Music Mondays (5-29-17): Why I Avoid Singles

This is Music Mondays, a weekly music column.

Why I Avoid Singles

Music singles are like movie trailers to me. In the end, they are more likely to ruin the final product, so I avoid them.

Of course, the context is different for singles and movie trailers. Movie trailers tend to ruin the final film because they spoil parts of the plot or the best scenes in the movie. Music singles tend to ruin an album because they lead to disappointment.

This is not always the case. But before I make my argument, I should explain what a single is.

Singles are the songs that an artist releases to build excitement for their next album. Singles are released weeks to even months in advance of the full release. For most artists, two to three songs are released as singles, but in the most egregious examples, four to six songs are dropped before the album.

The record label Fueled by Ramen is the worst offender of this. Panic! at the Disco’s “Death of a Bachelor” had six songs released as singles prior to the album, which only had eleven tracks. That means Fueled by Ramen released over half of the album to build excitement for it.

As seen with “Death of a Bachelor”, singles are supposed to build “hype” among fans and new listeners for an album.

My argument is, if these tracks misguide a listener’s expectations for the final quality or style of an album, singles will inevitably leave listeners disappointed with the full record.

To use “Death of a Bachelor” as an example, Fueled by Ramen released the best songs from the album as singles. Before the full release, I was so impressed by the big pop-rock style and fun sound of these songs that I could not wait to hear the last five songs from the album. When the full record was released, I was naturally disappointed to hear the remaining songs were mostly stylistic rehashes of the singles.

Another example of an artist releasing their album’s best songs as singles was Spoon’s “Hot Thoughts”. My entire review revolved around the rest of the album paling in comparison to its absolutely amazing singles.

The crux of my argument is that singles are often the best songs from an album. This creates what I call the “single cycle”. (I just came up with it. I know it’s silly, but bear with me.)

The single cycle goes like this. First, an artist or record label releases an amazing song from an upcoming album. This song showcases a musical or lyrical style that is different or improved from an artist, and fans become extremely excited for the full record. Second, at least one more song is released that builds even more excitement than fans thought was possible. Third, the album is finally released, and listeners dissect the songs they have not already heard. Finally, the listeners realize the rest of the album is simply not as good as the singles.

Examples of the single cycle affecting me is Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love!”, Fitz & The Tantrums’ self-titled album, every Catfish and the Bottlemen record, and Gorillaz’ recent album “Humanz”.

The single cycle doesn’t necessarily ruin an album. In the end, I really enjoyed some of these aforementioned records, especially “Awaken, My Love!” and “Death of a Bachelor”. Nonetheless, I was still disappointed, which is never a great thing to say about an album that has excitement surrounding it.

While there are plenty of examples of “single cycle” albums, many artists are great at releasing singles that accurately depict what to expect from their record. Paramore’s “After Laughter”, Logic’s “Everybody”, Twenty One Pilots’ “Blurryface”, and Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn” exemplify artists that are good at releasing singles.

The only example that comes to mind of the reverse single cycle is Weezer’s “White Album”, which was my favorite album from last year. I did not like the single “Thank God for Girls” prior to the album, which actually diminished my excitement for the full release. When “The White Album” finally came out, “Thank God for Girls” was much better in context with the other songs, and I fell in love with the song. (I hope the same thing can be said for their next album because I dislike “Feels Like Summer”.)

At the end of the day, singles personally do more harm than good. I would rather listen to a single for the first time with the rest of the album. If the song is better than the rest of the album, then that’s too bad, but at least I didn’t build up weeks to months of excitement by listening to the single when it first released.

I know that artists and record labels won’t stop releasing their best songs as singles. I understand it makes the most sense from a financial standpoint, and I cannot fault them for that.

So, as the singles landscape is unlikely to change, and I would like to avoid disappointment, I choose to avoid singles.


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