Beyoncé has demonstrated a talent for leveraging gossip about her personal life into music industry success.
Last week, the singer released a “surprise” album, Lemonade. It was a “surprise” if you ignored the single she released before the Super Bowl or the various cryptic messages she’s scattered in the two months since. Or the world tour she just kicked off. Beyoncé has become the queen of not teasing actual release dates ahead of time.
The interesting part of Lemonade is that many of its songs directly address infidelity. That stoked up the seemingly endless rounds of speculation about the state of the marriage of Beyoncé and Jay Z, possibly the highest profile couple in the music industry. That attention drove the album to gold status in its first week, entirely from downloads and streaming (a physical release hasn’t been announced as of this writing, but is inevitable).
In a harsh environment for veteran artists, Beyoncé scoring a huge first week like that is a big accomplishment. But skeptics can be forgiven for wondering if the singer is exploiting the tabloid fascination with her life for business gains.
It wouldn’t be the first time observers have speculated along those lines. Only a couple years ago, when ticket sales for a Beyoncé/Jay Z co-headlining tour weren’t quite as robust as expected, rumors about the couple’s marriage surfaced. Those were sparked by the leak of video footage of an elevator confrontation between Jay Z and Beyoncé’s furious younger sister, all while an oddly neutral Beyoncé stood by.
If that was a ploy, it worked. The tour enjoyed strong attendance as speculation ran rampant right through its conclusion. After which the couple stepped back from the spotlight, still married.
This time out, Beyoncé has faced recent criticism that her single “Formation” and its related video were anti-police. That’s a distraction a singer preparing a major tour doesn’t need. Putting the focus on her possible marital troubles makes her sympathetic and relatable. The prior controversy has barely been mentioned over the past week.
So, where does the truth lie? And does it even matter if the songs on Lemonade are about Beyoncé’s actual life or if she’s merely playing characters in her songs? Possibly Beyoncé figured that, if her marriage was going to be subject to such constant public speculation, she may as well get some benefit from it.
Only Beyoncé knows for sure. Beyond the truth of the allegations are the brutal realities of the modern music business. Some of her peers have seen high profile projects underperform or bomb outright. Positioning an album as a flashpoint for a pop culture conversation and then making it available in limited ways that goose sales is a pretty shrewd marketing move.
If true, it’s a fairly ruthless and entirely impressive display of a superstar making the most of the negatives that attach to her success. If only there were an expression about making good use of the lemons that life hands you…
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on April 29, 2016.