As the drama surrounding Rihanna‘s album rollout continued to unfold this past week, Tidal threw another curveball, laying blame for the album leak firmly at the feet of the record’s distributor (and the world’s largest label), Universal Music Group. Universal begs to differ.
The long-delayed and much-discussed Anti finally came out on Thursday night exclusively on Tidal for streaming and download, but was accidentally posted to the service earlier, around 7 p.m. Thursday evening, after which the LP spread across the internet before its official release. Speaking to SPIN, Tidal’s marketing director Grace Kim called the leak a “system error,” and emphasized that it didn’t hurt the release. After the article published, a rep for the streaming service later elaborated to the publication that Kim was “referring to a system error caused by Universal Music Group. The error was not something Tidal caused.”
Not surprisingly, that characterization hasn’t sat well with Universal, which maintains it did everything according to protocol. “This whole thing is absurd, we would have taken responsibility if it were our error,” says one UMG executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Instead of having their flack flail around trying to revise their own media spin, maybe they should just focus on serving Rihanna — that’s what we’re focused on.”
When contacted by Billboard, a rep for Tidal pointed to the SPIN article and declined further comment.
Rihanna employs Tidal sister company Roc Nation as both her management and her label, while Def Jam — through parent company Universal Music Group — handles distribution for her Roc releases. The extent of Tidal’s role in Anti‘s release was unclear until the album’s first single “Work,” featuring Drake, arrived the morning of Jan. 27 initially as a Tidal exclusive; Rihanna is one of 16 artists unveiled at the service’s U.S. launch last May, meaning she has a financial stake in Jay Z‘s company. Additionally, Samsung partnered with the singer in a reported $25 million spend to sponsor the album rollout — which featured a series of videos on AntiDiary.com leading up to the release — and world tour, and offered a limited number of complementary download codes to its customers for Anti, which helped spur over one million downloads in 14 hours after its release. Each download came with a 60-day free trial of Tidal.
What remains to be seen is how Tidal’s one-week streaming exclusive and Samsung’s complementary download strategy will affect Anti‘s eventual chart position; because it came out on Thursday rather than the industry release date of Friday, the album debuted at No. 27 on the Billboard 200 this week in its single day of the tracking week. Tidal boasted that in the same 14-hour window the album was streamed more than 13 million times, and after the free download codes ran out — 1.47 million downloads in total, none of which count towards Anti‘s ranking on the Billboard charts — Anti became available for purchase in the Tidal store. On Jan. 29, the deluxe version became available in other online retailers, while the physical edition is slated to hit stores Feb. 5. The set could still become Rihanna’s second straight No. 1 album next week after Anti‘s first full available week.