In a move that doubtless gave everyone at Columbia some kind of heart condition, hip-hop artist Beyonce released a full album on iTunes last night with absolutely no fanfare and a music video accompanying each of its 17 songs. The artist's eponymous fifth album is exclusive on iTunes for a week until Dec. 21, and pressings of a CD are underway.
On the record are collaborations with Frank Ocean, Drake, and her husband Jay-Z. It's less a "no-marketing" strategy than a "marketing bomb" strategy, with 30-second preview videos all over the Web and Beyonce's own take on why she wanted to release the record this way available on her Facebook page, where she announced the album's sudden debut.
There had been a little speculation that the artist might have a new record in time for the holidays, mostly around her release of a single dedicated to her daughter on Jay-Z's birthday, but the only other indication that a new record was on the way (per our sister publication Billboard) was that Columbia chairman and CEO Rob Stringer said that "there's one or two records that we're working on" in time for the end of the year in the company's Q4 earnings call.
Of note is less that there was no planned fanfare and more that there were no leaks whatsoever, particularly with so many people involved across disciplines and divisions in the production of not just the record but the unprecedented video content. Music marketing has changed radically in recent years, but there is still a traditional approach— take Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP 2," which came out last month: before its drop date, the album had singles, lyric videos, promotion across even the most obscure Interscope assets, a huge presence at the VMAs, and a partnership with hot video game Call of Duty.
Beyonce's pitch is clearly, "If I build it, they will come," and the next few days will tell whether or not she's right (all signs point to yes, given the ecstatic fan reaction and positive, if rushed, early reviews). "I wanted people to hear the songs with the story that's in my head, because that's what makes it mine," Beyonce told the public in her announcement video. Artists including Daft Punk (whose new record is perhaps the least single-friendly successful album this year) have concurred with Beyonce on the topic of how much they "miss that immersive experience" of releasing a record as a record, rather than as a few singles and a few previews on their iPods.