Of the many curious things about this new Beyonce album: How did it not leak? What, exactly, is a "visual album"? And the biggest question -- will it work?
With her self-titled new digital album she joins her husband Jay Z and close comrade Kanye West in releasing ultra-high-profile albums on super short notice (Kanye gave a cryptic tweet a little more than a month in advance of "Yeezus"; for Jay, it was a Samsung-partnership commercial just a couple weeks before "Magna Carta Holy Grail).
Both those other albums dominated the pop music conversation in the weeks surrounding their releases, which is a win in its own right. But even at the highest rungs of popular music, is anti-hype in the form of last-minute releases still effective?
"Yeezus" debut at No. 1, but at 327,000 sold in its first week it was Kanye's lowest U.S. opening ever, and the album dropped 80% the following week. Jay Z's situation was tougher to assess, as his record came pre-sold (baked into a Samsung app), and though it was given middling reviews he remains in a rap league of his own.
Contrast that with the months-long rollout of other major pop releases like Lady Gaga's "Artpop," Katy Perry's "Prism," Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories" and Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience." Timberlake had an online commercial announcing that date of future updates, for God's sake.
These long-range tactics have also been more and less effective - like "Yeezus," Gaga also had a No. 1 with "Artpop," but like "Born This Way" it tanked in its second week, dropping more than 80% in sales. But the long-awaited followup from Timberlake had better sea legs, going double-platinum and remaining the year's bestselling album.
Anti-hype is its own tried and true hype method now, even if Beyonce's was more expertly executed than most. Today, her album is the talk of the town, and the initial digital-only release strategy probably both prevented its leak (a good portion of album leaks happen in the perilous physical run between printing plant, distribution center and retail outlet) and is spurring a lot of impulse buys Friday.
Beyonce runs a famously tight ship career-wise, videotaping every interview she does for her own reference, and the spontaneity of this move is obviously long-planned and thoroughly considered. It comes after a year of Super Bowl and White House performances and one-off singles that were obviously leading up to... something.
But in the end, the only real move that matters is to make scorching tracks that people want to keep replaying and sharing.
That's why "Artpop" and "Magna Carta" kind of bricked in long-term sales and relevance, while "Random Access Memories" and "Prism" fared better ("Prism" was in the top 5 for a month with a major Black Friday rebound after discounting, for six weeks in the top 10). They just made songs that people wanted to hear. If you do that, rollout is just decoration, whether it's an ad at Coachella or a sudden pronouncement from Queen Bey.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times