“just setting up my twttr” – Jack Dorsey, March 21, 2006
I’m convinced that historians will look back 50 years from now at Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet, the first tweet ever tweeted, with the same reverence as Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. And when historians look back 50 years from now, they’ll see that the event that inspired the most tweets per minute was not a Super Bowl, a New Years celebration, or a Presidential election, but the surprise release of Beyoncé’s self titled album in 2013.
Beyoncé announced the release of Beyoncé with a single Instagram video post. That was it – no billboard signs, no advertisements, and no press releases. In a year where the announcement of an album release reached cinematic levels, Beyoncé completely bypassed this step. No one knew she was even recording an album. But with the confessional, 24 hour nature of blogs, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, surprise may be the last frontier of marketing.
This type of viral campaign isn’t limited to music. Kobe Bryant returned to the Lakers two weekends ago from a torn achilles. The Sunday of his return, he released a of his #8 Lakers jersey literally weathering the storm (he had 9 pts, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists in his debut).
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Meanwhile, the box score of Beyoncé, courtesy of Mashable:
– there were 1.2 million tweets in the 12 hours after the release, which is more impressive since it was released late at night (so people stayed up all night listening to the album and tweeting. Then again, I stayed up all night and tweeted when the Yeezy 2’s were released two summers ago – I get it)
– there were 5300 tweets per minute, which beat the previous record held by Sharknado
– Beyoncé sold 828,773 copies in three days. The 617,213 domestic downloads broke iTunes first week record sales
All with one Instagram post.
Yeezus to Magna Carta Holy Grail to Beyoncé
We should have seen this “no marketing” approach coming, especially in the context of Yeezus and Magna Carta Holy Grail advertising campaigns (not to mention randomly releasing albums is status quo for Death Grips).
The release of Yeezus was the most traditional of the three. We knew the album was coming out at some point last summer through a series of tweets from Kanye’s account. We just didn’t know what/where/when/how/why. The video projections of New Slaves across 66 cities around the world caught us off guard (and went viral). But we were mentally ready, silently preparing our funniest tweets for the day the album leaked.
But two days before the release of Yeezus, a commercial aired during half time of game 5 of the NBA Finals. The black and white commercial started off with Jay-Z (is that Jay-Z?) standing on an apartment balcony. Then, the frame cuts to Timbaland (dope), Rick Rubin (damn), Swizz Beatz (yup) and Pharrell (oh shit – is this a art project?) in a studio, while Jay-Z discusses his new album (wait – what?) set to release on July 4th (we can play it at my BBQ!)
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And as unique as a black and white, three minute commercial sponsored by Samsung during the NBA Finals is, Magna Carta Holy Grail was dropping…in three weeks…and we didn’t know Jay-Z was even recording an album. And whereas Jay-Z used the Samsung Galaxy 4 and the NBA Finals to conquer the music industry, and Kanye West used a Le Corbusier lamp and leather jogging pants to conquer interviews, Beyoncé used Instagram, Twitter and iTunes to conquer infinity.
A Visual Album: An Addendum
Beyoncé was an iTunes only digital release for $15.99. Without an option to download individual songs, the move straddles the line between the “old days” of CDs and cassettes, and today’s digital downloads age. The 14 tracks were accompanied by 17 music videos, thus elevating the album from just music, to an event.
Taking cues from the art world is nothing new in hip hop, and Beyoncé is right on track. With a digital booklet that features photo stills, sparse text, and a wide range of videos, the album is performance art. This turns buying Beyoncé (and Yeezus and Magna Carta Holy Grail, amongst others) into something tangible, like buying an art piece. But this painting only costs $15.99.
And while digital files don’t make good coffee table books, Instagramming pictures that your Beyoncé download is at 30% serves the same purpose. The most popular hip hop albums of the year, from Jay-Z to Drake to Macklemore to Kanye West, bridged the gap between consumer’s physical and digital identity. After all, Instagramming an album you’re listening to, or tweeting links to the latest Pharrell video, is more than music – it shows who you are, too.