Beyonce’s surprising ‘visual album’ – does it work?

by Nick Barnes


For the past year, we’ve all been waiting for Beyonce to drop her new album. At first, we thought it would be coming as early as February 2013 to coincide with her Superbowl HalfTime show slot… but did it arrive? Absolutely not…

Throughout the year, “leaked” tracklists have come and gone and we’d all virtually given up on the idea that B would release an album this side of the new year. The announcement that Beyonce is coming back to Europe in 2014 filled me with hope once again that we would see the album in early 2014, but little did I know it’d be coming sooner than I thought…

This morning, Beyonce took EVERYONE by surprise by casually dropping her new album on iTunes. No singles, no videos, no hype. Never mind my Twitter feed, I went into meltdown this morning as I scrambled to grab my iPad and hit that £12.99 button on iTunes without any hesitation. I have to say, kudos to B as it’s the quickest I’ve even gotten out of bed at that ungodly hour…

This album has been dubbed as a ‘visual album’ and quite rightly so as it features 14 brand new tracks and 17 videos – one for each of the tracks along with one or two bonus videos, such as a video for Grown Woman. Unfortunately, Grown Woman isn’t featured as an album track, it’s only given the video treatment. Standing on the Sun is nowhere to be seen either. If you’re looking for Bow Down, it has been renamed to ‘***Flawless’ (and that is what the album is…)

I spent the best part of this morning listening to the album tracks and watching their respective videos in turn, but does dropping an album with all its videos in tact really work? Is this a brilliant move from Queen B or has she committed album suicide?


For me, it’s the former as this is a brilliant move from Beyonce. In a press release this morning, Beyonce said that she didn’t want to go with the grain, instead she wanted to go against it. She didn’t want to do what she has done with the rest of her albums. This was personal and it was more about when the time was right for her and the BeyHive, not about abiding by record label rules and doing what EVERY other artist does out there. Realease a single or two, throw a video out there, release the artwork and promo until your voice cuts out.

In an age where there’s no element of surprise anymore, this was a very bold move to make for Beyonce. Let’s face it, albums leak a week before release date these days. We get the artwork, we get to preview the album. It’s the same circle over and over again. This time around for Beyonce, it was more about BAM! Here’s all I’ve got, go and enjoy it and that was so refreshing to wake up to this morning. It’s like all my Christmases had come at once as none of us was expecting the album.

Mrs. Carter has enlisted help from the likes of Jake Nava, Hype Williams and Terry Richardson (think Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus) for the videos and there’s even featured artists such as Jay Z, Frank Ocean, Drake and Blue Ivy on the album tracks.

A lot of work (a year and a half to be exact) has gone into this album, from the recording to the production and to shooting the videos and it was all planned back in the summer of 2012. So, as we’ve all be flapping thinking Bey had scrapped the album, she was having the last laugh as she planned to drop this album on us like a bomb all along… it was a complete surprise.


And, THAT is why this album works – the element of surprise. For an artist as big and as well known as Beyonce, it was a very bold move to take. She dropped the album last night and Twitter went into melt down. What better promo is there than that? Her record label could spend millions on promoting an album with TV advertisements, billboard posters, TV show appearances and so on and so forth. But the marketing has done itself this morning as everyone now knows that Beyonce has dropped a new album and it’s not just a case that the album is here… it’s the fact that people still can’t believe she dropped it on us like a bomb!

Whether it will work in terms of charting is yet to be seen as iTunes has the exclusive hold on it until December 21 when the album will go on physical sale around the world.

Another important thing to note is that B didn’t even advertise the album on Twitter. One post was made on Facebook about the album, with the link to iTunes which shows you how powerful the industry really is. It reiterates how powerful Beyonce is as well.

In her statement this morning, B said: “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. 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”.


Bey also had a concern that people were only listening to clips of songs on “their iPods” these days. People don’t listen to a body of work anymore, which is another reason why releasing 17 videos works. The videos enable the album to be a visual experience for the fans and being able to see those lyrics for each song translated into a video really brings home how Beyonce sees her songs. Those videos give us all a different outlook on how personal those songs are to Beyonce, especially the videos for Pretty Hurts, Blue and Heaven.

However, I just hope B and her team don’t become complacent with the album release. The hype is working this morning and will for a few days but we need some good promo over the next few weeks. We have TWO singles coming to radio next week, both in different formats and we could do with one or two TV appearances, but for now, the album is selling itself.

In a year where some very hyped up albums have disappointed, in comes Beyonce with just over two weeks to go until the end of year and she BLOWS the competition wide open. Good luck making those ‘End of Year’ lists now…