MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The news came just before midnight and ricocheted through social media: Beyonce has a new album. It was the best-kept secret in pop music. There had been no advance word, no publicity machine ginning up interest, no interviews.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "XO")
BEYONCE: (Singing) Your face is all that I see. I give you everything. Baby, love me lights out.
BLOCK: The album, titled simply "Beyonce," is available exclusively online on iTunes for the next week. And if you want it now, you have to buy the whole album, which comes with 17 music videos. You can't just download a single. Joining me to talk about what Beyonce has done here is Jason King. He teaches at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University. He's also a musician. Professor King, welcome to the program.
JASON KING: Thank you. Glad to be here.
BLOCK: First of all, how did Beyonce keep this a secret, do you think?
KING: Well, that itself is a secret.
KING: So I'm sure we'll find out pretty soon exactly how she managed to keep this under wraps for so long. It's obviously really hard to do that because we're in an age now where music can leak so quickly. But she managed to keep it very secretive and how she did that is the subject of mystery itself.
BLOCK: Well, Beyonce explains why she released her album this way. She posted a video on her Facebook page. And she mentioned remembering when Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video premiered, watching that on TV. Here's what she says.
BEYONCE: I miss that immersive experience. Now, people only listen to a few seconds of a song on their iPods. They don't really invest in a whole album. It's all about the single and the hype.
BLOCK: So she's talking there about, you know, trying to bypass the hype. But in a way, this really is - it's its own hype, right? And it's coming right before Christmas and at the height of the shopping season.
KING: Absolutely. I mean, I think it works for her for a few reasons. One, she's already a huge superstar. She's iconic. She has a built-in fan base and they will buy whatever she puts out, regardless of even the quality of the product, to some degree. And then also this is very much in line with what's happening right now in marketing, which is this idea of marketing without marketing or anti-marketing, where you appear to be just delivering your product directly to the consumer without any mediation. Now, clearly, there is mediation, but it appears - it feels like as if she's giving a gift to her fans right at the holiday gift-giving time.
BLOCK: But the notion that this is a gift directly from Beyonce to her fans - if it's a gift, it's a gift that costs 16 bucks. I mean, you know, this is not free and there's a calculation there, right?
KING: Absolutely. I mean, she's not giving it away. But at the same time, you know, she's not beating us over the head with months and months of promotion and teasing. And it feels, in some way, like something we weren't expecting but we're really happy to have it if you're a fan of Beyonce. And so that's, I mean, it's a cliche but people would buy the phonebook if she sang it.
KING: But, you know, I think it remains to be seen the long-term effectiveness of this kind of strategy.
BLOCK: Is there any part of this that bothers you? I mean, she is - Beyonce is notorious for controlling her image. And in a way, this is the ultimate control, right, releasing this the way she has and controlling her own hype very deliberately.
KING: I don't really consider it to be troubling so much as just really smart and really savvy. It's a real kind of gangsta move at the end of 2013. If that's a bad thing, so be it. But I think with her, it just adds to the dimensions of her iconicity.
BLOCK: Jason King, it's good to talk to you. Thank you so much.
KING: Thanks for having me.
BLOCK: Jason King teaches at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JEALOUS")
BEYONCE: (Singing) I'm just jealous. I'm just human. Don't judge me. If you're keeping your promise, I'm keeping my word. If you're keeping your promise...
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