Beyonce’s new album reveals how to succeed in the digital age

By Jeff Ihaza / Senior Staff Writer

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

News happens differently now. Over break, I knew Beyoncé did something important because, on Twitter, 18 different people said things to the effect of: “OMG BEY.” Turns out the Houston-born (and don’t you forget it) pop icon blew up the music industry by putting out a full-length “visual album” with absolutely no press.

Within 24 hours, it was all anyone was talking about. Click-baiting blogs, with what must be templates by now, were already calling into question how good a feminist Beyoncé is in light of her newly sexed-up demeanor. Online magazine Rookie did a roundtable discussion called “The Great Big Beyoncé Roundtable” and Tumblr, Beyoncé’s preferred social media platform, received manna from heaven in the form of glamorous GIFs from the artist, herself.

Meanwhile, public relations executives were clamoring over this new distribution platform, and the question of how to survive as an artist in a digital landscape that frankly isn’t good at paying for things (see: Spotify) has intensified lately as things continue to progress in a dizzying fashion. If Beyoncé proved anything, it’s that the album rollout is the saving grace for paid content.

Musically, 2013 culminated with Beyoncé’s surprise release, but the year, as a whole, was full of experiments on how to navigate a fleeting, impossibly critical cultural landscape.

Miley Cyrus, confident in her online controversy appeal, made a bet with L.A. hit maker Lukas Gottwald (who is commonly referred to as Dr. Luke) that her song “Wrecking Ball,” would top YouTube charts — she won.

Kanye West’s face adorned giant buildings throughout the world as he decried being crowded out of the fashion industry on “New Slaves.” Drake basically cried on national television as he performed “Too Much” on Jimmy Fallon. Arcade Fire tried to get people to dress up at their shows but underestimated just how petty the Internet can be and quickly rescinded the dress code.

What all of these examples prove is that engaging an audience as an artist in the current state of the music industry needs to somehow mimic the days before the Internet. People need to want to own something physically, or want to experience something that lasts longer than five seconds. Otherwise, the artist probably won’t get paid.

Beyoncé’s release will rightfully be lauded as an innovation in the industry, but it wouldn’t be right to forget about Childish Gambino. Donald Glover’s divisive side project, “Because the Internet,” had the best (and probably most practical) rollout of the year.

A 76-page screenplay that requires less patience than the words “76 pages” would have you think accompanies “Because the Internet.” The album’s focus is on how fleeting the times in which we live are.

While Beyoncé certainly has enough cultural clout to pull off an unannounced album, Gambino, who has it hard enough with that name, truly went against the grain. The screenplay features brief clips directed by Glover that give the songs on the record an unprecedented degree of context.

Despite what reservations you might have with Gambino’s music or image, he understands how obsessed we all are with context. Drake is interesting because of how public his relationships are. Kanye West will always captivate us with the simple question of “What next?” And so on.

We live in a time where everything is literally at our fingertips, and as James Franco explains in his New York Times piece about the selfie, artists have an entirely new ability to add context to their work. It just took a star as bright as Beyoncé to make them realize it.

Leave a comment.