A visual album is a type of concept album in which the album is accompanied by a feature-length film or individual music videos for every song. Usually, the film, or "visuals", emphasize the album's overall theme and serve as the "visual vehicle" that enhances the experience.[1]

Though music films and videos accompanying albums are not new in popular culture, the term achieved prominence in modern usage after the release of American singer Beyoncé's 2013 self-titled album.[2][3] Prior to Beyoncé, she had also released music videos for thirteen tracks from her second studio album B'Day (2006); all videos were included in B'Day Anthology Video Album (2007).[4][5] Jonna Lee's project iamamiwhoami is said to have been promoting the "audio-visual album" format since 2009,[6] and the band Animal Collective had similarly earlier described their experimental 2010 album ODDSAC as a "visual record".[7]



The definition of what constitutes a visual album remains a subject of debate. Being a largely experimental medium, its execution varies from artist to artist. According to Screen Rant's Megan Summers, "visual albums are linked music videos or films released in conjunction with a record".[8] In one of the first articles written about the artform, Landon Palmer of Film School Rejects notes that "visual albums stage, sometimes with interruptions, the majority of a musician or band’s LP...proclaiming albums to be cohesive works of musical artistry rather than conveniently divisible bits of audio information".[9] According to Judy Berman of Pitchfork, visual albums result from the "synergistic connection between music and cinema that dates back to the latter art form’s birth".[10] While films like Purple Rain and A Hard Day's Night are classics that combine music and longform visuals, Kylie Lynne of AllMusic argues that such films "had the corresponding album as a soundtrack with the majority of focus on the storyline and dialogue when the music was not playing", separating them from visual albums in which the music is the primary audio component.[11]

History and development


Pre-MTV era


The synergy between music and cinema has existed since cinema's early history, with the first talkie in 1927, The Jazz Singer, being a musical. When it became clear that talkies were to become the dominant form of cinema, there was a significant rise in musicians making use of the visual medium to bring their music to new audiences. Artists like Bessie Smith and Fred Astaire took advantage of this and appeared on television performing their songs. Soon enough, the music film as a concept would become a cultural phenomenon in 1964, at the height of Beatlemania, when the Beatles released A Hard Day's Night.[12] The following decade saw a massive leap in the music industry's use of visual media, with Blondie's Eat to the Beat, released in 1979, being the first album in the rock era to be accompanied by videos for every song.[10]

MTV era and the longform film


The rise of MTV and the popularity of Michael Jackson in the 80s cemented the status of music videos as integral to the music industry. Jackson would eventually stretch his cinematic ambitions to feature-film length with 1988's Moonwalker, just as Prince had done four years earlier with Purple Rain. Janet Jackson also released a similar form of visual album with her Rhythm Nation 1814 film short in 1989. While these were important in the eventual development of the visual album, none of these would fit into the modern definition of the term. Lemon Jelly's 2005 album '64-'95, and Beck's 2006 album The Information were both released with videos for each track. Beyoncé's B'Day Anthology Video Album marked another significant release in this era, which companioned the deluxe edition of 2006's B'Day and featured videos for every song.[13]

Streaming era


The beginning of the streaming era offered artists several options of making their musical projects easily accessible to fans. The Swedish electropop group iamamiwhoami published a series of music videos in 2010. Described as an audiovisual project,[14] it was later released on their "audiovisual album" Bounty.[15] The band continued the tradition, releasing Kin in 2012, Blue in 2014, and their subsequent albums in an audiovisual format.[16][17][18] R.E.M.'s final studio album, 2011's Collapse into Now also featured at least one music video for every song, spearheaded by vocalist Michael Stipe.[19]

The next instance of a visual album was Beyoncé's 2013 self-titled release. Having started recording the album in the summer of 2012, she had the idea to make it a visual album in early 2013[20] and hence began filming videos for every song secretly across the globe as she embarked on The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour.[21] The album, having had no prior announcement or promotion, was then released as a complete surprise in the early hours of December 13, 2013. Unlike B'day's year-long wait for a complete visual companion in 2007, Beyoncé and its 17 videos were made available exclusively through the iTunes Store immediately upon release.[20] The music and videos were "designed to be consumed as a comprehensive audio/visual piece".[2]

“Lemonade” draws from the prolific literary, musical, cinematic, and aesthetic sensibilities of black cultural producers to create a rich tapestry of poetic innovation. The audacity of its reach and fierceness of its vision challenges our cultural imagination, while crafting a stunning and sublime masterpiece about the lives of women of color and the bonds of friendship seldom seen or heard in American popular culture.

Peabody Entertainment Awards on "Lemonade" [22]

Beyoncé would reinvent the visual album format again with her following studio album Lemonade in 2016.[23] Instead of filming separate videos for every song, she opted to create an hour-long feature film to companion the album. Releasing a cryptic trailer 6 days before the film's exclusive premiere on HBO, Lemonade was described as a "world premiere event".[24] The project's true purpose as a companion film for Beyoncé's sixth studio album was revealed on April 23, 2016 as the film premiered.[25] The film has since exclusively streamed on Tidal.[26] It was nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards[27] and won a Peabody Award for its "contributions to the greater cultural landscape."[28]

The third studio album by the English musician Thom Yorke, Anima, was released on 27 June 2019 in conjunction with a 15-minute visual album of the same name on Netflix.[29] Ed Sheeran's sixth studio album, - ("Subtract"), was released on 5 May 2023 with music videos for every song.

