December 22, 2013 4:23pm PT by Andy Gensler, Billboard
Beyonce on Surprise Album, Career: 'I Wanted to Follow in Madonna's Footsteps'
Beyonce Knowles just pulled off one of the most spectacular surprise album drops of all time with the Dec. 13 release of her self-titled visual album, setting both iTunes and Billboard chart records in the process. What facilitated the successful campaign? The singer made it clear on Saturday night that it came to one major business decision.
"I started my own company," Beyonce said referring to Parkwood Entertainment, the entertainment and management company she founded in 2008. "When I decided to manage myself, it was important that I didn't go to some big management company. I felt like I wanted to follow the footsteps of Madonna and be a powerhouse and have my own empire and show other women when you get to this point in your career, you don't have to go sign with someone else and share your money and your success -- you do it yourself."
Beyonce's comments came during a private screening for fans and the press of the 17 videos accompanying the album at New York's School of Visual Arts Theatre. The event included a 15-minute question and answer session in which the superstar singer answered questions from fans via Instagram.
One of the big mysteries surrounding the album is how, with hundreds and perhaps thousands of people involved in this album's complex production, was she able to keep the album secret up until its release and, also, why? "We went through a lot of things to keep it secret," Beyonce explained. "I really, really wanted to surprise people and for them to hear the art in it and have it not be about the hype and promotion."
She also credited her success to her former manager and father Mathew Knowles, who taught her "so, so much," and her staff. "I found a team of underdogs, a team of women, a team of people that no one believed in and we worked together," she said. "We stayed up all night and we were progressive and we did not follow the rules. We said, 'Why can't we do it?' And I don’t think people believed. I said to so many people, 'I have an idea to do a visual album and I want to ... ' And they were like, 'Uhhhh, okay … ' And we did it. Not only did we do it, it's my company and I'm very proud of that."
Self-empowerment and independence are major themes that permeate the narratives of the new album and videos. "Pretty Hurts," for example, shows an unvarnished look at beauty pageants while shining a light on the oppressive side of the beauty industry; "Superpower" (featuring Frank Ocean) finds Beyonce leading a crust-punk revolution with help from Pharrell and Destiny's Child; and "Blow" shows Bey as a seductress atop a Ferrari while commanding that you "turn the cherry out."
It is that streak of self-assuredness and determination that made her ambitious album a reality. The record was entirely Beyonce’s vision and she co-directed several videos and wrote the treatments -- though even Beyonce had her doubts.
"This is a project that I didn’t think was possible, actually," she said during her opening remarks. "I've never done anything so brave in my life. The amount of personal growth from this project isn’t like anything I've ever done. I took all of my insecurities, all of my doubts, all of my fears and everything I’ve learned over the seventeen years and I applied it into this project."
While explaining the rationale behind the album, the singer revealed her disillusionment with music in general and other ambitions she harbors -- possibly involving artist management.
"My goal was putting together a body of work," she said. "I just wanted to know if people care about music because honestly I was at a point where I felt like, you know, everything feels the same, like what I said in 'Ghost': 'All the shit I do is boring.' That's how I felt. If I could not challenge that, then maybe it was time for me to do something else or develop more artists, which is something I want to do."
The prospect of Beyonce developing artists, especially if the runaway success of her latest gambit is any indication, is intriguing. Though Beyonce's goals are far more broad. "I just hope that I continue to move forward and challenge myself," she said. "Now that I’ve become a mother, I just want my legacy to inspire people."