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Beyoncé stuns music world with unexpected release of new ‘visual’ album

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR PARKWOOD ENTERTAINMENT - Singer Beyonce performs on her "Mrs. Carter Show World Tour 2013" at Staples Center on Monday, July 1, 2013, in Los Angeles. Beyonce is wearing a custom hand beaded peplum one-piece by Ralph & Russo with shoes by Stuart Wieztman. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Invision for Parkwood Entertainment/AP Images)

Frank Micelotta/AP

At midnight on Friday the 13th, twelve days before Christmas, Beyoncé revealed a massive surprise: a new "visual" album consisting of 14 new songs and 17 videos.

The self-titled album appeared on iTunes without any fanfare. As a clever twist, it can only be purchased in full (songs will be available à la carte come December 20).

In the days and weeks and years ahead, much will be written about the strategy, the sexually-charged content, the Blue Ivy cameo.

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But for now, suffice it to say, the performer has reaffirmed her position as music's queen.

"I didn't want to release my music the way I've done it. I'm bored with that," she explained in a statement. "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."

Queen Bey, as she is affectionately known, appears in a variety of dramatis personae throughout the opus: scorned beauty pageant winner, caring mother, burlesque dancer and sexpot. She smoothly shifts gears from vulnerability to empowerment; agent provocateur to maternal role model.

You can attempt to weave together a narrative but this is almost secondary to the emphasis on the visual component.

"I see music. It's more than just what I hear," she is quoted as saying in a statement on the MissInfo music news web site. "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."

The 32-year-old also apparently compared this project to Michael Jackson's Thriller premiere.

Beyond her daughter, who appears in the titular song Blue Ivy, Beyoncé has assembled a familiar roster of guest appearances: sister Solange Knowles, husband Jay Z, Drake, supermodels Jourdan Dunn, Chanel Iman and Joan Smalls and, most randomly, Harvey Keitel (as the model competition host) make appearances.

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Fellow music artists Frank Ocean, Pharrell, Timbaland, Sampha, Justin Timberlake and former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland are scattered across the album.

Directors include industry mainstay Hype Williams, fashion photographer Jonas Âkerlund, longtime collaborator Jake Nava, Terry Richardson and Pierre Debusschere. Beyoncé also shares director credit on several videos.

And yet, how she managed to keep this undertaking a secret remains most impressive of all. An album of this size – to say nothing of the videos filmed all around the world – would have required an enormous vow of silence from everyone involved.

It has been two years since Beyoncé's last album, 4, which debuted in June, 2011. A physical album – in CD/DVD form (yes, people still buy those) – is expected just in time for the 25th.

Welcome news indeed for those who can't bear another year of George Michael's Last Christmas.

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