In October 2008 — back when George W. Bush was still commander in chief — Beyoncé posted an open letter to her fans on her Web site, telling them that her (then-untitled) new album would be her most ambitious yet, a boundary-busting effort that featured her most personal songs to date.
"I have worked on this album for close to one year. I have taken the time so I can create my sound. Something that says who I am at this stage in my life," she wrote. "I have taken risks here. I am not afraid ... There is no label or tag on my sound. It's me, and I am so excited to share it with the world ... my music will explain it all."
Little did we know how prophetic those words would be. For more than a year now, her music really has explained it all. The songs on I Am ... Sasha Fierce are risky, personal, beautiful and complex, from the globe-uniting strut of "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" to the tear-jerking power of "If I Were a Boy" and "Halo," they revealed sides of Beyoncé we never knew existed. She took risks, and they paid off in spades. The album has sold more than 6 million copies worldwide and has earned her accolades by the armload, the latest of which being the 10 Grammy nominations she picked up in December, including a nod for Album of the Year.
It's been a long road to this point. I Am was released in November 2008 and instantly went to the top of the charts, besting new albums by the likes of Nickelback and "American Idol" runner-up David Archuleta. It was B's third consecutive #1 debut, and she celebrated by watching "Single Ladies" (and its accompanying video) become a worldwide phenomenon, lauded by critics and imitated by everyone from Justin Timberlake to Barack Obama. She collaborated with Kanye West on a remix of "Ego" and released another eye-popping video for "Sweet Dreams." She teamed up with Lady Gaga for "Video Phone" and worked with Alicia Keys for songs on her The Element of Freedom album.
Through it all, she pushed her image and sound to places we never thought possible, becoming an icon not just in the world of music, but fashion too. And if there were ever any doubts about Beyoncé's longevity as an artist, well, I Am put those to bed permanently. From a humble letter to globe-spanning success, all in less than 18 months — Beyoncé did it, with style to spare. Now she's poised to take home a ton of awards Sunday at the Grammys too. More proof that taking risks can pay off. Beyoncé definitely did it the right way: her way.
Check back every day this week for stories about all the Best Album Grammy nominees before the big show this Sunday night!