She did it again.
Beyoncé, who in 2013 changed the rules for how pop superstars deliver music with the surprise simultaneous release of a self-titled album and corresponding videos, has returned with a follow-up in the same vein: “Lemonade,” the singer’s sixth solo album, arrived Saturday night after the HBO premiere of an hourlong, conceptual short film based around the music.
In a twist that played the personal off the professional, the new album and its accompanying visuals – which describe, in sometimes brutal detail, the tribulations of Beyoncé as a scorned lover – were made available to stream Saturday night exclusively on Tidal, the music streaming service owned by her husband, Jay Z.
The album is not yet for sale as a download through any digital retailers.
“Lemonade” is “based on every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing,” Tidal said in an announcement.
The album’s 12 tracks feature contributions from the Weeknd, James Blake, Jack White and Kendrick Lamar; the songs sample from a varied slate of artists including Led Zeppelin, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Soulja Boy and Animal Collective, with production from Just Blaze, Diplo and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend.
The HBO special, which was shot primarily in New Orleans, featured cameos from Serena Williams and Jay Z, with spoken-word interludes from Beyoncé, local residents and others. The videos were directed by Kahlil Joseph, Melina Matsoukas, Todd Tourso, Dikayl Rimmasch, Jonas Akerlund, Mark Romanek and Beyoncé.g
In one section, Malcolm X intones: “The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
Elsewhere, the mothers of black men killed by police, including Michael Brown and Eric Garner, appear on screen holding photos of their loved ones.
Beyoncé has spent most of 2016 so far dropping hints about the release. Instead of merely repeating the 2013 stunt of the surprise album, the singer deftly exploited the expectation that she would do it again, with cryptic hints on social media, including photos of the singer with lemons.
In February, ahead of her second Super Bowl halftime appearance – she headlined the show in 2013, 10 months before her first surprise album – Beyoncé released the single “Formation.” The single, also on Tidal, raised fervent fan speculation about what would come next.
After that performance, in which she easily eclipsed Coldplay, the nominal headliners, Beyoncé announced the “Formation” world tour, which is to begin April 27 in Miami and will end July 31 in Belgium. (Always one to maximize brand synergy, Beyoncé also recently released a line of athleisure clothing, Ivy Park, a partnership with Topshop.)
The 2013 album, “Beyoncé,” sold 365,000 copies in the United States on its first day before debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Instead of slowly building momentum with advanced singles and promotional appearances, artists like Drake, D’Angelo and J. Cole have followed Beyoncé’s lead by relying on the wave of social-media excitement that comes with an unexpected release.
Beyoncé has since noted her own industry influence in song: “Changed the game with that digital drop/Know where you was when that digital popped/I stopped the world,” she boasted on Nicki Minaj’s “Feeling Myself.”
This time, she upped the ante with a Saturday night special on HBO, which offered “Lemonade” for free on a weekend that also features the season premiere of its signature show, “Game of Thrones.”
Beyoncé worked with the network previously on the documentary “Life Is But a Dream” in 2013, and again the next year, when HBO aired a concert special based on her “On the Run” tour with Jay Z.
The other big change since Beyoncé’s previous surprise album is in its delivery. While “Beyoncé” appeared exclusively on iTunes in 2013, “Lemonade” comes hand-in-hand with Tidal, which has also hosted exclusives this year from artists like Rihanna and Kanye West, both Jay Z-affiliated part-owners of the service.
“Lemonade,” which features songs titled “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” “Daddy Lessons” and “Love Drought,” may also be Beyoncé’s most outwardly personal work to date. The videos, heavy on Southern gothic imagery, are broken up with title cards that play on the Kubler-Ross model of grief – intuition, denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, accountability, reformation – as Beyoncé addresses years of tabloid speculation about her marriage head-on.
“I tried to make a home out of you, but doors lead to trap doors,” she says. Other times, the references to infidelity are less abstract: “Are you cheating on me?” Beyoncé asks. “Big Homie better grow up,” she adds at one point, using a nickname used in the past by Jay Z.
There is, however, a happy ending. In addition to having made the album a Tidal exclusive, Beyoncé concludes the “Lemonade” film with a love song featuring footage of the happy couple with their young daughter, Blue Ivy.
“My grandma said nothing real can be threatened,” Beyoncé says in a voice-over. “True love brought salvation back into me. With every tear came redemption, and my torturer became my remedy. So we’re gonna heal.”