Well, this was unexpected. Beyonce shocked everyone at midnight on Friday by releasing a self-titled album on iTunes complete with a video for every song (plus three additional visuals). The 14-song set features guest appearances by Jay Z, Justin Timberlake, Frank Ocean, Drake, Pharrell Williams, Timbaland, Michelle Williams, Kelly Rowland and Blue Ivy herself on album closer "Blue."
Queen Bey alerted fans to the unexpected release by posting a video teaser on Instagram accompanied by a one-word caption: "Surprise!"
The release is being billed as a "visual album," meant to be experienced as a full audio/visual piece from start to finish. “I see music,” Beyoncé said in a statement. "It’s more than just what I hear. When I’m connected to something, I immediately see a visual or a series of images that are tied to a feeling or an emotion, a memory from my childhood, thoughts about life, my dreams or my fantasies. And they’re all connected to the music.”
Beyonce co-directed some of the videos herself, the majority of which were shot during her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. Locations included a beach in Brazil, the streets of New York and Los Angeles, a chateau in Paris, the Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island and even a skating rink in Houston, TX, where Beyonce had skated as a child.
As photos of some of these video shoots had hit the internet over the past two months, fans had waited for any announcement of where they might officially purchase any of the songs. But Bey didn't release any comment (unless you consider becoming a 22-day vegan with Jay Z as some kind of comment) until now.
Explaining why she delivered the full album and accompanying visuals without any prior warning, she noted in her statement: "I didn't want to release my music the way I've done it. I'm bored with that. I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans. There's so much that gets between music, the artist and the fans. I felt like I didn't want anybody to give 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."
Those fans spent almost the entirety of 2013 wondering if Beyonce was going to drop an album at all. In March, she released the very un-Beyonce-like, gangsta rap-inspired "Bow Down/ I Been On" on Soundcloud. That banger morphed into "***Flawless" for this new album, and it's so damn good we turned our 40 Best Songs of the Year list into the 41 Best Songs of the Year just to include it.
When she later became the new face of H&M, her song "Standing on the Sun" was used for promotion. Then, of course, there was the new track in her Pepsi commercial, "Grown Woman," which the Internet uncovered a full version of (but it was never official). And then she cut her hair off and we were all clueless.
Producer and collaborator Diplo shined some light on what might be going on with Bey in July. "I just did two songs for [Beyonce's] new album, well, I tried. I think she scrapped the record," he told the Sun. "The record was supposed to be done and they have been hitting me up for brand new ideas. I like to work from scratch, [but] sometimes I get called in to fix songs."
The statement accompanying tonight's release explains that Beyonce spent a year and a half recording the album in locations all over the world. The project began in the summer of 2012 when a number of writers and producers sequestered themselves in a single house in The Hamptons to live and work together. For an inside look at the process, check out Part One of a mini-doc called "Self-Titled" that has been posted to Facebook.
While the album is currently only available on iTunes, the physical album begins manufacturing today, with Beyonce's camp promising it will be available for purchase in CD/DVD form in time for the holidays.
As Beyonce noted in the closing words of her statement: "I just want to give my album to the people I love and respect and hope that they feel the same thing I felt when I made the music."
Here's the full tracklist: