This may sound hyperbolic but I feel like I have witnessed something truly historic. Beyoncé dropped her new album this weekend and it has proven to be one of the most thrilling things to take over public consciousness in a while. It is artistic, timely, and most of all, completely bucks music industry trends. The way in which this album was released so brilliantly calculated. By now she has been in the music industry for almost two decades. She has amassed fourteen million Twitter followers. Her fans (known as The Beyhive) are so devoted to her they attack defenseless daytime TV hosts. There’s something seemingly revolutionary at work here, something that demands scrutiny. What’s clear is that Beyoncé knows how to manage her brand.
It started with a video.
When I sat down to watch her new video that was to premiere on HBO, I was taken aback by the fifty-seven minute run-time. I was expecting to see a singular music video, presumably for a song called Lemonade. What I got was a full-length visual album that incorporated many different mediums (music, poetry, film, etc.) to create a new experience for her fans. Her video had been teased on HBO for a few weeks leading to the premiere. We caught glimpses of the queen herself, wearing fantastic clothing and looking totally defiant as artsy imagery, part Tree of Life, part American Horror Story, which gave us a sense of ominous excitement.
Beyoncé was smart/savvy to build the momentum up for her release. Similar to the launch of a rebrand initiative or new campaign, she took the time to grow and nurture the buzz surrounding her latest album – devising ingenious new ways of promotion and taking advantage of all avenues available. Recall her music video of Formation, a track that came seemingly out of nowhere and set the interwebs on fire. The release of Formation occurred Super Bowl weekend – a curious coincidence. And who was the surprise special guest this year? The one who completely overshadowed Coldplay.
Then there’s her relationship with the prestigious cable network, HBO. She’s aligned herself before with HBO with her documentary Life is but a Dream and her On the Run concert with husband Jay-Z. But this pairing doesn’t seem arbitrary. HBO is a powerhouse in the cable community and has long defined itself as something different (“It’s not TV. It’s HBO,” right?). With shows like Girls under constant speculation from the Blogosphere and the behemoth Game of Thrones leaving everyone wondering whether or not Jon Snow is truly a corpse-popsicle, Beyoncé was bound to set herself apart from her competition. It also attaches a label of “quality” to any content she creates with them.
Her “visual album” has other benefits as well. You know that streaming service Tidal? The one she owns with Jay-Z and a few other musicians? Maybe not. According to a recent New York Times article, it has undergone some re-branding, a key part of which was to offer exclusive content from a tag team of superstar acts, whose fame and artistic power would draw new consumers. But Tidal has never really caught on in the way it wanted to. Ever the struggling endeavor, its subscriber numbers pale in comparison to the Swedish super power, Spotify. There’s no doubt that Lemonade will revitalize its brand and generate new subscribers. Full disclosure: I rushed to get a trial of Tidal just so I can listen to her album. In the coming months, we might see a new front runner in the streaming services market.
Lemonade is an amazing mix of commerce, artistry, and activism. Queen Bey essentially pulled a Trojan Horse on us—she got us talking about her while also bringing to the forefront of the culture larger social issues around race, identity, and community. That’s right—Beyoncé made us all watch an art film and we didn’t want a refund! Isn’t that what we want our brands to do? Don’t we want to create an experience for the people that believe in us most while evoking change? Beyoncé has her fans. We here at Boundless have our clients. Beyoncé’s Lemonade seems to be a fascinating case study, a reminder that with control of our brand, a fine attention to detail, and alliances with the right people, we can put ourselves in positions to take chances, affect change, and ultimately reap the rewards of our hard work.
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