Is Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance’ Rollout (Gas!) Conventional?

A cheerful lead single ready for the radio. An album title and release date with a lot of attention. A magazine cover story, followed by a personal mission statement, a new social media account, a detailed track listing and a pre-sale of merchandise.

For most musicians, these are time-honored points in the script for the introduction of an important new album. But for Beyoncé, who has spent the past decade and gone through all the conventions about how music should be marketed, the rollout of “Renaissance,” her latest album due out Friday, is a striking shift — and perhaps a tacit admission that it game has changed.

Before “Renaissance,” Beyoncé’s seventh solo studio album, the last time the singer took part in such standard baby steps, with “4” in 2011, President Barack Obama was still in his first term and a European music start-up called Spotify emerged. just arrived in the United States. Since then, there hasn’t been much about the formula for selling new music that Beyoncé hasn’t completely modified, disrupted, or dismantled.

First there was “Beyoncé,” the paradigm-shifting surprise “visual album” from 2013. Then came “Lemonade” (2016), a tour full of allusions that arrived with more mystery as a film on cable television. Working closely with Tidal, the streaming service then operated 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 sought out and carefully should be considered, rather than served for ease of access and maximum consumption.

That work, and the innovative way in which she has released it, has seen Beyoncé skyrocket in artistic stature. But it has also served to distance the singer somewhat from the pop music mainstream and clear up her material – the “Lemonade” album was not widely available on major streaming platforms until three years after its initial release, while the full-length movie is currently available. only on Tidal – and potentially cripple its commercial performance.

Beyoncé’s last No. 1 lead artist single, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”, was released in late 2008. Despite her 28 Grammy Awards making her the most winning woman in music, she hasn’t won a trophy in a major category since 2010. The radio play for her new solo releases has dropped significantly since “4.” And while her six solo albums have all hit No. 1, between projects like “Everything Is Love” (a surprising collaborative album with Jay-Z), the soundtrack to “Lion King” and her concert album “Homecoming,” each has succeeded. not reach the top.

Still, Beyoncé’s paradox has meant that, while she’s slipped slightly on the charts, her greater cultural prestige has remained supreme, driven by the mystique and grandeur she adds to each project. (“My success cannot be quantified,” she rapped on 2018’s “Nice,” mocking the importance of “streaming songs”.)

“She’s still the culture leader regardless of relatively small data points in her world, like album sales and radio plays,” said Danyel Smith, the veteran music journalist and author of the recent “Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women at Pop .”

“There are people in this world to change the culture, to change the atmosphere,” she said in an interview. “It matters to a certain extent, the singles or the albums or the radio play, but what really matters is that they make us look in a new direction.”

From the beginning, however, the “Renaissance” rollout has been different – more transparent, more conventional. Described by Beyoncé, 40, in an Instagram post last month as “a place to be free from perfectionism and overthinking,” the album is being positioned for massive consumer awareness and excitement among fans, with four different box sets and a limited-edition vinyl version already available. sold out on the singer’s website.

“She and her rep recognize that things have changed since her last album release, and she needs to take the press to court,” said Rob Jonas, the chief executive of Luminate, the music data service behind the Billboard charts.

A big risk of the old-fashioned release strategy — requiring physical copies of the album to be produced well in advance — came out on Wednesday, when “Renaissance” appeared to be leaking in full online. Fan accounts on social media speculated that the early, unofficial version may have come from CDs sold prematurely in Europe.

Immediately, Beyoncé’s famous protective base, known as the BeyHive, sprang into action, trying to discourage early listeners and team up to report on those spreading the bootleg.

While pre-leaking of major albums was common as the CD era gave way to digital downloads, and could ruin the prospects of a new album, a crackdown on digital piracy and the shift to a streaming-first model — along with surprising releases like Beyoncé’s – vastly diminished that threat.

The last time Beyoncé suffered a major leak was with “4” in 2011, when she told listeners, “While this isn’t how I wanted to present my new songs, I appreciate the positive response from my fans.” (Representatives for Beyoncé and her label declined to comment on her release strategy and did not immediately respond to questions about the leak.)

Behind the scenes, the luxury of advance notice and – hallelujah! — an early promotional single can give industry gatekeepers, such as radio stations and streaming services, the runway to get involved before an album is released.

“To have something for the drop is a gift,” said Michael Martin, senior vice president of programming at Audacy, which operates more than 230 radio stations across the country. “If you have time to prepare, you can be a better marketing partner with the artist, label and management. You can have everything ready to get out the moment the project hits the ecosystem. That’s what you want. You don’t want to climb.”

‘Break My Soul’, a throwback to ’90s dance music and the lead single from ‘Renaissance’, was released more than a month ago. With 57 million streams and 61,000 radio spins in the United States, the song currently sits at number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, according to Luminate — its peak to date and only the third time Beyoncé has reached the Top 10 in the past decade as main artist. (Her two most recent hit charts came as a guest: “Perfect Duet” with Ed Sheeran, in 2017, and “Savage Remix” with Megan Thee Stallion, in 2020.)

But as with most things Beyoncé, the commercial and the artistic can go hand in hand. Smith said the preparations for the release of “Renaissance” matched the plagued vintage touchstones — for example, the special attention paid to the album’s extensive vinyl packaging, which has once again become a regular part of marquee pop releases.

“Once I realized that Beyoncé was coming back a bit musically and artistically with her sound and her allusions, the rollout started to make sense to me,” Smith said. “It’s all very meta.”

Another recent major development has been the arrival of Beyoncé on TikTok, the home of bite-sized, shareable videos that has been one of the most trusted drivers of music hits for at least three years, as well as a popular hype platform for younger stars like Lizzo and Cardi B.

This month, Beyoncé’s official account posted his first TikToks — a montage of fans, including Cardi, dancing to “Break My Soul,” followed by the vinyl artwork for “Renaissance” — and the singer recently made her entire music catalog available for users to score. generated videos on the platform.

Short videos provide “huge awareness and downstream consumption,” says Jonas from Luminate. “We have a clear view on that.” Even before her entry, Beyoncé songs like “Savage Remix” and “Yoncé” were thriving on TikTok.

Whether or not the uncomplicated release of “Renaissance” marks a return to total pop dominance for Beyoncé, there’s still a chance she has more moves to make. After all, the album has been teased by the singer as “Act I,” indicating it could just be part of a bigger project.

“It all feels a bit too much like she’s playing by the rules now,” Jonas said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a twist we’re not aware of yet.”

Part of Beyoncé’s cultural mastery, Smith said, has included the ability to make herself scarce at times and then become the center of everything again when she wishes. “Right now, she’s letting others in, but it’s at her own discretion, at her own discretion,” Smith said. “Her overall impact — how she moves, what she wears — is unparalleled.”

She added: “I believe that if Beyoncé woke up and decided, at age 42, 45 or 50, she wanted to rule the culture across all data points. and impact then she could – like Cher before her, like Tina Turner before her – really without breaking a sweat.”

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