When Nancy Ajram quietly dropped the first single, Hobbak Bi Ye'wa, from her highly anticipated coming album Nancy 10 last week, it was done so without fanfare.
Not only did she release the song overnight on Friday, May 28 without any prior warning, Ajram only acknowledged the release later that afternoon, simply tweeting: “We are just getting started”.
Mystery and surprise seem to be the lynchpin of Nancy 10's marketing strategy.
While an official release date is not known, members of Ajram’s camp reportedly stated the album will drop within the first 10 days of June, and be preceded with further surprise singles and videos.
It seems the plan is working: the video for Hobbak Bi Ye'wa received one million views on YouTube within 24 hours, and the Nancy 10 hashtag trended regionally on Twitter.
New album hints of escapism and introspection
Hobbak Bi Ye'wa is not so much a change of direction but a welcome refresh.
Composed by Walid Saad, with lyrics provided by Khaled Tajeldine, the track is a fun melange of Egyptian pop and folk.
The latter is represented through the powerful percussion coursing all the way through, while the former is found in the dialect and the compressed harmonies that define the genre.
Ajram trialled her first album in four years with a short promotional video earlier this month. The 42-second clip shows Ajram walking along a beach, through parks and empty rooftops, as well as staring out of a car window.
While she doesn't directly address Nancy 10, she suggests the work features themes of introspection and adventure.
"How many times did you leave and found yourself in the arms of people you love? How many times while running did you find sounds you've never heard before," she narrates.
"Go back to the first time you decided to look for something else. Think of a single melody you love, you will know that music is your only escape.”
While a new Ajram album guarantees publicity, Nancy 10 will be met with extra scrutiny from fans and critics looking for references to the tumultuous period the star has experienced over the past 18 months.
In January 2020, Ajram experienced a Beirut home invasion in which an intruder was shot and killed, resulting in her husband's subsequent arrest, while earlier this year she gave a scathing critique of the Lebanese government's response to the pandemic and the aftermath of the deadly Beirut port explosion.
“There is nothing more difficult than not knowing what is to come,” she said in an interview with local broadcaster LBC.
“It is difficult to really express this tiredness we feel as Lebanese. And this is not because of the home quarantine, rather it is thinking about the unknown fate that awaits us."
Others will be watching
Fellow artists will surely follow the reception of Nancy 10.
With the shuttering of venues and festivals, numerous singers have yet to unveil new albums amid the pandemic.
Despite releasing singles, planned albums by Najwa Karam, Tamer Hosny and Ragheb Alama are yet to be heard.
However, those who have released new material, including Egyptian pop king Amr Diab (Ya Ana Ya La), Lebanese chanteuse Elissa (Sahbit Raey) and Emirati diva Ahlam (Fedwat Oyouna), have found it has quenched the need of a thirsty audience.
Through a combination of sheer star power and an omnipresent social media presence, all managed to have their works trending on social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube upon release.
Only time will tell if Ajram’s new work can also score a perfect 10.