Deluxe Album Doesn’t Mean What It Used To


Written by T. Tian, Photo by Matthias Groeneveld

The rise of streaming services has significantly changed the music industry over the past decade; everything moves arguably faster in the age of Spotify and TikTok. Songs are made shorter so the same amount of time equates to more streams, and hooks are presented upfront so as to deliver instant catchiness and solicit for virality. Album cycles are arranged much tighter, because the public attention span has decreased, and long gaps between releases could be dangerous, especially for artists with moderate to no fan base. One certain phenomenon has arisen in recent years among artists looking to enhance exposure for a new album: they release a deluxe version of it quickly after. This trend does not seem to be dying down anytime soon - just in February, Gorillaz dropped a deluxe version of their new album Cracker Island three days after the original release; Don Toliver did the same for Love Sick with a four-day gap.

Make no mistake, the “deluxe version” of an album had a different meaning in the past. A common practice since the 2000s, deluxe albums would usually release simultaneously alongside the standard album and feature around two to five bonus tracks, or sometimes alternate versions of songs that failed to make the standard version. Naturally, the physical and digital retail price of a deluxe album would also be higher. Taking the best-seller of 2017, Divide by Ed Sheeran as a quick example, the standard version contains twelve tracks and was priced at $10.99 on the iTunes Store, whereas the deluxe version, available synchronously, was packaged with four more tracks at $12.99. Both versions have CD variants available, too, and consumers have the option to buy either upon release on March 3rd, 2017.

What is the point exactly, one might ask, of releasing two versions of one album at the same time? From an artistic perspective, the standard album alone is usually considered a complete and comprehensive body of work. The cohesiveness that lies within the specific song selection comprising the album might otherwise be compromised by the inclusion of songs that are out of place, either thematically or sonically. That said, those omitted songs are not necessarily equivalent to worse quality; artists might still want to release some of them, and fans probably also want to hear them. In this case, a deluxe version with these songs added as bonus tracks sounds sensible. Fans now have the option to pay just a tad more for extra music, while the general public could and would still tend to consume the standard version of the album. 

What has changed lately then? Around 2020 and 2021, artists started to release deluxe albums a while after the standard version; the interval between can range from just a few days up to several months. The start of the trend was attributed by some to rapper Lil Uzi Vert when they put out their studio album Eternal Atake on March 6th, 2020, and followed up just a week later with a deluxe version featuring 14 brand new tracks, titled Eternal Atake (Deluxe) - Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World 2. This special “deluxe” release not only came out asynchronously with the standard version, but also contained an entire side of new materials with a subtitle of its own, accompanied by a whole new cover art that bears no visual resemblance to the standard cover.

This rather new concept of “deluxe version” seems more similar to what’s usually known as a reissue. Before the digital era, albums would often get reissued for their anniversaries, as well as in newly popularized formats, such as when CDs took over vinyls in the 80s. Reissues in this sense, more specifically, serve to promote the sales of older catalog albums, but by the early 2010s, the music industry had become familiar with a new type of reissue - the expanded reissue. If an album performs well commercially, it might get reissued with extra music in just one year.

The trend of releasing expanded reissues is prevalent in the mainstream pop world from 2008 on. That is the year Rihanna released her reissued album Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded following the success of the original album in the prior year. Fearless by Taylor Swift and I Am… Sasha Fierce by Beyoncé, both released in 2008, each got reissued as platinum editions in 2009. Also riding the wave of reissuing successful albums were Lady Gaga with The Fame Monster, Usher with Raymond V. Raymond (Deluxe Edition), Katy Perry with Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection, Lana Del Rey with Born to Die: The Paradise Edition, Nicki Minaj with Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded the Re-Up, and more. Every one of these reissues came with new cover art as well as a set of new tracks, some of which even received single treatments and achieved chart success. More recent releases of such kind include Eminem’s Music to Be Murdered By - Side B (Deluxe Edition) in 2020 and Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia (The Moonlight Edition) in 2021.

As much as the Lil Uzi Vert situation felt like an extended reissue release, one significant difference should not be overlooked. Most of these instances of expanded reissues above came out at least nine to ten months after the original, where the success of the initial release served as a necessary condition for there to be a reissue at all. As for Lil Uzi Vert’s deluxe album, however, with only one week’s gap, it is apparent that it had long been part of the rollout plan. For over a decade, reissued albums packaged with bonus tracks have served to extend the album cycle, with maybe one or two more singles; it seems that the purpose has shifted to prolonging the release hype now that album cycles in general have shrunk.

Of course, not every artist releasing an asynchronous deluxe album nowadays fuels it with an entire side of new songs like Lil Uzi Vert did - most stick to just a handful of two to five, the traditional amount of bonus tracks on a deluxe album. Besides the aforementioned Gorillaz and Don Toliver, The Weeknd added three songs to 2020’s After Hours two weeks after release. Doja Cat added five to 2021’s Planet Her in two days, and Taylor added a generous seven tracks to 2022’s Midnights in three hours. While these releases, given the negligible gap, fall in the category of regular deluxe versions without much ambiguity, Justin Bieber further blurred the boundary between deluxe and reissue by making the tracklist of Justice grow twice in less than seven months, first from sixteen songs to twenty-two, then to twenty-five.

The obvious question remains: why haven’t artists started doing this earlier? For more than a decade, deluxe releases have remained strictly synchronous. There is also an obvious answer: streaming made it possible. Imagine if a Directioner (fan of One Direction) in 2013 just bought a CD of their latest album Midnight Memories, only to find a few days later they put out a deluxe version with four more songs. They would be outraged because now they have to buy another CD, “Why not give us the option upfront?” The same would apply to online purchases of digital albums, but not streaming. Thanks to streaming, consuming music is no longer an economic decision to make, and as a result, artists get to more casually release music. Almost too casual, one might argue, as we witness Gayle release seven different versions of “Abcdefu” and the Kid Laroi infinitely revamp his mixtape F*ck Love, currently at its fourth version. But at least we, as consumers, still get to pick and choose, don’t we? All we need to decide when SZA re-releases her highly successful SOS as a deluxe album in the next few months, is whether or not we tap on the green heart (now a plus sign) and add it to our library.


  • Eric Warren

    Excellent article!
    I have retired and my wife has given her support in me creating my “Man Cave”. I spoke to a dear friend last night and I shared my excitement! I told him that I had close to 300 CD’s and I looked forward to this digital experience! He said “CD’s??? They don’t play those any more!!! Now it’s called Streaming! Oh what a joyous laugh we had!
    Blessings to all!
    E. Warren

  • Marc

    Good article. Very insightful. You wrote about certain pop and rap albums. But, what about rock, metal and country? Maybe for a future writing? Thanks

  • ernie caplanson

    Thank You for A REALLY
    i am a fan of Q104.3 new yorks CLASSIC ROCK!!AWESOMEST #1DJ’s ROCKIN EXCELLENTLY!!..
    Tower Records is ALWAYS COOL!!..
    Q104.3 ROCKIN many many of these
    Thank You
    ernie caplanson

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.