No 'Beyonce' Strategy for Mariah Carey's New Album

11:58 AM PST 04/28/2014 by Andrew Hampp, Billboard

Is Mariah Carey actually pulling a "Beyonce" with her upcoming 14th album? Depends on whom you ask.

In an interview for a Billboard cover story, on newsstands today, Mariah Carey indicated that a Beyonce-esque approach was afoot for the project, explaining that she wanted her fans to hear the album “as a body of work” and experience it “as if they were listening to it with me for the first time.” Specifically, she wanted to be the one to announce the album’s title, which takes its name “from a personal possession of mine that’s part of an entity I’ve had almost all of my life.”

Though she never explicitly said the album would be a surprise release, subsequent interviews with Jermaine Dupri and two sources familiar with the album’s planned distribution confirmed that a digital-first, everything-at-once strategy was in the works. Dupri even went so far as to compare the plan to the way Beyonce let the fans democratize the typical album rollout. “The challenge with Mariah has always been if I like one record and she likes another, you can never pick a single that satisfies everybody,” he said. “If you just did what Beyonce did, she just gave you 17 singles and you picked which record you like.”

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But Def Jam, Carey’s label, is now telling a different story. According to Laura Swanson, the label’s executive vp media, the album will, in fact, be preceded by a traditional strategy leading up to a “late May” simultaneous digital/physical street date. “Mariah will announce the date and title in advance of the on-sale date,” she said, noting that the cover and confirmed track list will all be included.

Swanson had initially declined comment for Billboard’s cover story before it hit subscribers last Friday (April 25), with Carey’s publicity team at PMK-BNC only indicating that the album’s initial release date, May 6, was inaccurate. Def Jam Recordings CEO Steve Bartels refused to answer specific questions about the release.

If Def Jam sounds nervous, it’s understandable. The album was initially on track for a May 2013 release, before being pushed to July 23 and eventually shelved indefinitely while Carey recuperated from a July 2013 shoulder injury. Though the summer 2013 release date would have capitalized on the momentum from the hit Miguel duet “#Beautiful,” which peaked at No. 15 on the Hot 100 with sales of 1.2 million copies, the rollout since then has been troubled. “The Art of Letting Go,” a song Dupri dubs as a “preview track” that was released in November, came and went to little fanfare. And the project’s next official single, “You’re Mine (Eternal),” stiffed with sales of 56,000 copies and one week on the Hot 100, where it debuted and peaked at No. 88.

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As for Carey, she seemed to be relishing the chance to indulge her inner perfectionist with this project, acknowledging that it’s been her longest gap between albums. During her April 21 interview with Billboard, Carey seemed to believe that a May 6 release date was still plausible, and that she could still “hand in the master at the very last minute.” Indeed, she tweeted over the weekend a picture of a New York City rainbow with the caption “Studio break!”

“People don’t understand, it could be one word, the way I pronounce something, or a keyboard level I want to be raised up in the mix,” Carey explained of the prolonged album-tweaking process. “I gave the directive it wasn’t done, and that’s the way I am. I can’t help it because in the past, I had to leave things that bothered me or point certain things out to other people. You would think I would be all about the singles-driven situation, and I am in a way, but with this particular album I want my fans to hear it as a body of work.”

This article first appeared on Billboard.com.

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