned the album's release into a literal event. The gospel-tinged, star-studded set dropped to streaming services to near-unanimous acclaim days later, though in the interim -- and even after its "official" release -- Kanye would continue to tweak the project, showing just how far the album format had evolved from its static, narrowly defined form of decades earlier.
But once again, the biggest release of the year belonged to Beyoncé. In April, she dropped the follow-up to her game-changing self-titled set in the form of Lemonade, once again as a visual album. But this time, it came with a primetime premiere on HBO, as the set followed a near-concept-album narrative -- largely inspired by Bey's much-publicized marital struggles with fellow musical icon Jay-Z, following the latter's reported infidelity. While less revolutionary in its release than Beyoncé, the more personal subject matter and even more seamless execution (including cross-genre collaborations with Jack White, Diplo and Mike WiLL Made-It, among many others) led to Lemonade achieving blockbuster sales (653,000 equivalent album units in its first week) and even stronger reviews than the self-titled, while several of the accompanying videos became instantly iconic images of mid-'10s pop culture.
The event albums continued well through the spring and summer of 2016. Chance the Rapper, a mixtape artist who'd grown a cult following to festival-headliner status without making any of his own music commercially available, released his first set for on-demand streaming with the ebullient Coloring Book, which earned rave reviews, a top 10 debut on the Billboard 200 (a first for a streaming-only album), and eventually a Grammy for best rap album. Enigmatic R&B innovator Frank Ocean answered months of release-date speculation for his much-anticipated sophomore album with a bizarre woodworking livestream... which turned out to be promotional for the avant-leaning visual set Endless... which then turned out to be largely a contract-fulfilling prelude to his official second LP, the rapturously received and chart-topping Blonde. Even Radiohead got back in the game with the sneak-release of the lush A Moon Shaped Pool, their mostly warmly received set since In Rainbows.
The preponderance of event albums not only demonstrated how much had changed in how albums were being released, it also reflected massive shifts in how they were being consumed. Common to many of these albums was a deemphasis on physical release -- with the accompanying CDs and vinyl coming late, if they came at all -- as the old midnight rush of record stores was replaced in the streaming age with unofficial communal gatherings on Twitter, where everyone showed up to discuss the massive new albums that were now available and accessible to all at the same time.