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SURFBOARD: Beyoncé’s Surprise Album Generates Debate

            The lights in the arena dimmed. Thousands of roaring and adoring fans cheered. The excitement and anticipation was almost unbearable. Humming of drums, horns, saxophones, and every other instrument blared in the arena. A spot on the stage shined brightly and all eyes were focused on stage. The emphasis put on that one spotlight made anything else a mere speck within the surrounding darkness. At that moment, this female silhouette that stood tall and fierce with a microphone in her hand produced even more screams before a single note could muster up. This was my first time witnessing the magic of Beyoncé live in concert at Philips arena in 2009 and seeing her perform live made even the Energizer Bunny look like a slacker.
            Beyoncé’s last studio album was in 2011 titled ‘4’ and like any typical release of a new project there were promotional stops, commercials, and interviews leading up to its release. Fast forward to 2013, people longed for a new album from Beyoncé and reports and pictures of her coming in and out of studios circulated throughout the web sporadically all year round.
It was a Thursday night on December 12th when music history went down. As I scrolled through Instagram aimlessly at a quarter till midnight, I see the top post of a friend’s page with a picture of Beyoncé’s name printed in pink with an all-black background. The comment attached to the picture mentioned a new album. In shock and slight disbelief, I went to Twitter to see if any buzz surrounded this so-called album. The top most retweeted tweet in the news feed was to a direct iTunes link and being the nosy person, I clicked on it and BOOM- Beyoncé's cd on my phone. Honestly, being the fan that I am, I didn’t even see the price on the album, nor did I even care about the cost.  This cd was the best announcement to bring in December Friday the 13th.
            So what can Beyoncé’s unexpected, self-titled visual album teach us about media and art? The visual album, consisting of 14 songs and 17 music videos, came at a random time that every social media in all aspects thrived with feedback and input. A Twitter spokesperson told that Beyoncé’s surprise album generated 1.2 million tweets within 12 hours. I feel that the media part to this surprise album was going to happen because being that she is one of the biggest stars, anything Beyoncé related would get conversations started. Jon Pareles, chief popular-music critic in the arts section for The New York Times, says, “In a year full of overblown marketing campaigns for albums that were letdowns-[…] “Beyoncé” should long outlast the initial stir.” The essence of Pareles’ critique is that speculation revolving the cd didn’t happen prior to its release and therefore helped to diminish any unnecessary hype.
         When it comes to the topic of art, most of us will agree that it’s not just a specific type of thing a person can say makes art. In the sense of art, the teachable moment is that in the mist of social media mayhem and vast technology where illegally downloading songs are prevalent, it ultimately hurts a person’s whole artistry in a cd. In Beyoncé’s views, “I wanted to make this body of work and I feel like it’s something that’s lost in pop music… I would make my best art and just put it out.” She didn’t feel obligated to edit out the realness and authenticity of her music to please others; that’s a true sign of confidence and the ability to be in a freeing environment.
Media often have a negative depiction, but there is good that can come from it.  Music is still appreciated and from the numbers of “Beyoncé” sales, one can infer that people definitely supported and embraced it. It’s so genius that iTunes exclusively had the visual album for one whole week because people could only purchase the album in its entirety and could not select certain songs to buy. Pareles speaks about the conscious decision of the distributing of the album:

And it arrives at nearly the last possible moment for the lucrative Christmas season. But Beyoncé transformed a delay into a selling point. And by not manufacturing discs until the album appeared online — they are promised to retail stores before Christmas — her label avoided the leaks that often occur during manufacturing and distribution. Neatly done.
 In a typical marketing standpoint that’s a dream to try to have that much control over a project without the fears of illegal downloads and bootlegging. People only shape their opinions and form judgment after they bought the digital copy legally and I think that’s something Beyoncé made a conscious effort to do. Beyoncé herself speaks on her YouTube series “Self-Titled Part 1”:

I feel like right now people experience music differently. I remember seeing Thriller [Michael Jackson] on TV with my family; it was an event. Now, people only listen to a few seconds of a song on their iPod; they don’t really invest in a whole album. It’s all about the single and the hype. It’s so much that get between the music and the artist and the fans.
 In making this comment, Beyoncé urges us to fully bask in music the way it’s intended like past generations of greats like Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson.
For Beyoncé to reach her music to the masses, in this type of approach, is unheard of. If the fear of career failure wasn’t an option, other artists would have done this. Beyoncé forever reigns supreme.