If you visit Beyoncé’s Spotify page right now, you’ll see a familiar message: “Beyoncé’s album Lemonade is not currently available on Spotify. We are working on it and hope to have it soon.” Spotify has used this stalling device for other exclusives, including Adele’s 25, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, and Beyoncé’s own self-titled record from a few years ago. They were able to court all of those releases in less than a year, but Lemonade has been more elusive.
Beyoncé’s last album celebrated its first birthday yesterday, and it doesn’t seem any closer to jumping ship than it did last April, when a representative for Tidal said that they’ll be streaming the album “in perpetuity.” A Spotify rep told us there’s no update on its status. (We also reached out to reps for Tidal and Columbia Records, Beyoncé’s label.) You can still download it on iTunes, Amazon Music, or buy the physical copy at all major retailers—but Tidal remains the only place where you can legally hear the record without purchasing it. That makes Lemonade Tidal’s first long-term streaming exclusive, and one of the few examples of an album you can truly only stream in one place—Taylor Swift’s 1989 could have been another, but it has been, at one time or another, on multiple streaming platforms.
But has this done Beyoncé any good? Not if we’re going by the charts. As a Tidal shareholder, Beyoncé obviously benefits from any incentive the service can offer to boost membership. From the outset, Lemonade’s release at least boxed listeners into either a Tidal subscription or purchasing her record the old-fashioned way, likely helping her first-week traditional album sales (653,000 album equivalent units, and 485,000 traditional albums). But by keeping Lemonade on Tidal for this long after its release, she’s lost out on millions (no, billions) of streams to Spotify’s 100 million subscribers and Apple Music’s additional 20 million. A 2015 Billboard study broke down how singles would hypothetically suffer on the charts if they were Tidal exclusives, since they’d only be reaching five percent of all streaming users. The drawbacks ranged from marginal (Nicki Minaj’s “Truffle Butter” dropped from No. 15 to 19) to drastic (Kanye’s “All Day” plummeted from No. 62 to 84).
In its first week of release, every Lemonade song debuted on the Hot 100, making her the first female artist to chart 12 tracks at once. “Formation” debuted at No. 10 (remarkably, her first top 10 debut), “Sorry” at No. 11, and “Hold Up” at No. 13. But aside from “Sorry,” which held its place for one more week, every other track would decline in its second week—anywhere from three to more than 30 spots. Fast forward a month, and only “Sorry” remained in the top 40, barely hanging on at No. 39 (“Formation” had slid to No. 75, and “Hold Up” dipped to No. 93). No Lemonade song would go on to surpass its initial peak. Contrast this with Rihanna’s Anti singles, which also came all at once on Tidal (“Work” debuted just a few days before the album’s release) but were available to stream everywhere else the following week: “Work” opened at No. 9, before reaching No. 1 in its fourth week. “Needed Me” was a drastic started-from-the-bottom situation, debuting at No. 91 and gradually climbing to a peak of No. 7 that July.
And limiting your streaming audience won’t just harm single sales, either. In the long run, the choice to keep Lemonade exclusive to Tidal presents a stark difference from her A-list peers. If we take the top three albums from 2016 that were actually released in 2016—Drake’s Views, Lemonade, and Rihanna’s Anti—Beyoncé gets blown out in one key metric. I looked at their total album equivalent sales and traditional album sales to determine how much of a boost streaming provided to their total figure. This multiplier—we’ll call it the streaming steroid—divides their total sales by their traditional sales, and varied significantly for each artist. Drake, who was the most streamed artist last year (and of all time), surprisingly didn’t have the highest multiplier; that honor goes to Rihanna (3.26), who more than tripled her traditional sales through streaming. Drake was square in the middle (2.58), and Beyoncé was far behind with 1.41. This presents a chicken and egg question: Were Beyoncé’s traditional sales so high because streaming options were limited? But even if we bump Beyoncé’s multiplier up to 2.00, it would give her more than 900,000 additional units (3,108,000 on the year). That is an astonishing figure to sacrifice.
So why would Beyoncé want to keep missing out on 95 percent of the streaming audience? Given the secrecy surrounding Tidal’s stream totals (and allegedly illegitimate subscriber numbers), Beyoncé could have an enticing behind-closed-doors incentive to keep Lemonade on the platform. But taken on the surface, the decision to keep the album on her husband’s fledgling service has become a concurrent metaphor: Lemonade, which originally served to document how a fractured marriage can reconfigure into something fulfilling, has ended up mirroring her devotion to Tidal. Beyonce was typically coy about the inspiration behind Lemonade and how much should be read as autobiographical text. But we were given public reassurance that the rebuild was a success—Jay Z joined her onstage during the Formation Tour as something more than a punching bag. They campaigned together for Hillary Clinton. And this year’s absurdly lionized pregnancy photos solidified that calm had been restored in the Carter-Knowles household. And so it becomes fitting that one of pop culture’s defining documents of infidelity would eventually morph into a symbol of loyalty through its distribution.
Since 2016, Tidal has also lost much of its blockbuster clout. Last year, Kanye tweeted that The Life of Pablowould “never never never be on Apple”—until it was. An album that looked like it might be a permanent Tidal exclusive had moved to Spotify and Apple Music less than two months after its chaotic release. Other Tidal shareholders with high-profile releases, such as J. Cole with 4 Your Eyez Only, didn’t opt for a windowing period, debuting directly on Apple Music and Spotify. One of the service’s last remaining crown jewels—Prince’s catalogue—also jumped ship this February, and possibly against the late singer’s wishes.
Beyoncé’s reached the point of imperial stardom where she doesn’t need to worry about superficial goalposts, like extra platinum plaques or Album of the Year trophies. But neither does Drake, or Kanye, or Adele, or any other pop aristocrat who eventually gives in to all platforms. The rich get richer in the streaming wars, but Beyoncé seems too devoted to her husband’s contemporary relic to fully cash in. She’s riding shotgun off the cliff in this convertible, with little but Lemonade and Jay Z’s discography in the backseat.