Beyonce gave us Lemonade and we went into a frenzy about infidelity.
The R&B goddess has sparked a musical revolution continuing her uncovering of her raw identity through her works. But how Beyonce told the story may be more important than the story itself.
Risky to most artists, still in normal Beyonce fashion, she released a surprise album this past Saturday. Except this time it was different; before the exclusive Tidal stream came an hour long spot on HBO, premiering the visual album “Lemonade”.
Compelling poetry written by the Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, seven talented directors, New Orleans scenery - all in collaboration with Beyonce, bringing the narrative film and multimedia album to life.
Not many artists have truly married music, choreography, and film but no one has ever debuted their album through the visual medium first.
Beyonce has teased her music through the television screen before with the “Life Is But a Dream” documentary (2013) and “On the Run tour-concert special with Jay Z” (2014). But instead of an extension of her brand, this HBO segment prefaced the music and acted as the first touch point for her drooling fans as well as a new demographic.
Media outlets didn't even know how to describe the work of art when the project surfaced. From 9-10pm on HBO it was seen as a narrative musical telling the cohesive story of 12 different tracks journeying from anger and denial to redemption. Soon after it was a digital playlist, streaming on Tidal before being available for purchase on other services.
Over recent years, “video”, as it pertains to music, has often been an afterthought. Music videos have been used to accompany newly released music or to pad deluxe album editions but never has the visual production been used to tell the complete narrative of the LP. It’s almost as if the Harry Potter movie came before the book. Very rarely, if ever, have fans been exposed to the music and film at the same time.
Justin Bieber delivered a video to parallel every song off of his latest project Purpose. Each video portrayed the song’s theme of religion, love, energy, relationships, but they didn’t compliment the larger narrative with one connected storyline. Yet Bieber still amassed an average of about 20,000,000 views per YouTube video.
J. Cole isn’t a stranger to this model either. At the top of 2016 the hip-hop emcee partnered with HBO for a four-part docu-series leading up to the cable TV concert “Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming”. J. Cole’s approach with HBO brought an intimate look at the man behind the music and a transparent look into his life as a performer. Justin Bieber’s rollout merged performance and choreography to help push the exposure of his album. Though, Beyonce’s visual production was the album, not the campaign behind it.
High budget music videos are few and far between. Yet, even quality productions are used to portray a lifestyle rather than tell a story. Beyonce arguably invested as much in her film production as she did on the music side.
She’s proven that there’s more than one way to experience an album in its entirety. It’s hard to say if the Queen felt television was a more important medium but either way it’s a model that will be copied.
A vast majority of artists have to follow the label’s protocol - getting an album approval date and pushing hard for the forthcoming months to promote until their project’s debut. There is a select group who have been successful with the surprise release - an epidemic forming across the hip-hop industry. Although none have invested in such a blueprint that prioritizes video.
Beyonce is obviously of a different caliber, and her stardom (and large budget) allows her to break the status quo and test other methods. Not only is her album adding to the fire of the streaming service war, it was a surprise multimedia release.
It’s no secret that certain idols are able to break the mold and establishing their own set of rules. However, Beyonce has launched a conglomerate of music, choreography, and film that will undoubtedly be replicated.
Is the future of music, a show-then-tell industry?