Other artists like Frank Ocean,[10] Kanye West,[10] Solange, Halsey, Twenty One Pilots, [30] and Sia[31] have all released projects described as visual albums to different streaming services. Though the films often accompany the albums, the visuals are at times released at a later date, as in the case of Black Is King (2020), the visual accompaniment to Beyoncé's The Lion King: The Gift (2019).[32]


  1. ^ Krishnamurthy, Chaitra (October 22, 2022). "Midnights is Taylor Swift's first visual album with a series of music movies". HITC. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  2. ^ a b Danton, Eric R. (December 13, 2013). "Surprise: There's a New Beyonce Album". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  3. ^ "How Beyoncé turned herself into a pop god". Vox Media. August 15, 2022. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  4. ^ Gonzalez, Alex (September 4, 2021). "Beyonce's 'B'Day' Turns 15: Collaborators Remember the Music, Moves and Visuals". Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  5. ^ "Beyonce releases 'B'Day' video album". USA Today. Gannett Company. April 5, 2007. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  6. ^ "iamamiwhoami - Blue". DIY. November 9, 2014. Retrieved January 25, 2023.
  7. ^ "Hey, It's an Animal Collective Film Project Quasi-Update". Pitchfork. December 4, 2008. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  8. ^ Summers, Megan (August 3, 2020). "Beyoncé's Black Is King & 9 Other Visual Albums That Redefine Cinema". ScreenRant. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  9. ^ Palmer, Landon (August 21, 2012). "How Visual Albums Are Changing the Way We Think of Movies and Music Videos". Film School Rejects. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  10. ^ a b c d "What Does It Mean to Experience an Album for the First Time as a Film?". Pitchfork. September 13, 2016. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  11. ^ "Listening with Eyes Wide Open — The Rise of the Visual Album". AllMusic. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  12. ^ "The Beatles: A Hard Day's Night". Pitchfork. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  13. ^ Smith, Da'Shan; Smith, Da'Shan (April 3, 2017). "10 Years Later: A Definitive Ranking Of Beyonce's 'B' Day Video Anthology Album'". VIBE.com. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  14. ^ "Iamamiwhoami – The Vogue". Retrieved January 25, 2023.
  15. ^ Benjamin, Mark (July 17, 2020). "An interview with ionnalee behind closed doors". Rain. Retrieved January 25, 2023.
  16. ^ Hannaford·News·, Luke (June 29, 2012). "Iamamiwhoami Wins MTV Digital Genius Award - God Is In The TV". Retrieved January 25, 2023.
  17. ^ "Time Is iamamiwhoamis Worst Enemy and Best Friend". PopMatters. June 8, 2022. Retrieved January 25, 2023.
  18. ^ "Vogue Exclusive: Stream iamamiwhoami's New Audio-Visual Album, Blue". Vogue. November 6, 2014. Retrieved January 25, 2023.
  19. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (March 3, 2011). "Pop Song 2011: The Video for R.E.M.'s 'It Happened Today'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
  20. ^ a b Dobbins, Amanda (December 18, 2013). "Beyoncé's Creative Director Todd Tourso on Her New Album and Keeping Secrets". Vulture. Archived from the original on August 30, 2017. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  21. ^ "BEYONCÉ Available Worldwide Now" (Press release). Parkwood Entertainment, Columbia Records. PR Newswire. December 13, 2013. Archived from the original on November 25, 2014. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  22. ^ "Entertainment winners named for Peabody 30". April 20, 2017. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  23. ^ "Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' Makes a Statement. Discuss". The New York Times. April 27, 2016. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  24. ^ Jamieson, Amber (April 18, 2016). "Beyoncé stokes anticipation with Lemonade trailer". The Guardian. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  25. ^ Ehrlich, David (April 24, 2016). "Who Directed 'Lemonade'? The 7 Filmmakers Behind Beyoncé's Visual Album". Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  26. ^ Malkin, Marc (April 17, 2019). "Beyonce to Release Audio of 'Lemonade' Film Across All Music Streaming Platforms (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  27. ^ "Lemonade". Television Academy. Archived from the original on October 20, 2020. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  28. ^ "Hold Up: Beyoncé's Lemonade Is Now a Peabody Award Winner". Vulture. April 20, 2017. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  29. ^ Russell, Max (August 10, 2019). "Album Review: Thom Yorke – "ANIMA"". theyoungfolks.com. Retrieved April 11, 2023.
  30. ^ Sinha, Charu (July 14, 2021). "Halsey Braves a Witch Hunt in New Trailer for IMAX Visual Album". Vulture. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  31. ^ Mamo, Heran (January 13, 2021). "Everything We Know About Sia's 'Music' Movie & Album (So Far)". Billboard. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  32. ^ Billboard, Gab Ginsberg (July 30, 2020). "Beyonce Releases 'Black Is King' Visual Album". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 25, 2023.