Beyoncé getting "jealous and crazy" in new visual album 'Lemonade'. (Image: Parkwood Entertainment)

The release of Beyoncé‘s Lemonade on Saturday (April 23) has ushered in an era when we talk about “watching” an album, but it’s been a long time coming.

Artists have tinkered with the form of the visual album, or music film, since the dawn of pop music. But which were most successful? And how does Bey’s fit in? We take a look at the albums that led the way and rank them.

As for criteria for inclusion, we decided that to be considered a visual album, a film must feature at least two songs (therefore excluding epic music videos like “Thriller”), link them with a bridging story (knocking out video collections like Daft Punk’s D.A.F.T.), and have been developed or released within a year of the corresponding album (making Tommy and Mamma Mia ineligible).

Disagree all you want, but them’s the rules.

As a result this will be a definitive list, comparing some of the greatest albums ever made with the first: R Kelly‘s Trapped in the Closet.

11. Trapped in the Closet by R. Kelly (2005)

At times sublime, but most of the time ridiculous, R. Kelly‘s rap opera currently consists of 33 “chapters” outlining the descent of Sylvester (R. Kelly) into an underbelly of lies, sex, and deceit.

Populated by corrupt cops and dwarf strippers, and punctuated by outrageous cliffhangers, the 133-minute series gained a near-cult fascination among its audience. They must be overjoyed; in a recent interview Kelly revealed another 40 chapters are in the works.

Story – 4/10
Music – 2/10
Visuals – 4/10

10. Bon Iver, Bon Iver by Bon Iver (2011)

The Deluxe version of Bon Iver‘s second studio album Bon Iver, Bon Iver (did we mention it was by Bon Iver?) included visual treatments that not only demonstrated strong visual and textual connections within each track but between them too.

It’s all very conceptual, with beautiful images reflecting the ethereal quality of the music. Justin Bieber did something similar with his 2016 album Purpose, replacing images of dew drops on flowers and the sun rising over Wyoming with women in lycra breakdancing in supermarkets, though something tells us Bon Iver fans would not appreciate the comparison. Whatever. The fact remains Justin Vernon has a thing or two to learn from Queen Bey if he ever wants to add a storyline to these audiovisual clips.

Story – 1/10
Music – 7/10
Visuals – 6/10

9. Night Thoughts by Suede (2016)

Suede‘s seventh studio album was accompanied by a bleak and eerie 56-minute film, which played in the background when they first performed the album from start to finish in 2015. With no words, it left the music to do the talking—telling the story of a drowning man’s life as it flashes before his eyes.

The music itself is cinematic—written for the purpose of accompanying the film—and was seen by many as a natural development of the band’s theatrical tendencies and penchant for brooding post-punk pop.

Story – 4/10
Music – 5/10
Visuals – 6/10

8. Hi Custodian by the Dirty Projectors (2012)

Inspired by music films like Kanye West‘s Runaway and Prince‘s Purple Rain, this 20-minute short film follows the band members through a surreal narrative about spiritual death and rebirth. Less a film than a series of beautiful and surreal images, it featured alternate versions of new songs, as well as other new and unreleased music from sessions for the band’s 2012 album Swing Lo Magellan.

Story – 3/10
Music – 7/10
Visuals – 6/10

7. Imaginaerum by Nightwish (2012)

The seventh studio album by Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish tells the story of an old composer on his deathbed reminiscing about his youth, and was produced alongside a 85-minute movie of the same name.

Looking like something out of the mind of David Lynch or Neil Gaiman, the fantastical visuals complemented the sometimes macabre, sometimes enchanting style of music that manages to combine metal with classical music and even a touch of Disney, though sometimes, it has to be said, could be a little contrived.

Story – 6/10
Music – 6/10
Visuals – 4/10

6. Runaway by Kanye West (2010)

Kanye reportedly wanted to make 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy a full visual album, but advisers convinced him to make this 34-minute short film instead, featuring eight songs from the album before it was even released.

Predictably and gloriously crazy, with a script by Hype Williams and scenes involving fireballs, marching bands, fireworks, a nearly naked Selita Ebanks, sheep and a giant papier-mâché statue of Michael Jackson, Runaway had enough imagery and symbolism to keep English majors guessing for years.

