Madonna's "Rebel Heart" album.

Madonna's "Rebel Heart" album. Credit: Interscope Records

Madonna's spectacular stumble from the stage at The Brits award show pretty much embodies the rocky rollout of her 13th album "Rebel Heart" -- not because she fell down, but because of the way she got back up.

"Rebel Heart" (Interscope), which hits stores on Tuesday, had the problematic distinction of being leaked even before its existence was publicly announced by Madonna, even before she finished it.

"This is artistic rape!" Madonna wrote on Instagram after the leak, though she later deleted the post. "This is a form of terrorism . . . Why do people want to destroy artistic process? Why steal? Why not give me the opportunity to finish and give you my very best?"

Leaks are nothing new -- especially in the music industry, where bootleg CDs and cassettes were sold on street corners for years before the whole enterprise moved online. But hackers and leakers are growing increasingly aggressive, as the North Korean cyber-attack on Sony Pictures and the hacking and release of many celebrities' private nude photos have shown. And as artists and their teams become increasingly aggressive in combating leaks, some retailers have become collateral damage in the battles.

The leak of Madonna's "Rebel Heart" on Dec. 16 was particularly brutal. Since she wasn't planning on releasing the album until the end of April, the songs that were leaked weren't even finished yet.

To add even more pressure, Apple's iTunes was shutting down for the Christmas holiday that week, with no music being released on the service until after the new year. Madonna's choices were to either rush to complete some of the songs by Dec. 19 so they could be released on iTunes or wait until 2015 to address the leaked material.

In true Madonna fashion, she decided to fight. "Madonna was pretty adamant that we should go immediately, that we should put out as much of the finished music as we could," her manager Guy Oseary told Billboard. "There was a lot of talk about the many reasons why it didn't make sense . . . But she was adamant that she didn't want people to think those were the finished tracks."

She quickly completed six of the tracks and released them on iTunes on Dec. 20, calling them "an early Christmas gift." Fan support was massive, sending all six of the songs to the top of the iTunes singles charts, while preorders for "Rebel Heart" topped the iTunes album charts in 36 countries, according to Billboard.

Björk's reaction to the leak of her "Vulnicura" (One Little Indian) album two months before its release was, in some ways, even more drastic.

When Björk learned in January that the entire album, which is about the breakup of her relationship with artist Matthew Barney, leaked online, she decided to release it on iTunes as fast as possible.

"I had one thing going for me -- the album was mastered and ready," Björk told the BBC. "I don't know how I would have reacted if it was four months before. It might have been messier . . . And I think also, because of the nature of the album for me emotionally, it's the sort of subject matter where I really wanted to just get it out of the way, over and done with it. My gut reaction was immediately like that. It was an immediate album, and I did it so quickly, and it was like 'Oh, it's leaked, let's just put it out.' "

The CD and vinyl versions of "Vulnicura" still don't hit stores until March 24. And for some CD distributors and retailers that's a major problem.

According to Billboard, Rough Trade Germany told Björk's label that they would refuse to work with her in the future if she released the entire album early.

Karl Groeger, CEO and president of Looney Tunes, the West Babylon store that is one of the biggest, most-respected independent record stores in the country, says he understands the anger about the idea of rush-releasing albums only on iTunes to deal with leaks.

"It is unbelievably frustrating that one retailer is allowed to sell early, while the others are left to pick up the crumbs," Groeger says. "It should be a level playing field."

Though manufacturing vinyl albums is still a relatively complex process, producing CDs can be done quite quickly. "People still want physical products," he says, adding that sometimes leaks are simply part of the publicity process for a new release. "Even after 15 years of talk about how digital is the way to go, physical CDs still outsell digital releases."

Groeger points to the blockbuster sales of Taylor Swift's "1989" album, 2014's top seller, as a way to keep retailers and fans of physical CDs happy, by giving customers multiple versions of the album and putting extra care into the packaging.

For "Rebel Heart," Madonna seems to have taken those customers into account, offering a standard 14-track version and a 19-track deluxe version in physical and digital formats, as well as a 25-track "super-deluxe" version as a two-CD set and on vinyl.

Madonna says these versions of "Rebel Heart" capture the way she wanted the songs to be heard. "I deeply appreciate my fans who have provided us with pertinent information and continue to do so regarding leaks of my music," she wrote in a Facebook post following the arrest of the accused leaker in Israel. "Like any citizen, I have the right to privacy. This invasion into my life -- creatively, professionally, and personally -- remains a deeply devastating and hurtful experience, as it must be for all artists who are victims of this type of crime."


No 'holiday' from leaks


On Dec. 16, before Madonna had even confirmed an album's existence or announced a title, 13 of her songs -- described as her new album, but in reality unmastered demos -- appeared online. She and her teamed leaped into action.

Here's what followed:

DEC. 20 Madonna releases six of the songs as "an early Christmas present," including the first single "Living for Love," which was originally slated to be released on Feb. 10, and "[Expletive], I'm Madonna," a collaboration with Nicki Minaj that had not been leaked. The songs immediately shoot to the top of the iTunes charts around the world.

DEC. 24 Another 13 Madonna demos leak online, including "Iconic" featuring Chance the Rapper and "Veni, Vidi, Vici" featuring Nas.

JAN. 22 Aspiring Israeli singer Adi Lederman is arrested in Tel Aviv, accused of leaking songs from "Rebel Heart." Lederman denies the allegations via his attorney, according to The Associated Press.

FEB. 3 All the songs from the deluxe version appear online in some form.

FEB. 5 Madonna releases the video for "Living for Love," on Snapchat.

FEB. 9 Following her Grammys performance, Madonna releases three more songs from "Rebel Heart" -- "Hold Tight," "Joan of Arc" and "Iconic" -- which immediately take the Top 3 spots on iTunes.

FEB. 23 Lederman is indicted on charges of computer trespassing, secret monitoring, copyright infringement and obstructing investigation, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

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