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Beyonce changes the game with surprise album release

LOS ANGELES--Without as much as a hint, Beyonce stealthily released her new album.

As the West Coast was tucking into bed Thursday night, the singer rolled out one of the best-kept secrets in recent music history: The album she's spent the past year teasing was now available for purchase on iTunes.

The self-titled set comes as a “visual album” featuring 14 new tracks and 17 music videos.

It's currently available as an iTunes exclusive. Manufacturing of physical albums begins Thursday and a double-disc CD / DVD will be available before the holidays, according to her label.

Working with Jay Z, Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Drake, the Dream, Sia, Ryan Tedder, Miguel, Frank Ocean and Hit Boy, the singer churned out her most ambitious project to date, without ever actually saying she was putting out an album any time soon.

“I didn't want to release my music the way I've done it. I am bored with that. I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans. There's so much that gets between the music, the artist and the fans,” Beyonce said in the album's announcement on Thursday.

“I felt like I didn't want anybody to give the message when my record is coming out,” she added. “I just want this to come out when it's ready and from me to my fans.”

The question of when Beyonce would release her follow-up to 2011's “4,” and her first record since birthing her first child in 2012, has rattled fans for the better part of the year.

For her part, Beyonce dangled plenty of carrots that new music would be arriving, at some point.

She toplined the Super Bowl halftime show in February, sang for the president and launched a sold-out world tour, which she's still on, and little bits of music were parceled out to fans.

She previewed one track, “Grown Woman” in a Pepsi ad, before debuting it on her Mrs. Carter World Tour, while another single, “Standing on the Sun,” was the backdrop for an H&M campaign. The video for “Grown Woman” appears as a bonus cut on the video portion of the album (it's excluded on the audio side).

But with each tease, the singer never revealed as much as an album title, release date or lead single. Collaborators would drop what little hints they could, but she continued to remain mum.

Beyonce's sneak attack is the result of more than a year and a half of work.

Recording began when the singer and her camp of writers and producers lived together in the Hamptons last summer. And the videos were lensed in places like Houston, New York City, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney and Paris as she toured.

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Beyonce performs onstage at her “Mrs. Carter Show World Tour 2013,” at the US Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona on Saturday, Dec. 7.

(AP)

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