Well that was unexpected: Beyoncé released a new album at midnight without warning, delivering 14 new songs and 17 videos as part of what she's calling her first "visual album."
Beyoncé features collaborations with Jay Z on "Drunk in Love," Drake on "Mine" and Frank Ocean on "Superpower," along with vocals from Blue Ivy, Beyoncé and Jay Z's nearly two-year-old daughter, on "Blue." The-Dream, Ryan Tedder, Pharrell Williams, Boots and Drake and Noah '40' Shebib contributed songwriting. The videos were shot in cities around the world, including New York; Paris; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Sydney, Australia; and Houston.
"I see music," Beyoncé said in a press release, explaining the idea behind a visual album. "It's more than just what I hear. When I'm connected to something, I immediately see a visual or a series of images that are tied to a feeling or an emotion, a memory from my childhood, thoughts about life, my dreams or my fantasies. And they're all connected to the music."
Although Beyoncé is not a concept album, the press release says it is "designed to be consumed as a comprehensive audio/visual piece from top to bottom. The antithesis of making singles, the visual album is a non-linear journey through the thoughts and visions of Beyoncé."
"I didn't want to release my music the way I've done it," Beyoncé said. "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."
There's been plenty of speculation about when the singer might be ready with a new project – just this week, Columbia Records chairman Rob Stringer said Beyoncé would put out a record "at some point." He added, "When she does, it will be monumental."
Beyoncé released occasional songs and videos throughout 2013, posting "Bow Down/I Been On" in March, teasing "Grown Woman" in a soft-drink ad and "Standing on the Sun" in a spot for a clothing retailer in April and, last month, streaming "God Made You Beautiful," from her Life Is but a Dream documentary. None of those songs are on Beyoncé, which is available now through iTunes, and will be available in physical formats in time for Christmas.