In a feat of virtuoso media-mastery, Beyoncé dropped her fifth solo album in the early hours of Friday with no advance word whatsoever. The self-titled iTunes LP – dubbed a "visual album" containing videos for all 14 album tracks, as well as three additional clips – features Jay Z, Drake, Pharrell, Frank Ocean, Miguel, Timbaland, The-Dream, Michelle Williams, and B's daughter Blue Ivy. Justin Timberlake co-wrote three songs — including the Prince-esque "Blow" and "Rocket," an homage to D'Angelo's "Untitled" — but is not credited as a performer.
Beyoncé explains the album, her first since 2011's 4, in a four-minute video posted on her Facebook page.
"I see music," she says. "It's more than just what I hear. 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."
Recalling listening to Michael Jackson's Thriller LP as a child with her family, she hints at at designs on both reviving and reinventing the album as a format. "I miss that immersive experience," she continues. "Now people only listen to a few seconds of song on the iPods and they don't really invest in the whole experience. It's all about the single, and the hype. It'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."
Songwriting and/or production collaborators also include Hit-Boy, Sia Furler, Chairlift's Caroline Polachek, Noah "40" Shebib, Ryan Tedder, and someone named Boots. Video directors include, Hype Williams, Terry Richardson, Jake Nava, Jonas Åkerlund, @lilinternet, Francesco Carrozzini, and Todd Tourso. Harvey Keitel makes an appearance in the "Pretty Hurts" clip, a vivid depiction of the stress and degradations — self-inflicted and otherwise — suffered by models and beauty queens. The video concludes with home footage of a pre-teen Beyoncé accepting a singing award after a presenter mispronounces her name.
The release of the long-anticipated album — originally expected before the singer's Super Bowl appearance this year — caps a year of constantly rising stakes in the stealth-album-release game, with David Bowie, Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk and Arcade Fire springing album news on an unsuspecting public. But in characteristic fashion, Beyonce has doubled down not only by releasing the album out of nowhere (as if she were Death Grips, albeit for-profit), but by dropping the videos as well.
The secrecy around the project, considering Beyoncé's global superstardom, may be unprecedented in the entertainment world. On the song "Flawless," Beyonce sings "Bow down, bitches" — and many in the media were doing just that on Twitter in Friday's early hours.
An album was hinted at by some of the collaborators at various points throughout the year, but no release date was given and scuttlebutt around the time of Beyonce's "Mrs. Carter Show" tour launch in April said the singer was unsatisfied with the album and had gone back into the lab. "Grown Woman," featured in a Pepsi ad and performed on the tour, appears as a bonus video on Beyonce.
The album is available for $15.99 exclusively on iTunes, with individual songs going on sale December 20. Billboard reports the album is expected to be exclusively on iTunes for a week, and cites a source close to the situation as saying physical copies will be available December 21 on Columbia Records (which, with this project, made its stealthy campaign around the Daft Punk album look like a trial run). Beyoncé is currently finishing up her world tour, which is set to wrap in Brooklyn on December 22.
We'll have a review of the album up soon.
Beyonce, Visual Album track list:
1. "Pretty Hurts"
3. "Drunk in Love" (feat. Jay Z)
5. "No Angel"
9. "Mine" (feat. Drake)
11. "***Flawless" (feat. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche)
12. "Superpower" (feat. Frank Ocean)
14. "Blue" (feat. Blue Ivy)