Q: Beyoncé surprised everyone by dropping her album at midnight. How did she manage to be so stealthy, especially in this age of unchecked hype and Internet leaks, when it came to such a massive project?
A: Not massive: Ginormous. We're talking 14 tracks and 17 videos shot in cities ranging from Paris to New York to Sydney to Rio de Janeiro to Houston.
Let's also remember that guests include some of the biggest loudmouths in music aside from Kanye West: husband Jay Z, natch, and Drake among them.
To be fair, fans have known for months that Bey was recording new material. People who follow Yoncy closely even knew that singer-songwriter Sia Furler had penned a tune for it, and that Pharrell Williams was also involved.
"There has been talk of this for the past year,” says Todd Hensley, president of Hits magazine.
But what no one knew was the when of the thing: That "Beyoncé" would suddenly drop at, of all times, at midnight on a Friday morning. This Friday morning.
The music business is notoriously gossipy, so the insiders I contacted were equal parts impressed and mystified by that timing.
"That is amazing that they were able to do that in secret," one told me. "Must be nice to be famous enough that you can pull off stuff like that.
"A label theoretically wouldn't want to release an album as a surprise, not for 99 percent of their artists," says my industry expert, a former marketer at one of the biggest labels in music. "If you don't have the advance ability to sell the material to radio, to MTV, to sponsorships, to soundtracks, to music supervisors, you're leaving a lot of money on the floor. Thing is, if you're Beyoncé, you can get away with that."
As for exactly how a megastar keeps such a release date under the radar, two words for you: vanity company. Along with Yoncy's official umbrella label, Columbia, the Beyoncé album credits a certain Parkwood Entertainment, Beyoncé's own personal shingle.
"The vanity label includes only your nearest and dearest," the former label exec tells me. "It makes it easier to produce something on this scale without having to, say, involve the promotions assistant at Columbia. And would the promotions assistant have been told about a project as secret as this?
The digital nature of the project also helped.
"In a digital world, there are not as many moving parts to have to touch it," Hensley tells me. "The secrecy would be impossible if you had to physically produce an album — manufacture it, print it, duplicate it, ship it.
"And this was a very artist-driven project. When an artist handles everything internally, working only with the top tier of a record company, that is how you keep it a secret. I imagine that not many more than three or four people [at Columbia] knew about this."
So. Can we expect more artists to follow in Beyoncé's footsteps? After all, the shock factor is working; we've seen more than 1.2 million mentions on Twitter of Beyoncé since the album debuted early this morning. And Billboard predicts that "Beyoncé" will debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart after shooting up to the top of iTunes already.
Don't count on it.
"My label has never done anything like that, and I definitely don't think labels will try this," eOne media manager Hanif Sumner tells me. "This is a very special case with Beyoncé. Her following is so global that her album will reach fans lightning fast through social media. Other artists can't do that.
"Only a handful of artists could drop an album secretively and use their fans to push out awareness."
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Leslie Gornstein is an entertainment writer and the host of the weekly Hollywood gossip podcast The Fame Fatale.
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