Early this morning, Twitter was a-buzzing with news that Queen Bey had shocked her hive, dropping a new, self-titled album on iTunes. The announcement sent major shockwaves through social media, with more than 1.2 million tweets erupting in the first 12 hours, breaking the record 5,200 tweets-per-minute mark previously held by American cultural bellwether (and Syfy Channel made-for-TV movie) “Sharknado.”
Not only is Beyoncé’s new album pretty damn good, but it is being presented conceptually as a “visual album,” with music videos accompanying every track … This is definitely something I’ve been waiting quite a long while for a mainstream artist to attempt with vigor. While it remains to be seen if most of the videos will rise above the ‘filler’ variety, the songs do serve themselves well on first listen. Artistically, the album has an open, late-80s pop feel that gets warmed up nicely by Bey’s voice, with strong whiffs of Chaka Khan and Toni Braxton mixing elbows with today’s Timbalands and Timberlakes. There are certainly high points: “Blow” shows some sexy early Michael Jackson-era beats, and Drake even seems to somehow avoid being annoying in “Mine.”
Certainly this represents a step away from the highly-commercialized concept of beau Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail album from earlier this year, released initially as an app for the Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone: Hip-hop may be good at selling sneakers and cognac, but when you’re pitching shiny, plastic Korean cell phones and subpar songs, not even mega-guru Rick Rubin nodding along enthusiastically in your commercials can bail out your artistic credibility. Oops.
If Magna Carta Holy Grail was a bridge too far, Beyoncé’s new album seems to have learned a strong lesson from the experience, instead going more toward the ‘shock and awe’ style of Kanye West’s similarly shock-dropped Yeezus. It’s doubtful Bey is going to be pushing buttons the way Kanye has for the past year, but the effect of her choice should not be understated. It could very well be a sign of a rapidly-evolving music industry that has learned to create groundswell of buzz rather than just push hype, a lesson contemporaries at Hollywood film studios have followed successfully for decades.
It’s hard to figure out what is more surprising: that Beyoncé chose to eschew the marathon-style publicity campaigns of Lada Gaga’s ArtPop or Katy Perry’s Prism, or that such a huge album managed to remain un-leaked in the first place. These days, Eminem can’t even record a grocery list voice memo on his phone without it leaking the next week. While bad for traditional album sales, this dynamic does take advantage of today’s ‘gimme-now’ download culture, with moguls increasingly conscious of the new media, buzz-based landscape they’ve been dealt in the 21st century.
But Queen Bey isn’t worried about any of that nonsense. She does what she wants. When the dust settles after the holidays, her new album will surely be one of the bestselling of the season. “Bow down bitches,” as she says in “***Flawless.”
I guess when you’re music royalty, sometimes all you need to do is let them eat cake.