Beyonce performs during halftime of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game in Santa Clara, Calif. (Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
Once again, Beyoncé has broken the mold of a traditional album release.
On Saturday, the megastar debuted material from her eagerly anticipated sixth album via “Lemonade,” an hour-long concept musical film that debuted exclusively on HBO, just a week after she announced the event with a cryptic teaser that revealed little except the film’s title.
And before the special was over, she dropped the album, also titled “Lemonade,” directly to streaming service Tidal.
The 12-track record includes guest appearances from Jack White, the Weeknd, James Blake and Kendrick Lamar.
In the days leading to its premiere, speculation about “Lemonade,” which the pop star began filming in secret late last year, was endless among fans. Would it feature new music? Would it bring forth the release of the new album? The answer to both questions is yes.
Much like landmark work from Michael Jackson and Prince, “Lemonade” is a deeply experimental statement for a singer who has spent the last few years of her career working to redefine uber pop-stardom in an age of social media and streaming.
The film opens much like the teaser she issued a week ago — the singer in blond cornrows and a fur before scenes of Louisiana flash by.
“You can taste the dishonesty, it’s all over your breath,” she sings in the opening lines of the somber, piano-driven ballad that opens the album, “Pray You Catch Me.”
The constant thread of “Lemonade” is a relationship that has been tested and strained. The album is “based on every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing,” according to its release information on Tidal.
A dizzying array of producers and songwriters contributed to the album. Among the lengthy credit scroll is Kevin Garret, Diplo, Mike Will Made It, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Mike Dean, Wynter Gorden, Ben Billions, Just Blaze, Hit-Boy, Boots, Father John Misty, James Blake and Dannyboystyles.
How Beyoncé planned on releasing the new material to the public was just as, if not more, fascinating as what the new record would sound like.
In 2013, she made a self-titled “visual album” featuring 14 new tracks and 17 music videos — recorded and filmed largely in secret — available for purchase on iTunes without as much as a warning.
The surprise release jolted the music industry and became a blockbuster hit. The phrase “pulling a Beyoncé” was coined to describe the uptick of high-profile acts releasing bodies of work without fanfare, and she shattered iTunes’ sales records, logging more than 617,200 downloads in just three days (the project instantly shot to No. 1 in more than 100 countries).
Beyoncé took much of that approach with the new album and film.
Though she recorded the songs and filmed visuals mostly under the radar, the arrival of new music wasn’t a surprise.
In February, on the day before she performed at the Super Bowl alongside Coldplay and Bruno Mars, Beyoncé released her brazen single “Formation,” which she debuted on Tidal along with its music video. The song closes the album, but its video isn’t included in the film.
Beyond releasing “Formation,” announcing a stadium world tour and the “Lemonade” teaser, the singer kept a lid on details about the album.
It was expected that Beyoncé would release it directly to Tidal. More than a year ago, the superstar, along with husband Jay Z, plus Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Kanye West and a host of other A-list musicians, gathered for a splashy launch event to announce the artist-owned streaming service.
Its more than 3 million subscribers are eclipsed by the 11 million that Apple Music touts and the 30 million of the nearly 10-year-old Spotify. However, both Apple Music and Spotify trail Tidal in volume of high-profile releases by megastar pop acts.
And “Lemonade” is Tidal’s biggest get yet.
The service seemed to have learned from the bumpy rollout of Rihanna’s “Anti” album and West’s “The Life of Pablo” — both of which ultimately did gangbusters for the service in terms of streaming numbers and cultural impact — with the Beyoncé release. The album appeared on the service minutes before the special wrapped.