The evolution of visual albums

Visual album is not a new concept, while it has been exiting used by Kanye West and other singers. It appeared in the 60’s (The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s night) (Tang, 2016). And then, traditional MTV became more and more popular, but with the appearance of the streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, how the world listens to music has been changed. Music video seems on the verge of extinction. But until April 2016, Beyoncé released her second visual album called “Lemonade” which expended the new customers to a streaming musical service (Tidal), and the album sold over 1.5 million copies, became the country’s third-best-selling album of the year (Wass, 2016). And then, it seems to be a new trend, Frank Ocean’s Endless keeps it going, and others starts follow it…

Lemonade is a 56-minute film consisted of twelve music videos, but it broke the whole album format. It not only requires audience pay for the album, but also asks them to listen to the whole album if they want to listen. In a fragmented music industry, people are accustomed to buying one or two songs, which they like from an album, because not all the songs in an album are worthy to buy. But Beyoncé makes the high quantity, Coherent and rich content in the album like a playlist, and markets it outside the previous one-song hitting system (Carpentier, 2016). At first, it was available first on Tidal, and at the same time, it was screen on HBO as an hour-long video. After 24 hours, iTunes and Amazon started to sale it entirety.


Let’s talk about the visual video itself. The album refers to African American history and difficulties with marriage and monogamy, so media describe it as an autobiography of Beyoncé herself (Vernallis, 2016). But Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley (2016) evaluated Lemonade in Time: “Lemonade is art, not autobiography, and continues the protest tradition of women blues artists”. But whether it is or not, the album is still an artwork, she was finding to complicate the narratives and placing the black women at the center of the creation, leading to a widely social attention. Besides, the sound effects match cinematography a lot, was incorporated as a widening community to appeal to the more audiences (Vernallis, 2016).

Undoubtedly, cinematography and visual storytelling make the visual album successful. With the small quantity of visual albums released in 2016, it is a beginning of evolution and it will grow continually.



Carpentier, M. (2016). How Beyoncé’s Lemonade became a pop culture phenomenon. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 2 Mar. 2017].

Tinsley, O. (2017). Beyoncé’s Lemonade Is Black Woman Magic. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Mar. 2017].

Vernallis, C. (2016). Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Avant-Garde Aesthetics, and Music Video: “The Past and the Future Merge to Meet Us Here”. Film Criticism, 40(3).

Wass, M. (2016). From ‘Lemonade’ To ‘Views,’ The 15 Best-Selling Albums Of 2016  [Online] Available at [Accessed 26 March. 2017].

Written by Yijun Zhang

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