After chewing on 14 tracks produced by a dream team of beatmakers, including Pharrell Williams, Timbaland, Ryan Tedder, Noah "40" Shebib and Hit Boy, a set of 17 music videos begin unfolding as provocative companion pieces. Terry Richardson, Jake Nava, Hype Williams and Beyonce herself helped direct the visuals.
Songs on the album jump and dive between genres and are woven together with everything from spoken word and trap raps to the coos of her daughter Blue Ivy and vintage Destiny’s Child footage. It's a lot to consume, but a revelatory look at the singer who has tirelessly calculated what she chooses to share (and it's not always much).
Beyonce vamps as the trophy wife to her lust-filled husband, Jay Z, in the video to “Drunk in Love,” does a steamy striptease for him in another clip, and references Monica Lewinsky when singing of a backseat tryst with him in another.
She shares her insecurities and anger on “Jealously,” revels in her daughter’s glow on “Blue,” commands her sexuality on "Blow," fights for her marriage on "Mine" and dials up her knack for feminist anthems with "***Flawless," which is built around the first half of "Bow Down/I Been On," a song she dropped in similar surprise fashion earlier this year.
The news of the album jolted the Internet and spread hotly across Twitter and Instagram as listeners quickly dropped $15.99 on the album no one saw coming, with chatter and OMG-ing fueling Twitter throughout the night.
She clearly took a clue from Jay Z and collaborator Timberlake, who both sneakily released details on albums -- Jay only giving fans a few days' notice in announcing an unprecedented plan of releasing his "Magna Carta Holy Grail" album for free, via smartphones.
Beyonce completely bypassed the announcement of details and opted to go straight for artist-to-fan consumption, releasing the project on her own terms.
The move is stunning, and virtually unheard of, especially considering how the hype machine -- singles, performances, interviews etc. -- that propels pop music up the charts is often treated as equally, if not more important, than the work itself.
With her latest work, Beyonce proved she wanted the work to speak for itself -- a luxury rarely afforded to an act of her caliber.
She not only changed the game with the move -- she claimed it.