Hooray for the Sketchy, Strange, Belated Arrival of Sky Ferreira's Album

The oft-delayed debut from a 21-year-old once tipped as the future of pop unceremoniously appeared at midnight—and that's what made it so rewarding for fans.
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Flickr / Abby Gillardi

Last night I waited up till midnight to buy the new Sky Ferreira album, Night Time, My Time. Or, rather, according to laptop timestamps, I held out until 11:12 p.m., when I found the record ready for sale on iTunes and downloaded it immediately. I could have waited a few more minutes. After all, the debut album from the 21-year-old has been in the works since 2007, when a teenage Ferreira, armed with nothing but MySpace demos, caught the attention of big-name pop producers and a million-dollar record contract that never yielded an album—until now. If there’s one thing to say about Sky Ferreira releases, past and present, it’s that they never go according to schedule.

Over the years Ferreira’s career has developed a tragic mythology. During her tenure at Capitol records, she was groomed to be the next Britney Spears, until her label reportedly decided that was no longer fashionable and lost interest. She recorded close to 400 songs, turned in record after record, and saw no progress. “They told me the nastiest things like, ‘Sorry, there’s already one girl coming out at the moment, we can’t do two,’” Ferreira told The Phoenix last year. 

As Nitsuh Abebe tells it in this week’s New York magazine’s profile of Ferreira, the standoff ended last year, when she leaked “Everything is Embarrassing,” an angsty collaboration with Dev Hynes (Solange, Blood Orange). The song’s surprising online popularity spawned the Ghost EP, an eclectic collection featuring a brooding, acoustic ballad, dizzying electro-pop, and an assist from Garbage’s Shirley Manson. Her label pushed to capitalize on the momentum with an album release, but Ferreira, unsatisfied with the finished product, fought them on it and ultimately won. Capitol gave up and told her to finish the album with her own money, so Ferreira regrouped in Los Angeles, where she cranked out a stylish, cohesive record, instantly and effortlessly.

“I literally wrote this album once everyone left me the fuck alone and stopped trying to to tell me what to do,” Ferreira told Stereogum a few weeks before the release. “I went in the studio, wrote and recorded all of the songs with Justin [Raisen] and Ariel [Rechtshaid], and literally cut like seven or eight songs in two weeks. We mixed it and mastered it and never looked back.”

A firm release date followed, as did an edgy (read: nude) album cover, revealing interviews in Pitchfork and Billboard, and a searing single, “You’re Not the One.” But despite the string of great publicity—and some not-so-great, she-got-arrested publicity—there was something peculiarly tentative about the album’s arrival. As October 29 loomed, it was difficult to confirm what was actually coming out when. Fans reported that their Amazon pre-orders were canceled, and release dates on the site switched to November. Other pre-orders promised limited-run Polaroids and digital downloads, but there was no mention of a physical copy—for all her struggles, it was, and still is, unclear whether Ferreira will get to hold her album in her hands. Judging by her tweets, Ferreira seemed just as clueless as her fans. Two days before the album release, she took to Facebook in a since-deleted post to announce that the vinyl edition of Night Time, My Time wouldn’t be ready in time, blaming unsupportive label staff for not doing their job. The campaign looked like a mess. As midnight approached, it seemed possible that the album might not show up.

But there was one little victory among Ferreira’s release-date struggles: The album never leaked, which is a pretty miraculous accomplishment these days. Even Kanye West’s Yeezus hit the Internet a few days ahead of schedule this past June, despite the numerous steps he took to avoid it: He set up his own studios, delayed the mastering of his record until the last minute, stored hard drives in portable briefcases, and even refrained from sending finished tracks over email. If fastidious Kanye can’t stop his own album from leaking despite his wealth of resources, how could Ferreira—who owes much of her career to leaked tracks—expect to avoid the same?

The joke was that no one cared enough about Ferreira anymore to take the time to leak it. A few corners on the Internet—primarily the @SkyFanFic account—have spun her career woes into a biting parody. A more likely theory is that her team was just stingy with advance copies of the record.

But rather than becoming an anticlimactic, pitiful rollout, there was something refreshingly old-fashioned about Night Time, My Time’s eventual arrival. For all its apparent mismanagement, waiting for the album was an almost communal experience. Fans in different countries waited eagerly for the clock to countdown to the same moment, anxious about whether they’d get a copy, even just a digital one. Except for the few lucky music writers, everyone—well, okay, everyone in the U.S.—got access to the same set of previously unheard songs at the same time. (iTunes is currently the album's only vendor, and services like Spotify aren’t streaming it.) Despite early reviews being mixed, a number of listeners skipped the 90-second previews and bought it right away. In many ways, the arrival of Ferreira’s long-awaited debut resembled a physical release in a pre-digital age. Instead of a decentralized collection of listening experiences that surround a date—early streams, leaks, buzz singles—Night Time, My Time felt like the kind of singular event that’s become increasingly rare among the ways artists release music.

So did it deliver? That depends on listeners’ taste for ‘80s new wave filtered through layers of grunge, decked out in denim and studded leather jackets. Album highlights “I Blame Myself” and “Love in Stereo” are slick synth pop, while the rousing opener “Boys” is a metallic wall of lo-fi noise. Somewhere in the middle is the shimmering “24 Hours,” which deserves every John Hughes soundtrack remark it’s gotten and will no doubt continue to get. On tracks like “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay),” where she sounds just like Ghost collaborator Shirley Manson, Ferreira grapples with the kinds of powerlessness and lack of agency she’s probably been putting up with since she stepped into the business. As a debut, Night Time, My Time is both an impressive artistic statement and a fitting declaration of independence after years of record-label politics gone wrong. For an artist whose big arrival has been repeatedly postponed and nearly derailed, it’s sweet to see Ferreira finally get her moment—one her fans took part in together.

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Nolan Feeney is a former producer for TheAtlantic.com.

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