The Briefing | April 25, 2014

Anatomy of a beyoncé: a proposed classification system for surprise album releases

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There is plenty of talk today about the possibility that Mariah Carey might beyoncé her new album, and the act of Doing A Beyoncé will become increasingly common as pop – like it always does – pushes forward in new and exciting ways.

While we appreciate the excitement surrounding any global superstar except U2’s new album release, it’s important at this stage to establish what, exactly, made Beyoncé’s release so exciting.

We all think we know what a beyoncé is, but it’s vital that we do not assign beyoncé status to every album release that breaks with established release patterns. If we do misuse the term,  we risk devaluing the purity of Beyoncé’s original ‘BEYONCÉ’ beyoncé.

Here are six different variations of beyoncéing, each relevant and worthy in its own way, but each with its own nuances.

FULL BEYONCÉ

A Full Beyoncé must contain ALL these elements.

  • This must be a full album, ideally but not necessarily containing a larger than average number of tracks.
  • Tracks on the album must be accompanied by videos.
  • The artist must be a global superstar, a multi-platinum act in at least one major territory, or an artist with a huge/deranged online fanbase.
  • Trickily, it must be common knowledge that the artist has been working on new material – but the release must still also, somehow, be a surprise.
  • There must have been no legitimate leaked information about the nature of the release in advance of the release. A beyoncéd album that has been trailed by an interview regarding its release could potentially be regarded as little more than a conventional album release with a shorter promotional window.
  • There must be no conventionally promoted single leading into the album’s release.
  • It must be a standalone album release – it can’t just be an addition to a previous album campaign, a deluxe edition or any sort of repackage.
  • By its nature this album will almost certainly be released digitally first – it’s impossible to send CDs into production then get them to retail without news leaking. (If an album does indeed make it to stores with literally no warning before, say, shops open at 9am, it will be permitted as a full beyoncé.)
  • The nature of the release must be convincingly presented as an artistic statement or creative choice, rather than being a transparent attempt to drum up interest in an album campaign that hasn’t been working out properly.
  • Total beyoncégeddon must be achieved across all social networks for at least 24 hours.

Strictly optional factors include instantly iconic but basically shit artwork, a Sia track, and songs about bonking.

Who could pull off a full beyoncé?
Adele, U2, Rihanna, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Taylor Swift.

PARTIAL BEYONCÉ

A release which fulfills at least three, but not all, factors required of a full beyoncé.

The release of the new Mariah Carey album, for instance, has been flagged in advance (intentionally or otherwise) by Billboard, so can’t qualify for full beyoncé status, but it could still be a partial beyoncé. Lady Gaga’s ‘ARTPOP – ACT 2’ album could also suddenly appear, but she too has already discussed its future release. Additionally, if only in title, it is an addition to the existing ‘ARTPOP’ campaign.

Who could execute a partial beyoncé?
Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, Lana Del Rey, Calvin Harris, Kate Bush, Sia.

FAUXONCÉ

A release that deliberately attempts to create beyoncé or partial beyoncé-level hysteria while in fact only fulfilling one or two of the criteria for a full beyoncé.

Who could fauxoncé an album?
Mutya Keisha Siobhan, Mariah Carey.

BOWANCIÉ

A bowanciéd album is one that has more in common with David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ release, which hinged not on an instant release but on total, genuine surprise that it existed at all, from a high profile artist many feared had completely retired. (Nobody was under the impression Beyoncé had retired, so while her album was a surprise because of the way it appeared, it wasn’t a surprised that it had actually been recorded.)

In the instance of the ‘The Next Day’ campaign it was the album’s lead single, which did appear on sale instantly with an accompanying video, that was in a sense beyoncéd into the marketplace. For this reason bowanciéing can refer to an album that’s suddenly announced but not immediately on sale, or to a single release that ticks most of the boxes of a full beyoncé.

Additionally, as with Bowie’s album being produced by Tony Visconti, keep an eye out for the presence of a producer or songwriter with whom the artist has previously been very closely associated. Janet Jackson’s new material, then, could have been eligible for bowancié status as Jimmy Jam seems to be involved, but the fact that Jam himself has been discussing the sessions actually means that Janet’s album cannot be seen as a bowanciéd release. Janet could, however, still pull off a full beyoncé.

The size of the artist is also important here: a bowanciéing artist should ideally have achieved at least platinum sales with at least three different albums in three of the world’s major music territories, but this rule is flexible in order for Girls Aloud to qualify.

Who could bowancié an album tomorrow morning?
Abba, Girls Aloud.

BEYTWICÉ

This will occur when an artist releases a brand new album for no apparent reason halfway through a broadly successful campaign for another album.

Who could beytwicé a new album?
Katy Perry, Lily Allen, Kylie Minogue.

FAILED BEYONCÉ

A release which attempts a full beyoncé, a partial beyoncé, a fauxoncé or a bowancié but fails to generate an appropriate level of online hysteria.

Who could pull off a failed beyoncé?
Sarah Harding.

IN CONCLUSION

Beyoncéing albums is an exciting aspect of modern pop and with any luck this attempt to clarify and classify different levels of beyoncéing will become increasingly useful as time goes by. We’ll revisit this article if any further variations on beyoncéing appear, but if any occur to you please feel free to add them in the comments below.