Tidal: Jay Z Packs The Musical Titanic With Superstars, and The Ship is Already Sinking


Remember the deal Jay Z made with Samsung, to deliver his new album via their new app? The wild promotion, the insane promise of a new era of multimedia immersion?

Yeah, I barely do either. Because it was a failure. The album sales numbers were falsely inflated as a result of the deal, and the deal did nothing to create a new promotional platform for artists. 

Monday afternoon in New York, history repeated itself as Jay Z led a superstar collection of musicians who were introduced as “owners” of the new Tidal music service, which was described in what amounted to a marble-mouthed circlejerk of self-congratulatory rhetoric about revolutionary industry change. On hand for the presentation as part owners of the company were Alicia Keys, Win Butler & Régine Chassagne, Beyoncé, Calvin Harris, Chris Martin, Daft Punk, Jack White, Jason Aldean, J. Cole, Jay Z, Kanye West, Deadmau5, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Usher. We got the Nietzsche quotes, we got a dystopian Radiohead song as they made an elaborate showing of everyone signing their declaration of intent. The drama could only have been amplified if Beyonce did interpretive Illuminati dancing during the presentation. 


But guess what? You’re being suckered, glitter in the face as your favorite headliner goes for your wallet. Charging people $20 a month for good sound and non-exclusive HD music videos about two decades after the world stopped giving them a central marquee? That’s retarded. Now this special crew of multimillionaires have banded together to demand that you pay money BEFORE you hear any music. To hell with upstarts, indie bands and hopeful talents. Oh, while we’re at it, the service is painfully flawed in both search functionality and streaming capability.

Please try it out! But first, we’ll need a credit card

The press conference made valiant attempts to provide reasons for people to give all their money to millionaires for shit they can get for free. But wait, does Tidal provide a free option? If it did, we’d all be messing around with it right now, discussing what’s good, what’s not, how it compares and integrates within our existing ecosystem of entertainment. The “30 day free trial” requires a credit card. Why would we pull out our wallets for something Jay can’t even properly explain, let alone the $10/month base fee for “Standard sound quality”? We already have Spotify. 

Why are we even having this conversation? Have these people never heard of YouTube? Vimeo? Even with the promise of “rough tracks” and more exclusives, we’re living in an era where exclusivity is an ignorant delusion. The integration and culture of a service is its staying power.

Does this thing even work?

However, it has to work before the conversation can even begin. But as Business Insider points out, a search for “Jay Z” does not turn up anything by Hova, and the much-touted editorials and artwork are often missing. Furthermore, even on a fast internet connection you’re getting serious lagtime. Who cares about streaming top-quality sound if you can’t even listen without interruption?

Tidal is dead on arrival. Nobody can be bothered to give a shit, because Jay is failing at his original game. All drug dealers know the best way to hook a new customer – give him a taste for free. Tidal provides none of that. Just a lot of smiling stars with a share in the sparkly new pie. 

But are they willing to lose millions while it finds its footing? Hell no they’re not. They’re still riding on licensing from their respective labels, this isn’t a gathering of notable independent investors. And while Tidal flounders in its unappealing bid to have us open our wallets before we’ve sampled the goods, it’ll be prime-time viewing to watch how quickly these stars disappear from the Tidal banner in the coming months.

Uhh, Jack? What the hell?

Meanwhile, the service is muddy in specs but huge on hyperbole, and there’s more vapid star power than the Grammys up in that press conference. Then we see Jack White shitgrinning alongside Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. That’s right, the guy who made a guitar out of a fucking coke bottle and a piece of wire in It Might Get Loud and built a career out of avoiding the digital world is now rubbing caricature elbows and talking up a service that amounts to just another way to access the most accessible of shitty music. 

Yet, Jack’s heart can’t be in this game. His own Third Man Records is dominating Nashville’s rock revival, nearly singlehandedly cultivating a vinyl resurgence with killer music and weird evolutions of vinyl tech (not to mention he presses his own), and cornering the market on costly music subscription services – a yearly run of member fees in TMR’s The Vault is $240. But hell, at least you get some vinyl to hold at the end of that barrel-bend.

Even Detox can’t save you 

Jay Z is creatively finished. He crested on The Black Album, and every comeback since has been a shadow of his previous work. If he shines on WTT 2, we’ll celebrate it – but let’s stop pretending Jay has anything more to say in the rap game. 

He knows it, too. That’s why he’s moving into the white collar game. But he’s out of his goddamn mind if he thinks a bunch of prop-star friends are going to take a bite out of Spotify’s domination, Apple’s big money plans and Rdio’s persistence. He could put the mythologized Detox album on there with HD video of Dr. Dre taking a creamy shit all over a pair of Beats headphones while Jimmy Iovine was still wearing them – and they still wouldn’t move the needle. 

The fact is, nobody cares about Detox anymore. Dre’s window has passed, and too much talent has grabbed the wheel in his absence. Nobody needs Grandpa Gangster reminding everybody how badass he was once, just as nobody needs their intelligence insulted with the idea that Jay Z can step into the streaming game. This isn’t his world, and no star-power friends are going to change that. 

In two months, when we’re laughing at the abstract memory of that weird service Jay Z tried to start, the next entrepreneurial celebrity will announce a new service ushering the new era of something else. Maybe Neil Young will make his Toblerone MP3 player cheaper, and we’ll have to watch as he withers on the headline vines as his clunky design and unscalable model fails. Whatever the case, artists chasing the big business money is an ugly ambition, especially when they’re trying to build empires on the backs of their fans with a service nobody wants.