Days after the stealthy yet bombshell release of her latest full-length studio album, Beyoncé is poised to take this year's bestselling pop star crown.
According to Billboard, the singer's self-titled album — released in its entirety at midnight ET Friday via iTunes and publicized largely via social media overnight — sold more than 80,000 copies in its first three hours. A traditional CD/DVD release is forthcoming before Christmas, according to her music label, Sony/Columbia.
Beyoncé, the singer's fifth studio album, features 14 tracks plus 14 accompanying videos and extra visual content.
The same day Beyoncé is to take her tour to Toronto, Apple announced Monday that her new release has become the fastest-selling album ever on the iTunes Store worldwide, at 828,773 copies in three days. It also broke the U.S. first-week album sales record (617,213 sold) and was No. 1 on iTunes in 104 countries.
Early U.S. sales figures report that the Grammy-winning singer has sold between 550,000 and 600,000 digital copies of the album in the past three days. If verified, it would mark one of the biggest new-album debuts of 2013 and the biggest debut by a female artist — surpassing the highly anticipated and publicized new releases this year from Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears.
Beyoncé released the album digitally first, in its entirety rather than through individual singles and with no advanced notice or promotion (she simply posted the message “Surprise!” to her more than eight million Instagram followers as her album turned up on iTunes) — a move being described by some music industry-watchers as a game-changer.
Many critics have also given the album positive reviews.
Industry publication Billboard will release its album figures for the past week on Wednesday.
According to microblogging site Twitter, the surprise release generated a mountain of social media reaction from fans and fellow performers, with 1.2 million tweets in 12 hours on Friday.
Surprise 'visual album' release
Beyoncé described the project as a "visual album."
"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 are all connected to the music," she said in a pre-recorded message.
The songs include contributions from her rap mogul-husband Jay Z and include their toddler daughter, Blue Ivy. Other collaborators heard on the songs include Timbaland, Pharrell Williams, Justin Timberlake (who toured with Jay Z in 2013), Frank Ocean and Canadian rapper Drake. Acclaimed Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is also heard in a spoken word performance.
The videos showcase international cities the singer stopped in during her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour this past year, including New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and her hometown of Houston.
It has been a packed year for former Destiny's Child member Beyoncé Knowles.
She kicked off 2013 with a performance at the second inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama in January (and battled criticism over singing to a pre-recorded track for that high-profile performance), dazzled as the Super Bowl halftime performer and debuted a self-produced HBO doc about her life in February. In April, she launched a world tour that included more than 100 shows.
After earlier Canadian stops in the summer, she returns to Toronto, at the Air Canada Centre, on Monday night.
In September, Knowles and husband Jay Z (whose real name is Shawn Carter) also topped Forbes magazine's list of the highest-earning celebrity couples for the second consecutive year, with estimates they had combined earnings of $95 million US.
It wasn't all smooth going, however. The singer's publicity team earned widespread criticism and ridicule online for requesting that popular website Buzzfeed remove "unflattering" photos of the singer captured mid-performance at the Super Bowl.