10 Biggest Surprise Albums Released Out of Nowhere

With the release of Taylor Swift's Folklore, here are some other albums that arrived without warning.

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Taylor Swift sent her fans into hysterics Thursday morning when she took to Twitter to inform the social media masses that her new, previously unannounced, album would be available in just a matter of hours. "Surprise 🤗 Tonight at midnight I'll be releasing my 8th studio album, folklore; an entire brand new album of songs I've poured all of my whims, dreams, fears, and musings into," the pop star said in the tweet. Folklore is Swift's eighth studio album and features collaborations with artists like Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of the National, both of whom are "musical heroes of mine," Swift said in one of a series of Instagram posts about the new record, which is sure to be one of the year's biggest surprise albums.

The tracks that make up Folklore, Swift says, were written and recorded while in isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. As to what drove her to drop the album unannounced, Swift wrote in the post: "I probably would've overthought when to release this music at the 'perfect' time, but the times we're living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed. My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world. That's the side of uncertainty I can get on board with."

Given this exciting news from one of music's superstars, we took a look at some other major artists that released albums to an otherwise unsuspecting public—via an array of methods and to varying degrees of critical and commercial success. From Beyoncé to Bowie, here are 10 of the biggest surprise albums released out of nowhere. And if you want to listen to more COVID-era music, check out The Best New Albums That Have Come Out in Quarantine.

1
Beyoncé: Beyoncé (2013)

Parkwood/Columbia

If anyone knows how to release a record—surprise or not—it's no shock that it's the biggest pop star of the last, oh, couple decades or so. But Beyoncé definitely went the surprise route with her self-titled "visual album." Released with zero prior warning or promotion on Dec. 13, 2013, Beyoncé includes 14 new songs and 17 videos, a multi-media approach she would again experiment with on 2016's Lemonade, and one the former Destiny's Child leader said is meant to be be taken in in its entirety. "I didn't want to release my music the way I've done it," Beyoncé said in a press release, Rolling Stone reported. "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. I felt like I didn't want anybody to give the message when my record is coming out. I just want this to come out when it's ready and from me to my fans." And for tracks that weren't about what you thought they were, check out 20 Songs You Didn't Know Have Secret Messages.

2
The Carters: Everything Is Love (2018)

Parkwood/Sony/Roc Nation

She told her side with Lemonade in 2016. He responded with 4:44 in 2017. And then in 2018, married music superstars Jay-Z and Beyoncé came together as The Carters, surprising fans and media with the release of Everything is Love. The collaboration seemed to show that they had weathered recent troubles in their marriage and come out the other side unscathed—or at least still married. The album also happened to debut at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200, Vulture reported, which probably made it easier to get along for a bit. And for the hits that are almost old enough to drink this year, check out 20 Hit Songs You Won't Believe Are Turning 20 This Year.

3
My Bloody Valentine: mbv (2013)

mbv records

My Bloody Valentine may not be on the same name recognition level as some others on this list, but the legendary Irish shoegaze band is essential listening to countless music enthusiasts. Give their deafening, but beautiful, noise masterpiece, 1991's  Loveless, a spin to see why that is. In fact, that was last time they released a record until shocking fans who'd long since given up on new music from the outfit by self-releasing their third LP mbv on the band's website in Feb. 2013—a quarter of a century since its 1988 debut, the also terrific Isn't Anything. Explaining to Pitchfork about the joys of being free from record labels, guitarist and singer Kevin Shields said: "With the internet, it's a total yin and yang: 50 [percent] good and 50 [percent] horrible. The good side is that we can release a record ourselves without doing anything." The bad side? "Most people who heard it didn't buy it," Shields said.

4
David Bowie: The Next Day (2013)

ISO Records

After a health scare while on tour in 2004, the genius chameleon of rock 'n' roll seemed all but officially retired from the groundbreaking music game. Or so it was thought. As Rolling Stone reported in 2013, David Bowie surprised everyone, announcing on his 66th birthday the release of his "top-secret" new album The Next Day. A powerful comeback most believed would never happen, the material spurred a creative resurgence in Bowie that would continue until his passing in 2016. And to learn about the most popular music during the pandemic, check out More People Listened to This Kind of Music Than Any Other in Lockdown.

5
Radiohead: The King of Limbs (2011)

XL

Radiohead had to be included on this list in one way or another, simply because there's been something surprising in the manner in which the band has released nearly every album in its oeuvre (remember the pay-what-you-may model of 2007's In Rainbows?). Four years later, it surprised fans with a five-day heads up that The King of Limbs would hit the digital shelves with subsequent formats to follow, The New York Times reported in 2011. It's far from the group's most celebrated work, but that doesn't make it unworthy of exploring. And, reception aside, it was nothing if not a surprise.

6
Eminem: Kamikaze (2018)

Aftermath/Interscope/Shady Records

The ever controversial Detroit-bred rapper behind massive hits ranging from goofy ("My Name Is") to disturbing ("Stan") continued true to form with his tenth studio album, Kamikazedropping the record completely out of nowhere, NPR reported in 2018. The polarizing nature of the 11-song LP, which attacked a litany of fellow artists and celebrities, may have divided critics, but it was a smash for its creator, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200, NPR reported.

7
Miley Cyrus: Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz (2015)

NEW YORK - May 26, 2017: Miley Cyrus performs on the NBC "Today" show concert series on May 26, 2017, in New York City. - Image
Shutterstock

This bonkers 2015 release from Miley Cyrus may be the best example of what a true "surprise album" looks and sounds like. Five years in the making and the sneakily talented troublemaker's fifth studio album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz —a collaborative effort with Wayne Coyne and his merry band of pranksters The Flaming Lips—is a freak-flag flying collection of material that is as unconventional sounding as was the nature of its release, a surprise announcement at the end of her gig hosting the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards. And you know what? It's pretty great. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

8
Missy Elliott: Iconology (2019)

Goldmind/Atlantic

A year before Taylor Swift made a similar same-day announcement that her new album would be available at midnight, hip hop icon Missy Elliott used the approach to release her first new music in nearly 15 years. The five-song EP didn't hit like her early 2000s output but was a welcome comeback from an artist we hadn't heard from in far too long.

9
Drake: If You're Reading This It's Too Late (2015)

Cash Money

Call it a mixtape. Call it an album. Either way, this completely unannounced release from Canadian rapper Drake was huge with both critics and fans. The fussy tastemakers over at Pitchfork even branded it with its coveted "Best New Music" tag, saying If You're Reading This It's Too Late "arouses many unanswered questions on a business front, but where it truly delivers is giving Drake room to breathe outside of the lumbering commercialism of his retail albums."

10
U2: Songs Of Innocence (2014)

U2
Shutterstock

Surprises aren't by nature inherently positive. That's perhaps most clear when you consider U2's 2014 album Songs Of Innocence. Released in a manner never before seen, the Irish rockers struck a deal with Apple, which automatically dowloaded the LP to anyone with an iTunes account—whether they wanted it or not. And there were plenty that did not. Apple users raged about the invasive nature of the marketing tactic, leading the company to release instructions on how to remove the download from customers' devices less than a week after the controversial launch, Apple Insider reported.

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