Yesterday afternoon, I watched the video for Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj’s “Feelin Myself,” and it looked like shit. This is notable because the video was released “exclusively” on Tidal, the Jay Z co-owned, much-maligned streaming service that prides itself on, among other things, “exclusive” content from such top-tier artists (and Tidal co-owners) as Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Jack White. When the “Feelin Myself” video dropped, I watched a wave of reverse-buyer’s remorse sweep Twitter: “Who got a Tidal account?,” “Guess I need to sign up for Tidal,” a few screenshots of people signing up for Tidal to prove their Stan-itude towards all things Nicki and Bey.
I resisted the urge to hit the “mute” button, waited a little under an hour—and then what I was looking for eventually surfaced: a streamrip of “Feelin Myself” that looked like shit. Jackpot. I watched the video once, enjoyed it (it’s a good video!), and moved on with my life happy that I didn’t actually pay money to watch it.
I had previously sought out leaked versions for the video for Rihanna’s “American Oxygen,” as well as the video for Beyoncé’s “Die With You,” too—both of which took less than an hour to surface after debuting on Tidal. The “American Oxygen” video, in particular, made its way onto Vevo for non-Tidal subscribers’ viewing pleasure two weeks after its Tidal debut.
Mind you, this isn’t another “Viva La Piracy!” screed, nor is it a proclamation that I’m too good to pay money for something like Tidal: I’m an adult with disposable income, I pay for Spotify Premium, and the fact that I pay a yearly premium for Amazon Prime just because they were once streaming the entirety of Degrassi: The Next Generation is proof enough that I take the “disposable” part of “disposable income” very seriously. The first two facts of that triple-disclosure are especially relevant, since Tidal has arrived years too late, when the market for streaming music is already crowded (and about to get even worse). If you're a new player in a game that's already packed to the brim with competitors, you better come correct with something better than a bunch of fellow rich people standing beside you onstage.
That's where the "exclusive content" comes in: other than the promise of high-fidelity audio—a luxury that means more to the type of consumer disdainful of digital audio than to the younger audience that Tidal is ostensibly courting—the promise of things you can't find anywhere else is essentially the grease to the squeaky wheel that is Tidal's sales pitch. But even Tidal's most high-profile grabs have proved, thus far, utterly disposable—or in the case of Jay Z's recent B-sides concert for a select number of subscribers, a total crapshoot. (Granted, the concert was streamed to subscribers who didn't win a spot in the selection process—and, surprise surprise, it's not hard to find a decent-looking stream of the concert on YouTube.
Tidal's saving grace at this juncture relies on mere speculation: a collaborative album from Beyoncé and Jay Z is rumored to be released exclusively on the streaming service, which, to borrow internet parlance, would be huge if true. The gambit would smack of when Jay Z released his most recent album, 2013's misfire Magna Carta Holy Grail, exclusively to Samsung customers—and anyone with a p2p connection can tell you that it didn't take long for that album to leak its way to non-subscribers. Maybe there's a way for Tidal to make their "exclusive content" gambit interesting and, well, actually exclusive; I don't know how they'll do it, and I'm not sure they do either.