Which album launches have had the best and worst fan reactions?
Fan bases like these form communities not only around music, but also shared values. In the case of Harry Styles, his support of the LGBTQ+ community and fostering kindness to all as a value amongst his fans has been instrumental in developing the support, we see for the artist today. The most recent example of this was the hundreds of thousands of fans that recently descended on UK stadiums, and support across social media.
In the digital age, conversations between these fans are occurring increasingly online rather than just through offline channels. For these communities, album launches are key in building anticipation and sparking new conversation, with fans taking to forums like Reddit to discuss theories and expectations of upcoming albums. Albums tell us so much about an artist; they act as a culmination of their time in the industry, showing where they are right now and potentially where they’re heading.
Naturally, this evokes mixed responses from die-hard fans, as often, the resulting album won’t align with fans’ expectations or desires. At Robert’s, we analysed the most popular albums launched over the last five years to see whether they increased digital conversations surrounding an artist, and if so, were these conversations positive or negative in nature?
For each album launched, we looked at all conversations and comments made in the subreddit for the artist two weeks after release date, then conducted sentiment analysis to see whether these reactions were positive or negative.
An album released recently that was expected to take fans by storm was ‘Harry’s House’ from Harry Styles. However, our data shows that the album launch generated only 4,685 conversations, falling fifth from the bottom on our rankings. This was surprising due to his ‘Harries’ and their continued support through his solo career, not to mention his most recent UK tour which sold over 600,000 tickets. It is, however, not surprising that his fans were loving the album and the conversation saw a 0.3 rise in sentiment. ‘As it Was,’ a track on the new album, has been #1 on the global Spotify charts more than once and spent 72 days sitting in top spot.
Kids See Ghosts' 2018 self-titled album generated 61,622 conversations, increasing in negative sentiment to 0.01. Kid Cudi and Kanye West make up the duo, two artists who have collaborated frequently since 2008 but have also had several public disagreements. The album largely focused on themes of mental illness as a representation of the experiences that both artists had been through and saw formatting issues on the digital version with six of the songs being incorrectly titled and ordered, affecting the consumer listening experience, and a delayed listening party.
Perhaps unsurprisingly claiming second and third position in terms of conversations generated, was Taylor Swift with her 2020 album ‘Evermore’ and 2019 album ‘Lover’. ‘Evermore’ created 48,845 conversations because of its release, and received critical acclaim due to its character studies, experimental production, and Swift’s expressive vocals, it was also seen as a sequel to ‘Folklore’. Meanwhile, ‘Lover’ saw an increase in negative sentiment to 0.02, generating slightly less conversation at 45,637. The album was Swift’s seventh studio album, but the first to be released after exiting Big Machine Records, which saw a highly publicised dispute.
During speculation about his failing marriage to Kim Kardashian and after several release date pushbacks due to extended listening parties and an attempt to coincide with Drake’s ‘Certified Lover Boy’, Kanye’s 2021 album ‘Donda’ was finally released. The album launch generated 44,129 conversations in West’s subreddit and increased in sentiment to 0.04, showing that fans were mostly happy with the album.
In fifth position for most conversations generated was Travis Scott’s third studio album, ASTROWORLD in 2018. The album launch resulted in 39,965 conversations, falling behind Kids See Ghosts’ release of the same year. The album received critical acclaim and was praised for its composition and selection of featured artists, merging rap and psychedelic sounds.
Kendrick Lamar’s Mr Morale and the Big Steppers is also a noteworthy mention as it has generated the most conversations of 2022 so far, being one of the most highly anticipated albums within the rap community. Despite generating 35,615 conversations, our sentiment analysis showed that response was negative, with sentiment increasing to 0.01.
Albums that disappointed fans
The most disappointing album of 2020 was Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album ‘Folklore’. The album didn’t have a set release date and was instead launched as a surprise to fans, generating 32,691 conversations but a reduction of 0.05 in sentiment.
Following this was Idles’ ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ (2018), which ranked 2nd for negative sentiment at -0.03. The album has received critical acclaim; however, our results show that commentary around the album in the subreddit was less positive, perhaps because of the themes covered in the album.
Our research shows that Gunna’s 2022 album ‘DS4EVER' disappointed fans, with its launch reducing sentiment by 0.03 and failing to spark conversation, falling second from the bottom with 4,109 conversations. The album received mixed reviews from music critics but continued to perform well commercially, going down as Gunna’s second number-one album and blocking the Weeknd’s ‘Dawn FM’ from the top spot by around 2,300.
Ranking fourth was Phoebe Bridger’s ‘Punisher’ (2019), after fans listened to the album negative sentiment increased to -0.03 and ranked as the 4th worst in terms of unfavourable conversations because of an album launch, potentially because of the diversion away from her previous album sonically.
Surprisingly, ranking in fifth position was Ariana Grande’s 2019 album ‘Thank U, Next’. The album was conceptualised and created during a period of personal struggle, with the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller and the end of her engagement to Pete Davidson, the album depicting this through its more personal themes. The album resulted in a decrease of 0.02 in sentiment amongst fans despite receiving the highest Metascore of any of her albums, receiving an average score of 86 based on 24 reviews from mainstream critics.
Albums that the fans were loving
Janelle Monáe’s album, ‘Dirty Computer’ sparked a sentiment increase of 0.15, with the album being accompanied by a narrative film of the same name. It received universal critical acclaim upon release and was included in the top three of seven publications' Best Album of 2018 lists. It further received two nominations at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and debuted at number six on the Billboard 200.
James Blake’s 2019 album, ‘Assume Form’, which critics described as having a more upbeat sound, resulted in a sentiment increase of 0.12 when it came to fan commentary in the artist’s subreddit. A further nomination for ‘Best Alternative Music Album’ at the 62nd Grammy Awards displays the level of critical acclaim it also received.
‘An Evening with Silk Sonic’, the debut studio album by Silk Sonic, a duo composed of Bruno Mars and Anderson. Paak was clearly loved by fans with an increase of 0.11. For Bruno Mars, it was the most acclaimed album of his career, with the track ‘Leave the Door Open’ picking up four Grammys at the 64th Grammy Awards 2022.
Jack Harlow’s ‘Come Home the Kids Miss You’ provoked a 0.10 sentiment increase in Harlow’s subreddit. The single ‘First Class’ was his second song, and first solo song, to top the charts, sampling the 2006 Fergie song ‘Glamorous’, going viral on TikTok before its release and displaying heavily as a trending sound post release across Instagram Reels.
The 2022 debut self-titled studio album by Wet Leg was also met with universal acclaim from fans and music critics alike. The album topped the charts in Australia and the UK, and entered the top ten in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, and received a Metascore of 87 out of 100 based on 25 reviews, indicating ‘universal acclaim’. Our research showed that the release led to a 0.09 increase in sentiment when it came to fan conversations surrounding the band, ultimately showing their love for the album.
Top albums for the last 5 years were chosen from fan site AlbumOfTheYear taking only albums that appeared in the UK Top 10 charts. For each album, we looked at all the submissions and comments made in the subreddit for the artist in the two weeks after the release date. For albums that were collaborations we looked at the subreddit for each artist involved.
Each post's text was than analysed using Python's Natural Language Toolkit (Natural Language Toolkit) and VADER sentiment analysis to provide a normalised, weighted composite score between 1 (positive) and -1 (negative) - these scores were then averaged to show the change in sentiment in the period after release compared to the period before.