Yes, yes. We all know that Beyoncé dropped a new album today. We all were surprised and I do think that in today’s landscape of Twitter, cellphone cameras, and rumor-obsessed media, that it’s an amazing feat for an artist as famous as Beyoncé to be able to keep a secret like this. But it’s hardly the miracle that the US press is playing it out to be.
Basically, Beyoncé moved the needle but she did not, as many in the press (and celebrity tweets) would have you believe, “change the game.” That honor must be bestowed on David Bowie and his superb release The Next Day.
Also, let me be clear: This isn’t about the quality of Beyoncé’s music. I haven’t heard the new release, but I loved “All the Single Ladies” and I think she’s very talented. This is simply my response to what I see as an over-reaction by the US media (the UK media was pretty quick to point out that Bowie had been the real trend-setter, here).
On midnight (on his birthday) January 8, 2013, Bowie quietly changed his website, announcing his first new album in 10 years and released the first single “Where Are We Now?” Virtually no one knew he was about to release a new cd. In fact, only a few people at Sony Music had a clue. Their internal database listed only “TBD” on the scheduled release date. I’d wager that fewer than 25 people in the entire world knew that Bowie was recording an album.
In all fairness, everyone thought that Bowie was all but retired, thus allowing him to work in less of a spotlight than Beyoncé. Many of his diehard fans, myself included, had given up any real hope of hearing any new music from the man and there were loads of crazy rumors floating around that he was dying, senile, bed-ridden, etc. This allowed him to plot his return with a little less scrutiny. That said, when you’re David Bowie and you’re going into multiple recording studios over the course of a year, odds are someone’s going to talk. No one did.
And while Bowie didn’t drop the whole album at once (it was finished, though) I still maintain that his release was significantly more of a surprise than Beyoncé’s, for a number of reasons.
The major one being that Beyoncé’s most recent release was a mere two years ago and she has been very much in the public eye. Performing new material, giving birth (the more famous women advocating breastfeeding the better, as far as I am concerned!), etc. Also, everyone knew an album was coming. The only surprise was when. That’s hardly a sea change. Release an album after a decade when even your own hardcore fans think you’ve hung it up? Then I’ll be shocked.
Does this mean that more artists will surprise their fans with release dates, singles, videos or tours? I hope so. It makes things more interesting and less corporate and when artists of the stature of Bowie and Beyoncé pull stunts like this, it can only be a good thing. However, I won’t really be surprised until a major pop artist drops an album that absolutely no one is expecting and really, how many opportunities are there left for that?