That’s because the “surprise album” is now dead.
Obviously, none of this is Rihanna’s fault. She didn’t kill the “surprise album.” Creating any work of art, much less a large-scale work of high-pressure creative collaboration like a modern major-label pop album, requires time, concentration, and coordination. Rihanna, as an artist and pop icon, owes the world nothing. The “surprise album” aspect of ANTI and any feelings of surprise feigned upon its release are merely casualties of a phrase that has lost all meaning. Thankfully, the era of the “surprise album” is ending.
It's not a surprise if you see it coming
The ubiquity of the “surprise album” over the last three years has rendered the entire concept obsolete. In 2013 and 2014, releases as varied as J. Cole’s Forest Hills Drive, U2’s Songs of Innocence, and David Bowie’s The Next Day all arrived with little warning and unconventional (or, in U2’s case, unwelcome) promotional fanfare. This year, Björk, Miley Cyrus, and Madonna each tore pages from the Beyoncé playbook with their respective projects, indie stalwarts Beach House released a “surprise album” only months after dropping their newest full-length in a more traditional manner, and Wilco put out an album called Star Wars that featured a cat on its cover. The tactic became so ubiquitous that The Verge created a flowchart just to separate the real surprises from the fakes.