It's the Friday the 13th gift we didn't even know we wanted.
With absolutely no fanfare or advanced hype, Beyoncé released her fifth solo album – a full-length, self-titled "visual album" exclusively on iTunes. For $15.99, fans can purchase the entire album of 14 original songs and 17 music videos. And for the completist Beyoncé devotee in your life, physical copies of the album, a double disc CD/DVD, will be available just in time for the holidays.
Beyoncé features former Destiny's Child bandmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, as well as performers like Justin Timberlake, Frank Ocean and Drake. It's also a family affair; Jay-Z and little Blue Ivy guest on a few of the tracks. Thirty-second previews of the videos are also available on YouTube.
To call Beyoncé's public persona carefully constructed is something of an understatement. In February, she directed and executive produced Life Is But a Dream, a documentary about her life for HBO. With that in mind, her reasoning for the stealth release doesn't come as much of a surprise.
"I didn't want to release my music the way I've done it…I am bored with that. I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans," the singer said in a statement released today. "There's so much that gets between the music, the artist and the fans. I felt like I didn't want anybody to give the message when my record is coming out. I just want this to come out when it's ready and from me to my fans."
With this emphasis on the visual, it looks like music videos are having something of a moment. At the end of November, Pharell Williams (also credited on Beyoncé) released his 24 Hours of Happy video project, essentially a 24-hour music video. And whatever your opinion of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke, it's tough to argue with the sheer ubiquity and surprising longevity of the "We Can't Stop" and "Blurred Lines" music videos, both of which were directed by music industry vet Diane Martel.
It would seem that the question at hand is simply: what other brands or artists have the star power to work in this way? Is this the future of music promotion (the distinct lack of it), or for now just a marketing ploy of the chosen and very famous few? Time will tell – but until then, all hail #QueenBey