Beyonce's Surprise Turns Mum Into Marketing
Perhaps it was a surprise she was not quite counting on: Beyoncé the Artist has been overshadowed by Beyoncé Knowles the Marketing Genius since she released her new audio-video opus as an iTunes exclusive right after the midnight hour on Friday morning, “sending fans into a downloading frenzy” around the world, as the UK’s Metro puts it.
“Beyoncé’s surprise release a stroke of marketing genius,” claims the hed in the Boston Globe. “Beyoncé didn’t do any interviews,” reports James Reed. “No press releases went out beforehand. Presumably her lips have been sealed on her latest tour dates … and recent set lists suggest she hasn’t been performing new songs in concert…. Out of the blue, there it was, billed as a ‘visual album,’ with 14 songs, 17 accompanying videos, and a tidal wave of freak-out reactions all over social media.”
“Merry Christmas, all. Santa is Beyoncé,” writes Kevin Fallon on the Daily Beast. “The surprise “BOOM. NEW ALBUM.” release strategy was genius. The album, easily her most personal yet, just happens to be, too.”
The $15.99 album can only be purchased intact on iTunes until Dec. 20, when individual songs will go on sale. Beyoncé’s label, Columbia, reportedly didn’t begin pressing CD-DVD versions of the album until Thursday to maintain security. It will be available for purchase before Christmas, as you no doubt guessed.
“The stealth rollout of the album, 'Beyoncé,' upended the music industry’s conventional wisdom, and was a smashing success,” reports Ben Sisario in today’s New York Times. “It sold 365,000 copies in the United States on its first day, according to people with direct knowledge who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss its sales.”
And, as Sisario writes, “the release also showed the marketing value of no marketing.”
“She needed only an Instagram announcement” — she simply wrote “Surprise!” — “to draw international attention, and the album immediately went to No. 1 in 90 countries on iTunes’ rankings,” Jon Parales observed in a review in the New York Times Friday, giving Mrs. Carter props for “a feat of both music and promotion.”
“It’s all about the single, and the hype,” Beyoncé tells us. “It’s so much that gets between the music and the art and the fans. I felt like, I don't want anybody to get 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."
"This is very much in line with what's happening right now in marketing, which is this idea of marketing without marketing, or anti-marketing, where you appear to be just delivering your product directly to the consumer without any mediation,” Jason King, a musician and professor at NYU's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, tells Melissa Block on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” But he points out that, of course, “clearly there is mediation from the record label and so on. There had to be …”
Billboard’s Andrew Hampp and Gail Mitchell dug up some of the skinny on that behind-the-scenes intrigue, which includes code names and a fluid deadline. They conclude with the news that “a screening event featuring a theatrical presentation of the 14 videos” is in the works.”
In Bloomberg Businessweek, Claire Suddath writes that “the mechanics and philosophy behind the star’s album release aren’t groundbreaking,” pointing to Radiohead giving short notice before its release of two albums — one in 2007 and the other in 2011 — and David Bowie quietly posting his first new song in 10 years on his website.
“But there’s a difference between what Radiohead and David Bowie did and what happened today: Beyoncé is still considered a pop star, and pop music relies heavily on the traditional marketing machine sponsored by record labels,” Suddath writes.
It was not as if Beyoncé was toiling in obscurity, unless you consider the Hamptons — “where recording began when the singer and her camp of writers and producers lived together … last summer,” as Gerrick D. Kennedy writes in the Los Angeles Times — the boonies.
And don’t forget “she top-lined the Super Bowl halftime show in February, sang for the president and launched a sold-out world tour, which she’s still on, and little bits of music were parceled out to fans,” including a preview of “Grown Woman” in a Pepsi ad “while another single, ‘Standing on the Sun,’ was the backdrop for an H&M campaign, as Kennedy points out. “But with each tease, the singer never revealed as much as an album title, release date or lead single. Collaborators would drop what little hints they could, but she continued to remain mum.”
Mum is no longer the operative word. Marketing is.