Posted Apr 21, 2016 by Seamus Kirst on Forbes. Photograph by AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Earlier this week, Beyoncé used two Instagram teaser posts to announce that she’ll be premiering ‘Lemonade’ to the world on April 23rd on HBO. Beyoncé hasn’t confirmed exactly what ‘Lemonade’ is – her Instagram posts were frankly two artsy, mysterious videos with her voice saying equally vague things like, ‘What am I gonna do, love? What am I gonna do?’ and, ‘The past and the present merge to meet us here’– but, a source has leaked, that ‘Lemonade’ is allegedly a lengthy concept video.
This is far from Beyoncé’s first rodeo when it comes to surprise marketing. In fact, at this point, she’s really an expert. With an estimated $250 million net worth, and having earned $54.5 million from June 2014 to June 2015 alone, other artists should probably pay attention and start jotting down some notes.
In December, 2013, Beyoncé sold 617,000 copies of her self-titled album through the U.S. iTunes store within three days of its unexpected release. By the time three weeks had passed, she’d sold over 1.3 million copies.
The frenzy she created around this surprise album was not just over the music itself; Beyoncé
was a ‘video album,’ and each track was accompanied by a provocative music video. Apple initially sold the album through iTunes as an audiovisual bundle
, and the multimedia nature of her surprise project created an even more expansive dialogue among consumers.
This past February, Beyoncé released her surprise track and video ‘Formation’ the day before she performed at the Super Bowl half time show. With it’s strong political message – the video had references to Hurricane Katrina, #BlackLivesMatter and the Black Panther Movement – the release of the song and video was instantly widely discussed and covered by the media. During her performance at the Super Bowl, Beyoncé rode the wave of momentum by announcing another surprise: The Formation World Tour. As her On The Run Tour grossed an average $5.2 m per night
, starting another tour amidst all of this media and consumer buzz definitely doesn’t sound like a bad idea financially.
Beyoncé is far from being the only musical artist who has utilized this type of surprise album. In the age of the Internet – where albums often leak and are popularly consumed before even being released– it makes sense that performers would want to avoid having their music being made public and illegally consumed before it’s even available for purchase.
Beyond avoiding leaks, Adele explained in an interview with TIME magazine, why the traditional music marketing methods now equate to overexposure in a market where releasing one song allows it to instantly become accessible for unlimited listening.
“I’m not throwing shade at anybody. But when you have a six-month build up, don’t expect me to be there the day your album comes out, because I’m bored,” she said toTIME. “It doesn’t matter how amazing it is. You put seven songs out. I’ve heard the album. I’ve heard everything you want to say about it. I’ve heard it all over radio. Don’t expect me to not lose interest before it’s even happened.”
In October 2015, Adele surprise debuted her first single ‘Hello’ from her album, 25, during a commercial break for The X Factor UK. She announced that the entire 25 album would be released the following month.
In November, when 25 was released, Adele sold 3.38 million copies in the U.S. during the first week, according to Nielsen Music. This marked the largest single sales week for an album Nielsen had ever measured since they started tracking music purchases in 1991.
In addition to Beyoncé and Adele, other artists including Kendrick Lamar, Future, Drake, D’Angelo and Prince have all used surprise tactics to release their albums.
In early February 2016, Future landed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart with his surprise album, Evol. The album was exclusively sold through Apple Music and iTunes starting on Feb. 5. In the first week, Nielsen Music tracked 134,000 equivalent albumsbeing sold, with 100,000 of those being pure album sales.
In February of 2015, Drake released his surprise album, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
. The album rose to No. 1
on the Billboard 200 chart within the week, marking his fourth chart-topping album
. He sold 495,000 copies
in the first chart week, which is impressive for an album with no publicity
building up to it’s release, especially as the tracking week ended after three days
. With 17.3 million album streams
within the first week, Drake broke the record for debut week streams. His opening week was the second-largest sales week for an album that year – only coming in behind Taylor Swift’s 1989
which sold 1.27 million
albums in one week.
Kendrick Lamar released his surprise album, Untitled Unmastered,
on March 4, 2016 without any advance notice. The album debuted at No. 1 o
n the Billboard 200 chart that week, and, according to Nielsen
, he sold 178,000 equivalent album
units in the first week, with 142,000 of those being pure album sales
. Despite those strong numbers, his sales were significantly smaller than those of his previous album, To Pimp a Butterfly,
which he’d released a year earlier on March 16, 2015 and sold 363,000 equivalent album units
in its first week, of which 324,000
of those being pure album sales.