2013: The Year of Beyoncé that almost never was

Written by n-phull

Friday the 13th is considered unlucky for some but not for Beyoncé.

Friday the 13th is considered unlucky for some but not for Beyoncé. She decided to release her new eponymous album completely unannounced at the very end of what many assumed and dismissed as her comeback year.  

It was a music event that stunned the world because this was no ordinary album. This was a ‘visual album’ made up of 14 original songs, each with an accompanying music video, and 3 extra videos. Beyoncé said in a video released on the day that she wanted to bring back these ground-breaking moments to the music industry and compared the release of this album to the premiere of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video.

Worthy of the risk?

Although this is the first of its kind, the idea of producing a visual album is, as a concept, surprisingly simple. Beyoncé says that she ‘sees music’ so the emphasis here is on the visual experience with each of her tracks.

To achieve this challenging feat she had a number of acclaimed directors on board: Terry Richardson, Jonas Åkerlund, Todd Tourso and, of course, Beyoncé herself. The end result is quite impressive: each video oozes in style and displays different strands of the superstar. Essentially, the album is everything that Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP should have been with regards to concept, and in a further dig at Gaga, the album cover is simply Beyoncé’s name on a black background.

Releasing a new album completely by surprise was definitely a risky tactic, but one that could only have been attempted by an artist of Beyoncé’s superstar status. Available exclusively on iTunes as a digital download for the first 7 days, the album went on to sell over 1 million digital copies in under a week: a record-breaking achievement from the singer that strategically chose to avoid hype and speculation about new material.

David Bowie released a surprise single earlier this year, but an attempt like this had never been kept so successfully under wraps by a major recording artist before.

2013 was always meant to be the Year of Beyoncé. After headlining the Super Bowl in February, announcing her Mrs Carter Show World Tour soon after, becoming the face of Pepsi and H&M’s Summer Collection and releasing her self-directed documentary, new music from the singer felt imminent.

The mysterious and confusing ‘Bow Down/I Been On’ audio which appeared on YouTube and the popular ‘Grown Woman’ track which featured in the global Pepsi advertisement were left unconfirmed by Beyoncé. The former eventually found its way onto track ‘Flawless’ but the latter only appears as a bonus video on the album.

Can it be number 1?

The idea for the album, however, had always been on Beyoncé’s mind. While filming the videos, some even in public, she revealed how she had to wear earbuds to stop the audience hearing the song before its release.

Her dramatic hair cut earlier this year is also visible through her varying hair lengths across the music videos. Perhaps she had been planning these songs as early as childhood: in the video for ‘Grown Woman,’ footage from younger years show her presumably mouthing along to the lyrics to the song. This might just be clever editing but it definitely shows that Beyoncé was destined to be a global icon.

The lead single was named as the anthemic, feel-good, Ryan Tedder-produced ‘XO.’ As this is an unconventional album release, it is remains uncertain how single releases will work. The point of the album’s sudden release was to encourage people to invest in it in its entirety, so releasing singles would surely defeat the objective.

Whichever way Beyoncé’s team decide to market the album, she is unlikely to achieve a number 1 single from it, as few people would choose to just buy one single when you can buy an entire album of singles and videos.

In the year that saw the comeback of a number of female artists, Beyoncé has blown all of her rivals out of the water in these final weeks of 2013. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus’ desperate attempts to promote their latest singles can’t compare to Beyoncé’s colossal latest offering which smashed records without any promotion.

The self-titled visual album forced everyone to rewrite their end-of-year charts but, more importantly, rethink the way music is released and promoted. Let’s see if she continues with this new-found philosophy in the future and whether other artists follow suit.

What do you think about Beyoncé’s new album? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: oouinouin / Flickr