Story – 3/10
Music – 8/10
Visuals – 6/10

5. Moonwalker by Michael Jackson (1988)

Not strictly speaking an album, though it did feature seven tracks off 1987’s Bad. Michael warrants a mention though, as the artist to have so consistently brought music and visuals together, what with 1983’s 13-minute video for “Thriller,” the 18-minute short film directed by Martin Scorsese for “Bad” (1987), and 1996’s 40-minute spooky-funk extravaganza Ghosts.

For the purposes of this list however we are putting Moonwalker‘s medley of hits aside and focusing on the 44-minute segment that surrounds “Smooth Criminal” and ends with a live cover of The Beatles‘ “Come Together.” With only 16 minutes devoted to Michael’s hits, there’s not enough music and a little too much action, as it tells a bonkers story in which Michael turns into a car, a robot and then a spaceship, before using the power of dance to save a group of kids from evil Mr. Big (played by Joe Pesci). Let’s just say it’s not a huge surprise to discover Michael wrote it.

That said, visuals and choreography have rarely complemented music so thoroughly—it’s nigh-on impossible to hear “Smooth Criminal” without imagining that gangster lean in a 1930s bar in Chicago.

Story – 4/10
Music – 5/10
Visuals – 9/10

4. A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles (1964)

Credited with being one of the most influential musical films of all time, A Hard Day’s Night inspired numerous spy films, pop music videos and The Monkees‘ TV show. It followed the lives of four moptop Liverpudlian band members trying desperately to get away from their fans (this was the height of Beatlemania) and get some peace.

Released a couple of weeks after the studio album of the same name, it featured most of its songs, making the soundtrack hard to beat. The story is light and fun, made all the more engaging by the winning personalities of the Beatles themselves. Unfortunately, though, THIS IS NOT A PERSONALITY CONTEST.

Story – 5/10
Music – 9/10
Visuals – 5/10

3. Purple Rain by Prince (1984)

Prince‘s first and best movie, with an Oscar-winning soundtrack to boot. In it he plays “The Kid,” a talented but troubled frontman of Minneapolis-based band The Revolution who has to contend with a rival singer, a burgeoning romance, and dissatisfied band members, as his own star begins to rise.

Tied to the album of the same name, it spawned hits “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy” and the title track, not to mention “I Would Die 4 U” and “Darling Nikki.” Under the Cherry Moon (1986) and Graffiti Bridge (1990) followed, but neither generated the excitement of the original.

Story – 5/10
Music – 8/10
Visuals – 6/10

2. The Wall by Pink Floyd (1982)

Starring Bob Geldof, directed by Fame and Bugsy Malone‘s Alan Parker and featuring animations by Gerald Scarfe, The Wall used music from the band’s 1979 album to tell the story of Pink, a rockstar who builds—you’ve guessed it—a wall to protect himself from intrusions.

Like Lemonade, it offered many intriguing biographical comparisons with the movie’s writer, the band’s bassist and vocalist Roger Waters, but it also tackled wider issues such as abandonment and personal isolation. Despite being released three years after its corresponding album, the visualization was originally conceived alongside the music (not to mention the live performance).

Story – 8/10
Music – 8/10
Visuals – 6/10

1. Lemonade by Beyoncé (2016)

Beyoncé christened the genre “visual album” with 2013’s self-titled effort, which appeared without warning and with a corresponding video alongside each track. Lemonade takes it a step further, however, telling a story that is on first blush tantalizingly biographical, sending everyone into a tizzy over what exactly Jay Z did and who “Becky with the good hair” is, but others have read much more into it, from it being a testament to the power of forgiveness, to a feminist defense of black women and a sorrowful reminder that #BlackLivesMatter.

The music is stronger too, showcasing new styles, such as the off-kilter rock ’n’ roll of “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” or the bluesy, country sound on “Daddy Lessons,” and knocking out immediate hits like “Hold Up” and “Formation,” all set against lush imagery from the antebellum South.

Story – 9/10
Music – 8/10
Visuals – 6/10

So there you have it. The visual album is a new and developing genre that seeks to combine a music and visuals with a storyline; Lemonade might not be the best album or the best visualization or even the best story, but it surely sets a new standard in pop storytelling by combining all three.

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By Kat Sommers
Kat is a freelance writer for Anglophenia.