Beyoncé's Internet-breaking album release on Thursday night was as stunning as it was remarkable: in a day and age where leaks are king, how did no one, not even the industry's closest watchers, know that this was even coming down the pipeline?
A feature in Billboard magazine details Queen Bey's strategy, which included shifting code names (the album, titled Beyoncé, was once named Lily), only informing the most senior of iTunes executives about the digital drop, and working on the album as recently as Thanksgiving. The album was still a work-in-progress, with a flexable release date, until roughly last week. Only then did Beyonce tell
non-Illuminati members the rest of the world about her plans:
Then late last week, final meetings were held with Columbia, Parkwood (Beyonce’s management company) and iTunes to finalize plans for the album, which was code-named “Lily” to avoid leaks. Another final meeting announcing the album to employees and producers was held at Columbia yesterday, Dec. 12. Only the most senior executives at iTunes, the album’s exclusive distributor until a planned physical release on Dec. 21, were clued in on the plans.
That short timeline makes the visual album, which has earned praise from many critics, including The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly, all the more impressive, considering its grace and cohesion.
Beyoncé's reasoning for the surprise drop isn't all that different from that of her own husband, Jay Z, when he released Watch the Throne with Kanye West in 2011: she says she was looking for an "immersive" mass experience.
Now people only listen to a few seconds of a 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 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.
Compare that to what a Roc Nation executive told Billboard in 2011 about Watch the Throne's very careful leak-free rollout:
That was the driving force of it–to create that moment of unwrapping the CD and listening to it for the first time. It was a very old-school way for things to happen. People really were anticipating an album on a certain day and everyone got to experience it simultaneously.
More fascinating specific details will likely roll out in the days to come about how Beyoncé pulled off this modern-day sorcery, but, or now, it's not clear if Beyoncé's team went to the extreme lengths Jay and 'Ye did in advance of their Watch the Throne collaboration. To avoid leaks, according to Billboard, the pair only recorded in person, ensuring nothing existed online, and by storing their tracks on fingerprint-protected hard-drives carried in a locked briefcase.
Or this could have happened, maybe, because this is her world and we're just ugly peons living in it:
Beyoncé's publishing team: how are we going to promote your new album Beyoncé: i'm Beyoncé Beyoncé's publishing team: true— no (@ughsassy) December 14, 2013
The release of the self-titled album produced more than 1.2 million tweets in 12 hours and sold 80,000 copies in the first three hours. Lady Gaga holds the record for most first-week digital sales with 662,000, though that was helped by a 99-cent Amazon promotion.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.