Those of us who have had the privilege of attending live performances understand the joy that accompanies never-before-seen musical performances from our favorite artists. It’s the calm in the storm during a live performance, a way for the artist to reclaim the stage and keep their fanbase guessing, a way to keep the setlists interesting.
However, some artists never release the songs they tease. Traditional artists have mastered this baiting technique; Clairo’sfavoritism“, Harry Styles”Medicine“, by Lizzy McAlpine”You ruined the 1975“, “Strange” by Olivia Rodrigo and “Lana Del Rey”Meet me in the pale moonlightare notable examples. Due to their popularity, fans have found ways to upload and stream unreleased songs via podcast episodes on Spotify, SoundCloud songs or clips on TikTok. These platforms make these songs accessible to fans who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to catch live performances of what could become their favorite songs.
It’s no mystery why these songs are gaining such popularity – the intimacy of hearing unreleased music straight from the source lends an air of exclusivity the artist can’t recreate anywhere else. In a world where you have to prove your devotion to your favorite songs – “name three Nirvana songs” – finding these unreleased niche songs from artists is like hitting the lore jackpot of an artist. The tracks quickly become a secret known only to fans indoctrinated into the musician’s universe and unwittingly become the foundation of the artist’s fan community. But if these songs are so popular and loved, why are artists hesitant to give fans what they want?
There is a duality in the artist’s treatment of the song; many do not acknowledge its existence, letting the music fade away and remember only the few fans present for this groundbreaking moment in this artist’s history and others who choose to succumb to fan pressure and release the song as a nod to their devoted fanbase.
Lizzy McAlpine illustrates the first. His refusal to acknowledge his viral song “You Ruined the 1975” comes from a place of valuing art. In 2020, Lizzy McAlpine posted a clip of a catchy guitar hook accompanied by the lyrics “You ruined 1975 / Now I’m listening and thinking about getting high / In your room the windows open / Mama’s home home but we’re still smoking,” which amassed 9.5 million views. McAlpine’s fan base grew exponentially as many people discovered her through this song and asked her when it would be released.
McAlpine rejected the idea of releasing it entirely, responding to fan requests in a ICT Tac in 2022, when she admitted to disliking the song. “If I can’t stand a song I put out and say, ‘That’s fucking awesome,’ then what do I do? What’s the point?” The singer explained that she fears that the popularity of this song will overshadow her other work which she enjoys more. The song’s popularity was hard to ignore, she said in a interviewbecause “I was about to turn off Give me a minute. I was afraid no one would want the album I’ve been working on for so long, they would just want this song.
However, on that latter side, other artists are playing on the song’s popularity, teasing fans with it on live broadcasts, but still not releasing it. Harry Styles’ “Medicine” is a perfect example. Styles performed this song for more than five years after debuting the unreleased hit on his first solo Live On Tour. “Medicine” quickly became a fan favorite, with entire stadiums singing the lyrics back to Styles, even now five years later, despite no official recording of the song available anywhere.
Harry Styles appeared on the Howard Stern show in 2022 and told the host he didn’t release “Medicine” because many of the songs from his self-titled debut solo album sounded similar. “It was one of the first songs I wrote for my debut album, and when we started writing the album, I felt like I had a bunch of songs that sounded like Medicine,” did he declare. “He didn’t quite reach the finish line. It’s really fun to play live. I really like playing it. Sonically, Styles moved away from his old style of soft rock, leaning more towards pop-oriented music; it seems fans are out of luck and tracks like “Medicine” and “Anna“may never see the light of day.
All hope is not lost for fans of unreleased music, as artists like Billie Eilish testify to the release of older music despite not fitting their current image or style. In November 2018, a young Eilish sang the song “i wish you were gay” on a instagram live. After hitting the heights of popularity after her debut EP “don’t smile at me” in 2017, fans were jumping on the following live streams asking Eilish to play the song. Eventually, Eilish released the song from her debut album “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO,” making it accessible and soothing to longtime fans.
An even more recent example of artists placating their fans with their art is Beabadoobee”glue song.” The British singer began performing this song on her Beatopia Tour where fans immediately felt attached to this tender love song, demanding to bask in the pure, lovesick adoration Bea described. Following her performance of the song to NPR Small office gig, the artist announced his next release for Valentine’s Day. Beabadoobee has a tight-knit fanbase that she regularly interacts with through her Tik Tok and teased and joked about with her comments section share “I s2g one more [negative comment] and you don’t understand the song. Recognizing people’s desire for song while setting boundaries through humor, Beabadoobee is a perfect example of artists acknowledging their ability to hold back their art but still wanting their audience to interact with it.
Other artists aren’t as generous with their fans. Unfortunately, as music lovers, it’s not up to us, but while your favorite song may be locked away in a safe held captive by your favorite artist, there’s a level of community that unreleased songs provide – easy community. to look for for fans. Unreleased songs bring together fans who have had the opportunity to experience those songs and contribute to an artist’s surge in popularity. Many times it sparks debates among fans regarding their favorite unreleased songs and lyrics, and promotes conversation about when or if the song will ever be released. Fan involvement in artist releases is a double edged sword, on the one hand it creates community and common ground for the fanbase or it can create a frustrating environment for the artist who feels tied to the art he does not support. Whatever the outcome, it’s an irrefutable fact that fans shape artists’ culture and releases; forming bonds and solidarity within a fanbase and beyond, speaking to the profound impact music has on all of us.