I’m not a big trailer guy. If I’m in a movie theater, I can’t get enough of them — it’s fun to see what films are coming soon — but I don’t like watching them online. If I’m not being held captive at a multiplex, I’d rather preserve as much mystery as I can before I see the eventual film. I just feel like that’s more fun: Why know everything in advance?
In Hollywood, we get posters, first-look images, trailers, maybe even a clip or two before the movie premieres. But in music, promotion works a little differently. Normally, an artist will put out an advance single (or two or three) before the album drops. Maybe there will be a video. Eventually, we’ll see the album cover. But my absolute favorite part of a forthcoming album’s rollout is when the musician reveals the tracklist. Is there anything more exciting than reading a bunch of song titles?
Last night, Harry Styles divulged the tracklist for Harry’s House, his heavily anticipated new record, which comes out May 20th. Obviously, anything the 28-year-old superstar does right now is newsworthy, but it’s always amusing when the press breathlessly reports on an album tracklist. Vulture had a little fun with it, joking about “[fans’] annoyance at the white text on a yellow background,” but most sites — whether it’s Billboard or NME — simply dutifully listed the names of the album’s 13 tracks. Please look at this assortment of words.
My objection to online movie trailers is that I don’t want things spoiled for me, so what I find endlessly amusing about tracklist announcements is that, in theory, they ought to be perfectly tailored to me. After all, a tracklist reveal really doesn’t tell you anything more about the forthcoming album than you knew already. Okay, you now are aware how many songs will be on Harry’s House — and in what order — but there’s always a strange anticlimactic feeling to looking at a tracklist. Once you know what the song titles are… that’s kinda about it. Oh, hey, the new songs he did at Coachella are here — that’s cool. And he thinks of Harry’s House as an old-school record with a Side A and a Side B — that’s fun. But overall, a tracklist announcement is a pointless tease. It’s a gambit to keep you excited for an album — albeit in the easiest, laziest way possible.
Styles is hardly alone in this strategy. Future and Pusha T also both recently unveiled the tracklist for their records, although I’d argue those were a little more noteworthy because at least in those cases we learned who would be guesting on individual tracks. Even so, the empty excitement of the tracklist announcement is symptomatic of an entertainment industry geared to keeping you psyched for something very exciting that’s just about to happen. We’re never really enjoying the new album or movie — we’re meant to be in a perpetual giddy crouch as we prepare to pounce on what comes next.
In such an environment, it’s either touching or heroic that Sharon Van Etten told fans that for her forthcoming album, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, she won’t put out any advance singles. “I wanted to approach this release differently, to engage my fans in an intentional way, in an effort to present the album as a whole body of work,” she wrote. “These ten songs are designed to be listened to in order, at once, so that a much larger story of hope, loss, longing and resilience can be told.” Granted, that announcement included the album’s tracklist, but the only advance she’s dropped is a 45-second promo that’s like a trailer for We’ve Been Going.
Album trailers are nothing new, of course: Styles did one for Harry’s House and Kacey Musgraves created a teaser clip for Star-Crossed. But where movie trailers generally contain the film’s best moments, an album trailer is often an impressionistic idea of what the artist thinks his or her album is about. In other words, they can’t really “spoil” anything because albums don’t have plot points or big twists. An album trailer gives you a sense of what a record feels and sounds like, while a movie trailer is utterly literal: Here’s what you’ll see when you watch this film.
No doubt Styles’ biggest fans will obsess over that tracklist, wondering if “Grapejuice” is a banger or if “Love of My Life” is about girlfriend Olivia Wilde. (No doubt some of his supporters will be tricked by random YouTube trolls, who pretend to be releasing official audio of the songs, only to be greeted by a bunch of stately piano and bizarre sound effects.) To be clear, I’m not throwing shade at the Harries but, rather, at the industry practice of teasing us with song titles before an album comes out. It’s like a book where you only know the chapter titles — or a menu with just the names of the food and no descriptions.
But as much as I find the phenomenon of tracklist announcements amusing, they do have one clear benefit: Looking over those titles, you’re free to imagine all types of possibilities for what those songs could be, what the album might sound like, how good the whole record will be. Right now, Harry’s House is rich with endless potential. Unlike movie trailers, which tend to narrow my expectations to a series of concrete images, a tracklist keeps an unheard record feeling wide open, unsullied, perfect. I have no idea what “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” is, but I’m happy to wait to find out.