One upbeat song ready for the radio. Album title and release date with lots of notifications. A magazine cover story, followed by a personal mission statement, a new social media account, a detailed itinerary listing, and a pre-sale of merchandise.
For most musicians, these are the time-honoured points in the game’s handbook for introducing a major new album. But for Beyoncé, who has spent the past decade and more changing all conventions on how to market music, the release of Renaissance, her newest album on Friday, is a stunning turnaround — and perhaps an tacit acknowledgment that the game has changed.
Before “Renaissance,” Beyoncé’s seventh solo album, the last time the singer took such small, industry-standard strides, at No. 4 in 2011, President Barack Obama was still in his first term and a startup European music company called Spotify, He had just arrived in the United States. Since then, there hasn’t been much about the new music-selling formula that Beyoncé hasn’t modified, broken, or completely broken up.
First there was Beyoncé, the quintessential 2013 variant of the “visual album.” Then came “Lemonade” (2016), a powerful all-star tour that arrived with more mystery as a cable-TV movie. By partnering closely with Tidal, the streaming service controlled by her husband, Jay-Z, and with media giants like HBO, Disney and Netflix, Beyoncé has positioned one ambitious multimedia project after another as something to be researched and carefully considered, rather than presented. For easy access and maximum consumption.
This work, and the innovative way in which it was released, helped Beyoncé to rise in her artistic stature. However, it has also somewhat alienated the singer from mainstream pop music, alienating her material – “Lemonade” wasn’t widely available on major streaming platforms until three years after its initial release, while His full movie is currently only on the tide – and may derail her commercial performance.
Beyoncé’s last number-one single as a lead artist, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”, came in late 2008. Despite the fact that her 28 Grammy Awards make her the most winning woman in music, she hasn’t won any award. In a major category since 2010. The radio play of its new solo releases has declined significantly since “4.” And while her six solo albums all went to #1, in between projects like “Everything Is Love” (a surprise joint album with Jay-Z), the soundtrack for “The Lion King” and her hit single “Homecoming” failed in reaching the top.
However, Beyoncé’s paradox means that even as she slipped somewhat off the charts, her greater cultural standing remained sublime, driven by the charm and grandeur she brings to every project. (“My Success Can’t Be Measurable,” she sang on the song “Nice” from 2018, mocking the importance of “flowing numbers.”)
Daniel Smith, veteran music journalist and author of Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop.
“There are people out there in this world to change the culture, to change the atmosphere,” she said in an interview. “It’s somewhat important, singles, albums or radio plays, but what really matters is that they make us look in a new direction.”
But from the very beginning, the release of “Renaissance” was different – more transparent, more traditional. Described by Beyoncé, 40, in an Instagram post last month as “a place devoid of perfectionism and overthinking,” the album is positioned to educate consumers and excite fans, with four different packages packaged and a limited-edition vinyl. Having already sold out on the singer’s website.
“She and her representative realize that things have changed since the release of her last album, and they have to go full press,” said Rob Jonas, CEO of Luminate, the music data service behind the Billboard charts. (Representatives of Beyoncé and her companies declined to comment.)
Behind the scenes the luxury of advance notice – Hallelujah! An early promotional song can give industry gatekeepers, such as radio stations and broadcast services, the runway to participate before the album is released.
“Getting anything before you land is a gift,” said Michael Martin, senior vice president of programming at Audacy, which operates more than 230 radio stations across the country. “When you have time to prepare, you can be a better marketing partner with artist, label and management. You can have everything ready to be pushed the moment the project hits the ecosystem. That’s what you want. You don’t want to scramble.”
“Break My Soul,” a return to ’90s dance music and the first single from “Renaissance,” was released over a month ago. With 57 million broadcasts and 61,000 radio cycles in the United States, according to Luminate, the song currently ranks seventh on the Billboard Hot 100 — its peak to date and only the third time that Beyoncé has reached the top ten in the past decade as a lead artist. (Her two most recent guest charts came: “Perfect Duet” with Ed Sheeran, in 2017, and “Savage Remix” with Megan Thee Stallion, in 2020.)
However, as with most things Beyoncé, commercial and artistic artists can work side by side. Smith said the preparations for the “Renaissance” release matched his impressive old gems—for example, the interest in elaborate vinyl wrapping for the album, which once again became a staple on big pop tent releases.
“Once I realized that Beyoncé was backing down a little bit, both musically and artistically, with her voice and hints, then the subtraction started to make sense to me,” Smith said. “They are all very dead.”
Another major development is Beyoncé’s arrival on TikTok, the home of bite-sized, shareable videos that have been one of the most reliable drivers of musical success for at least three years now, as well as a hype platform for young stars. Like Lizzo and Cardi B.
This month, Beyoncé’s official account posted its first TikToks — a montage of fans, including Cardi, dancing to the song Break My Soul, followed by a reveal of vinyl artwork for “Renaissance” — and the singer recently made her full music catalog available for the recording. User-generated videos on the platform.
Jonas, of Luminate, said the short videos lead to “increased awareness and ultimate consumption.” “We have a clear line of sight on this.” Even before her participation, Beyoncé’s songs like “Savage Remix” and “Yoncé” thrived on TikTok.
Whether or not the live release of “Renaissance” marks a return to total pop control for Beyoncé, there’s still a chance she’ll have more moves to make. After all, the singer teased the album as “Act I,” suggesting that it could just be part of a bigger project.
“Everything looks like it’s playing by the rules now,” said Jonas. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some deviation that we are not aware of yet.”
Smith said part of Beyoncé’s cultural mastery has included the ability to make herself scarce at certain moments and then again become the center of everything when she chooses. “At this point, you’re letting in air for others, but that’s as you see fit,” Smith said. “Her total impact – how she moves, what she wears – is unparalleled.”
She added, “I think if Beyoncé wakes up and decides, at 42 or 45 or 50, she wants to rule the culture across all the data points.” And the The effect then she can—like Cher before her, like Tina Turner before her—really without breaking a sweat.”
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