The evening of Dec. 12, 2013, was like most other evenings. Then, in the early morning of Dec. 13, the collective shrieks of the Beyhive woke the world: An unexpected Beyoncé album was on sale on iTunes.
The music was unlike anything we'd heard from the singer before. The 14 videos that came with it were stylized and awe-inspiring. The cover was simple and tasteful. And nobody had seen any of it coming.
It wasn't just an album release — it was a paradigm shift for the music industry. Since Beyoncé's release, nothing has been the same. She admitted as much Friday morning, when she released an 11-minute retrospective video entitled "Yours And Mine" to celebrate the album's anniversary. In it, she discusses how her life has been transfigured by her superstardom. Her words betray a sense of vulnerability and humanity we rarely see in Queen B.
The video only confirms the magnitude of her incredible release — an album that changed everything for her and the industry.
The vulnerability in the video is what made her album so revelatory. Mixed with Beyoncé's deliciously sensual hits were deeply confessional tracks that helped elevate the album's pop to new levels of mystique and intrigue.
She dealt with challenging issues few other pop albums ever touch on — the difficulty of staying true to one's artistic vision while trying to satisfy label demands; the difficulties and joys of being a mother with a career; the feminist rallying cry of African author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on "Flawless" to help her define feminism. Beyoncé later used the song to make one of the most powerful feminist statements of the year at the MTV Video Music Awards.
To capture these new, radical themes, Beyoncé brought in musicians and writers who were new to the pop music scene. The reclusive Jordy Asher aka Boots, was homeless at one point before Beyoncé stumbled across his music and fell in love with its dark and intimate aspects. She invited him into the studio and he ended up co-producing 80% of the album — an unheard amount of influence for a no-name producer to have on a major pop album. He was Bey's closest confidant during the recording process, a role requiring massive levels of secrecy. He helped pull the personal meditations out of her, which gave the album its irresistible and provocative vibe.
Those vibes translated into sales very quickly. The album was historic from an industry perspective too — it became the fastest-selling album in iTunes history, moving 828,773 copies in the first three days. It sold nearly twice as many copies as any of Beyoncé's previous works. It also went platinum.
Bey fever only intensified when she took the album on tour. She shared the stage with her husband Jay Z, taking up the Bonnie and Clyde personas the couple had established for their first collaborative song "'03 Bonnie and Clyde" in 2002. Despite initial rumors of the tour not living up to sales expectations — and more bloodthirsty tabloid rumors of the couple's deteriorating relationship — the couple still killed it while "On the Run." The tour broke $100 million in ticket sales and birthed a stylish concert video, which aired in September on HBO.
The album and its success shook the music industry from the ground up. It became the subject of a staggering number of think pieces that continued to emerge as late as June. The release obliterated the idea that album release should follow a set pattern of single releases, videos and radio promotions. The phrase "pull a Beyoncé" is now a distinctive piece of industry terminology, used to describe a surprise album. U2, Thom Yorke, Run the Jewels, Kid Cudi and Skrillex have all attempted to do so since — some finding great success, others not so much.
Yet the album's real legacy is deeper than industry mechanics and sales figures. Beyoncé showed us that in an age where our tastes are fragmented and we find it hard to believe that anything could be both popular and artistic, it is still possible to make something vital and foundational — something the whole world could get behind. It simply takes honesty, creativity and a willingness to try something new and dangerous.