Grimes’ highly anticipated new album Art Angels is out Friday and, as advance copies swirl around newsrooms, the record has already done what records these days do: leaked. For most artists, this is a shrugworthy event — 1989 leaked days before its release, but still sold a bajillion copies anyway because the audience was huge — but it presents a problem for Grimes, who has a more defined (and more loyal) following. Grimes’s last record, the critically-beloved Visions, only made it to 98 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. If Art Angels doesn’t hit fast enough to capitalize on the buzz, it may not even make it that high.
I’m not arguing that an artist should bend to the will of a leak, which is still a deeply unfair thing; imagine working on something for years — Visions was released in January, 2012 and is Grimes’ last commercial offering — and not getting the chance to present it the way you wanted. But compensation matters and is at stake for an independent artist like Grimes, who has partnered with the famed indie label 4AD for Art Angels. With a release date only hours away, there’s not much risk in putting the album online early, especially given that Grimes has a passionate fanbase that will happily fork over $10 for a download. Artists have had to adjust their timeline to account for leaks; in a digital world, that’s really not that hard. Distributing vinyl was on deadline was a much more involved operation.
It’s a compromise, but Art Angels should be on iTunes. In my eyes, the musician deserves every possible dollar that is out there for them to collect. Those who have downloaded her new album illegally — and may be less inclined to buy the record fair-and-square — might have bought Art Angels if they were given the chance. But they weren’t and they haven’t been. Let’s hope they are sooner rather than later.