Bowie didn't go as far as Beyonce and land the album fully formed on an unsuspecting market. He released a single and a few days later, he offered the rest of the album as a free complete stream on iTunes for a limited time, during which it could be pre-ordered.
Still, there was very little hoopla, very little hype. Nothing at all prior to the release of the single.
When your work is gigantic, when you are already a superstar and you know you've done your best on an album and you're proud of it, simply letting everyone hear it might just be enough. Emphasize the quality of the music; leave no room for mistaken expectations; risk no compromise of your integrity.
By contrast, I give you (drum roll, please): Lady Gaga. Whatever you may think of ARTPOP, the laughable hype preceding it almost overshadowed the project. Seeking to raise the status of her work to the level of pop art, she instead ran the subject down and cheapened that whole post-Warhol world.
To be sure, there are downsides to Beyonce's music and how she presents herself, particularly her use of her sexuality. While calling herself as a "modern-day feminist," she has found that many other feminists don't agree.
She makes such criticisms hard by being an ideal role model in other ways, wisely using her international diva status to stump for political and charitable causes, donating money, using concerts as a focus for food donation drives, etc. She was this year voted one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people.
And she is definitely a good role model from a pure business perspective. Beyonce vs. Lady Gaga in a marketing smackdown? Well let's see: The former spent nothing on promotion until the day the album dropped, outsold the latter in the first week by a wide margin and broke a few sales records in the process. The former increased her respectability with fans and critics alike.
Not that anyone had any doubt, but I have to say it: The win goes to Beyonce.
--Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York