Olivia Rodrigo’s sophomore album is 39 minutes long, causing an uproar among fans on social media. But does an album clocking in at under 40 minutes really matter?
With the release of Olivia Rodrigo’s tracklist for her much-anticipated second album, “Guts,” came the reveal of the album’s total running time of 39 minutes — leading to a swath of complaints on social media. But one fan pointed out that Rodrigo’s debut album clocked in at 34 minutes — so why do so many seem to feel they’ve somehow been shortchanged?
“I think I’m speaking for everyone who feels like we miss when albums used to be longer than an hour,” wrote one disappointed fan. But how true is that for the majority of listeners?
Notably, 39 minutes is around the average album length when the primary distribution method was vinyl. Format limitations meant that artists could only fit approximately 18 minutes of music on each side of a vinyl album without risking a loss in sound quality.
Of course, there were exceptions, such as Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren, who pushed the envelope with their “groove-cramming” — Costello coined the term on his 20-track 1980 album “Get Happy!” — but an overwhelming amount of classic and beloved albums clock in at under 40 minutes.
Albums such as the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Revolver,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” and countless others have a total running time of less than 40 minutes. Aretha Franklin’s “Lady Soul” is only 29 minutes long.
But even contemporary artists are releasing shorter albums, and often fans seem to be okay with it. PinkPantheress’ 2021 release “To Hell With It” is 18-and-a-half minutes long, with ten songs. Ice Spice’s deluxe edition of “Like..?” features 11 songs in 24 minutes — three tracks and eight minutes more than the original version. Sam Smith’s “Gloria” features 11 songs in 33 minutes.
How many CDs did we buy in the ’90s and early 2000s with one or two hits and an hour or more of filler? In the streaming era, shorter, more succinct releases would reasonably be the order of the day, especially coupled with the rise of short-form video on social media platforms like TikTok. But many artists continue to release longer albums, even for no reason other than to pad their streaming numbers. Quantity only sometimes equals quality.
When Olivia Rodrigo’s new album “Guts” releases next month, fans can enjoy all 39 minutes for the cost of a streaming subscription.