During the COVID–19 pandemic, many recently announced records were postponed, creating a widespread sense of anticipation for music listeners. However, for albums that have already been long–awaited and repeatedly delayed, those feelings have morphed from excitement into disillusionment and ennui for many.
This is especially true for works like Rihanna and Lorde’s untitled ninth and third LPs, and Chromatics’ extensively teased Dear Tommy. All of these may represent peaks in the artists’ careers, at least in the minds of some fans, and have also already been awaited for years. Any of these projects may or may not finally be released in 2021. But will they be able to live up to their hype?
Rihanna’s ANTI (2016) signified a break from her prolific run of one studio album per year from 2005 through 2012, and was itself the victim of numerous obstacles to its release. This began with a false start in 2014, followed by singles like “FourFiveSeconds” and “Bitch Better Have My Money”—neither of which would make the final tracklist. To muddy the waters further, the album leaked prior to its release.
ANTI represented Rihanna at her greatest command of voice and art. Slow–burner ballads like “Love On The Brain” and “Higher” showcased a staggering and heretofore unexplored rawness in her vocal delivery. The album also managed to successfully conquer a number of seemingly disparate genres—rock (“Desperado”), dancehall (“Work”), trap (“Woo”), dubstep (“Needed Me”), and psychedelia (“Same Ol’ Mistakes")—with apparent ease. Five years on, and Rihanna’s follow–up to this magnum opus is still without a name or a set release date.
More recently, Rihanna aggravated fans clamoring for new material, which has yielded a relationship that borders on hostile. In mid–2019, one fan commented “ok now can u please go back to singing,” on an Instagram post, to which Rihanna scathingly replied: “i love how y’all tell me what to do. it’s great.” In a repeat of this on New Year’s Day of 2021, another fan comment, “[New Years’] Resolution should be releasing the album,” elicited an initial response from Rihanna that “this comment is sooo 2019. grow up.” Rihanna later changed the reply to “2021 energy.”
In an interview with Allure, Pharell Williams said, “Rih is in a different place right now. Like wow. She’s from a different world.” Rihanna herself has asserted that the album will be worth the wait. She has also stated numerous times that it will bear a reggae influence, corroborated by one possible demo leaked by singer–songwriter Skylar Grey last year.
Indeed, it's likely Rihanna’s new album will be good, but if it doesn’t stand out from the pack like ANTI did before it, will R9 be worth the wait?
A year after Rihanna released ANTI, Lorde released her own triumphant return to the stage with Melodrama. The eccentric song structures and vibrant instrumental palette pioneered by her sophomore effort have yet to be successfully replicated across much of popular music. This makes sense, given Lorde’s evocative grasp of melody and imagery (see: “Closin’ my teeth around this liquor–wet lime” from “Sober” or “Painted on the road / red and chrome / all the broken glass sparkling” from “Homemade Dynamite”).
Based on the sonic progression between her two previous releases, there’s no doubt that Lorde’s next project will carve a new path. That said, it’s doubtful whether or not that mythologized third album will meet the expectations of a new group of young adults desperately waiting for their own adolescent soundtrack. Releasing one generation–defining masterpiece is something few musicians can even aspire to, let alone two.
What has Lorde said about her supposedly upcoming album? Not much. Just earlier this month, her Twitter account was suspended due to inactivity. This indicates that Lorde likely isn’t under constant pressure from the general public. She hasn’t taken to the same teasing tactics as Rihanna either. Perhaps this stems from an incentive to be more secretive about her recording process when faced with a veritable crusade of hungry fans. In this vein, updates on L3 have been substantial, but few and far between.
In May of 2020, Lorde sent out an eloquent email, which included some scraps of information on the fate of the upcoming album. On the positive side, she’s back in the studio with Jack Antonoff, and writes of her new album that “It’s got its own colours now.” On the other hand, “It’ll take a while longer.” Later that year, she also detailed a trip to Antarctica—followed up with a book release—which apparently inspired the record’s title. Based on these updates, Lorde’s prospective release timeline is hard to pin down.
Both R9 and L3 have occupied periods of relative drought since their creators’ last full length projects, but one act in particular has remained highly prolific, while what may be their magnum opus has yet to see the light of day. Chromatics’ Dear Tommy was initially announced for release on Valentine’s Day of 2015, and now the seventh Valentine’s Day has just passed without a sound.
Dear Tommy was proposed as the follow–up to Chromatics’ previous release in 2012, Kill for Love. This movie–length career peak for the band showcased a near–perfect balance between luminescent synthpop cuts and filmic interludes, truly evocative of a major motion picture.
Despite the high standards set by their previous work, the early singles from Dear Tommy showed a band primed to top themselves. Any could be considered their best song ever: the new wave melodrama of “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around,” the frigid last dance of “Shadow,” or the sinister love letter of the title track. The latter song’s lyrics contain the couplet “I see your face / and it only twists the knife." In consistent fashion, the band released a song called “Twist the Knife” in 2019, as if they were in on the joke the whole time.
Rather paradoxically, Chromatics have released an entire album since they announced Dear Tommy. It just wasn't the album they promised, nor did it contain any of the singles from Dear Tommy. This album, Closer to Grey, had the roman numeral VII clearly depicted on its cover artwork, while Dear Tommy was set to be the canonical sixth full album from the band. This indicates that Closer to Grey was not intended to be released in lieu of Dear Tommy, but it still brings Dear Tommy dangerously close to “lost album” status.
Chromatics have developed a consistent reputation for teasing their fans as to the whereabouts of the album, even turning frustration at the lack of updates into branding. YouTube comments about the record will garner plenty of likes from Chromatics’ record label and replies like “enjoy the ride xoxo.” This constant balancing act of disappointment and reassurance keeps fans hooked into the masochism of Dear Tommy’s delayed release cycle. But they also must come to terms with the fact that the album may never even come out at all.
Even if Dear Tommy does drop, it’s impossible that fans will have all their expectations met without disappointment; after all, “Shadow” and “I Can Never Be Myself…,” have already been taken off the most recent iteration of the tracklist. In his 2015 track review of “Shadow,” Pitchfork critic Patric Fallon wrote that “This is a song about disillusionment, survival, and having the strength to move on.” As we anticipate the release of records like R9, L3, or Dear Tommy, the song’s sentiment becomes clearer with every passing year, until we finally decide to move on ourselves.