The project is entirely Beyonce’s vision, and Rob Stringer’s Team Columbia, the artist’s Team Parkwood and iTunes labored mightily to bring it into the world.
The Story Behind the Sneak Attack, and How Beyoncé Shattered iTunes' One-Week Record in Three Days

A lot of artists can claim to be the bomb, but only a few can truly drop one.

Without any wind-up, preamble or tease whatsoever, Columbia unveiled a brand-new album from Beyonce on the evening of 12/12 on iTunes. At 9pm, an assortment of glamorous black-and-white images of the megastar suddenly occupied the store’s home-page carousel, and fans were invited to download the self-titled "visual album," featuring 14 audio tracks and 17 videos.

And they certainly did, sending the release (Queen Bey’s fifth solo outing) to #1 in a few hours, to 500k within two days and to more than 618k in three, shattering the one-week iTunes record both in the U.S. and abroad. She was quickly positioned not only to blow past the retail bow of her previous album, 2011’s 4 (and making her a shoo-in for the #1 spot on this week’s HITS Album Sales Chart), but also within striking distance of the first-week record for digital sales. Having smashed Taylor Swift’s online number for Red, she soon had Lady Gaga’s 665k (440k of which sold for 99 cents on Amazon) in her sights.

And let’s not forget that she’s attained these heights with a substantial $15.99 price point, though fans obviously felt an album of new material that also featured visually rich videos for every track was more than a bargain.

The album will be unbundled on 12/20, at which point fans can purchase individual tracks; a lavish physical package containing a CD, DVD and a deluxe booklet will hit shelves this week.

Two singles will be delivered to radio this week: "XO" (written by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and The-Dream) hits Top 40 tomorrow, while "Drunk in Love," a duet with Jay Z, impacts at Urban. Videos for both tracks, meanwhile, premiere on VEVO tomorrow.

The project is entirely Beyonce’s vision, and Rob Stringer’s Team Columbia, the artist’s Team Parkwood and iTunes labored mightily to bring it into the world. What started with just four people in a room (with a plan for what we’re calling the Sneak Attack) ended with the three teams in total coordination; as many as 15 participants formed the inner circle for the final 72 hours. Plans were hatched and revised, and the digital release date changed repeatedly before it was finally agreed upon and the substantial body of work was completed and delivered. 

Columbia’s team started early on with their sales squad, expanding to production coordinators and marketing. On the Parkwood side, Lee Anne Callahan and Jim Sabey were the tip of the spear. iTunesRobert KondrkJay Liepis and Janet Rubin also played pivotal roles. Each team moved forward and then spent much of the process in hurry-up-and-wait mode, standing by for the content

Reportedly crafted over a year and a half, Beyonce features—in addition to hubby Jay Z and co-writers Tedder and The Dream—a panoply of guest collaborators, including Justin Timberlake, Drake, Pharrell Williams, Frank Ocean, Sia, Miguel, Timbaland and her Destiny’s Child bandmates Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland.

The videos, many of them filmed during her massive Mrs. Carter World Tour; the Queen helmed some of the clips herself, but also enlisted such A-list directors as Hype Williams, Jonas Ackerlund and Terry Williamson. Locales for the vids include a Paris chateau, Coney Island’s Cyclone rollercoaster, a Brazilian beach and her childhood roller rink in Houston.

"I didn’t want to release my music the way I’ve done it," reads a quote from the artist in the album announcement. "I am bored with that. I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans. There’s so much that gets between the music, the artist and the fans.  I felt like I didn’t want anybody to give the message when my record is coming out. I just want this to come out when it’s ready and from me to my fans."

How did those fans react? Well, the word "apeshit" comes to mind. In addition to ringing the bells at iTunes, Beyonce’s ferocious base drummed up more than a half-million Twitter mentions in three hours. Joining the #QueenBey conversation were fellow stars like Katy Perry ("Don't talk to me today unless it's about @Beyonce THANX."), Lady Gaga ("welcome back Queen B"), Snoop Dogg/Lion/Zilla ("my girl @beyonce just changed d game !!"), Diddy, Demi Lovato, Sara Bareilles, Jessie J and many more.

A Q4 superstar release executed this effectively would be impressive under any circumstances; that Columbia, Beyonce’s crew and iTunes have delivered it as a surprise holiday gift, without any pre-release hype, is simply staggering.



A peek at how the deal went down. (8/12a)
Is mining the past the future? (8/10a)
Breaking down the radio charts - or just breaking down. (8/11a)
Taylor holds firm. (8/12a)
Interscope's co-MVPs (8/7a)
They're so dreamy.
It's a conspiracy, because everyone does it.
No, but we're thinking about cookies.
Protest songs that sound like now.

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