When Beyoncé turned her Feb. 7 Super Bowl cameo into both a political action and a product launch in front of 112 million TV viewers, it was just the latest in a behind-the-scenes plan to reintroduce the singer to the masses after more than a year on the sidelines.
The halftime performance of “Formation,” the 34-year-old artist’s first new official single since 2013, preceded a 15-second announcement of her American Express-sponsored, Arthur Fogel- and Live Nation-promoted Formation Tour, a 40-date trek through North America and Europe that begins April 27. The reveal ignited instant speculation that Beyoncé’s sixth solo album is imminent, but when?
One high-ranking source says: “For the last album, [the label] went through an 11-month fire drill starting with [Beyoncé’s 2013] Super Bowl [performance].” Indeed, the as-yet-untitled album, her last under her current Columbia Records deal, is not on Sony’s release schedule and could arrive with little to no warning (“Beyoncé doesn’t do release dates,” remarks an insider), likely around the start of the tour.
More certain is that Beyoncé is protecting her new songs just as fiercely as she guarded word of her previous, self-titled album. In the days before the Super Bowl, the singer went so far as to rehearse without broadcasting the music or vocals, creating a bizarre, mimed spectacle at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. “It was so strange to see the performance on the Jumbotron and hear nothing,” a source recounts.
In recent weeks, Beyoncé also retooled her five-year-old Parkwood Entertainment management company in its first major executive overhaul since 2011. GM Lee Anne Callahan-Longo exited along with head of digital Lauren Wirtzer-Seawood and several more senior staffers. Those exits were followed by a string of new hires: Former Pledge Music executive Dan Ghosh-Roy is now head of digital, Warner Bros. Records executive vp Peter Thea joined, and Steve Pamon — who orchestrated J.P. Morgan Chase’s On the Run Tour sponsorship in 2014 — became Parkwood’s new COO. As Billboard previously reported, one source attributes the split to “Beyoncé’s desire to relocate” Parkwood’s New York headquarters to Los Angeles, though another insists that the company remains New York-based; a rep for Beyoncé declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the Formation Tour — with its AmEx sponsorship finalized a week before the announcement, according to an insider — marks Beyoncé’s first time playing stadiums without her husband, Jay Z, a step up from the arenas of the 2013 to 2014 Mrs. Carter Show World Tour that grossed $212 million across 126 shows. Should Beyoncé sell out 40 stadium dates, she could yield a potential gross of $200 million to $250 million alone, according to Billboard estimates.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of Billboard.