On Friday, as Beyoncé was casually posting pictures of vegan cupcakes to her Instagram account, the internet was in a state of frenzy over the news that she had also uploaded something else to the web – her long-awaited fifth album.
Speculation as to when the record, Beyoncé, would drop has been around since she performed at the Super Bowl in February. In the interim she has embarked on a world tour, starred in a Pepsi commercial, and modelled for the clothing store H&M. Everything but put out a record. Until the 14 tracks and 17 videos appeared on iTunes yesterday morning.
“I didn’t want to release my music the way I’ve done it,” she said in a press release. “I am bored with that. I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans. 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.”
The release echoes that of David Bowie’s surprise single and album announcement back in January. My Bloody Valentine put out their third album by uploading it to their website without advanced notice one Sunday morning in February. Fans of the rock band were thrilled; they had waited 22 years for it.
“I think it’s a really good idea because it restores some of the immediacy that has disappeared from the record business over the last 30 years,” said David Hepworth, music magazine writer and editor.
“The thing that strikes me about it is that it excites the market and people get very enthusiastic when they’re getting something directly rather than having the media present it to them.”
There are benefits to such a release. Not only does the record company save huge sums on expensive marketing campaigns, there is less chance that the album will leak online before the artist is ready.
But it is the excitement that such releases elicit that seems to be the real bonus.
“The enthusiasm over the David Bowie record was entirely to do with the fact that fans hadn’t been softened up for it. It was like Christmas morning for a lot of people,” Mr Hepworth added.
For such a release to be a success, however, an artist needs already to have an army of fans to get worked up about it. This kind of roll-out is not going to have the same effect with more niche acts.
Beyoncé, which features contributions from her husband Jay-Z, Frank Ocean, Drake, and her one-year-old daughter Blue Ivy, also includes 17 videos directed by the likes of Terry Richardson and Jonas Åkerlund, because the Texan wanted to create a “visual album”.
“When I’m connected to something, I immediately see a visual or a series of images that are tied to a feeling or an emotion, a memory from my childhood, thoughts about life, my dreams or my fantasies. And they’re all connected to the music,” shesaid the singer.
Many have expressed surprise that such an operation could have been kept a secret. “You probably wouldn’t need to tell that many people because you’re not actually manufacturing a CD, so you’re avoiding all the normal places where leaks would occur,” said Mr Hepworth.
“I suppose it’s possible to put a record out with only about six people worldwide knowing about it,” he added.
The album will be available in physical format in time for Christmas.