Beyonce this week released a self-titled album en total without promotion.
It’s a complete season of emotions: retrospection on “Pretty Hurts” to introspection on “Heaven” to projection in my favorite “Flawless,” which samples from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk.
I use “season” for the 14-song, 17-video album purposefully. Because that’s what it is. It is a story she wants us to binge on. Like Netflix announcing it added a new season of that show you once watched in its entirety one weekend, Beyonce just announced you would no longer have to wait a week or a month between singles.
Binging is the media consumption behavior of the future. Netflix this week released the results of a survey confirming we like to to eat the whole package of Oreos at once and binge on TV.
And, binge I did. On repeat. Until my iPod’s battery died.
I’m not here to review it because 1) I all could say is “Amazing.” and 2) You probably own it already. After all, the album sold 80,000 copies in the first three hours. And, it continued to be so popular that iTunes had to shut-down for a bit. All this Bey-fever began with just an Instagram announcement.
Everyone is paying attention to that bit of this story. And, it’s an important one. But, I see another story. One behind the partition.
Most entertainment media give advance copies to the news media so that reviews can add to the hype. But, that wasn’t the case here. So, AFTER all your friends used exclamation marks in their tweets and statuses, AFTER 15,000 people reviewed it on iTunes, and possibly AFTER you listened for yourself, New York Times reviewed the album. I’m sure there were a tonne of people who read NYT’s review, but now they were reading it the way an NFL fan read’s Monday morning’s newspaper sports section: With the knowledge of what already happened. In one of the year’s biggest albums (there have been so many), the curators of culture were irrelevant in deciding sales figures.
Beyonce’s press release hinted that was part of her grand design:
That the album is available on the day the world is learning about its release is an unprecedented strategic move by the artist to deliver music and visual content directly to her fans when she wants to and how she wants to, with no filter. This unique approach allows music fans to be the first to listen, view, engage and form their own opinions void of any middleman.
If this moment becomes the precipice of a trend, it may just be once more way the traditional news media loses its influence on discourse and its chance to write the first draft of history. Should we pay more attention to one NYT reviewer who uses words like “phalanx” or the thousands of listeners who speak our language?
Beyonce made her moment in music history by reinventing how to drop an album. But, given her super-star power, I’m not sure this model can be repeated by other artists or in other mediums. After all, Radiohead’s moment in music history didn’t mean I chose what to pay Beyonce.