It was a year of change for the long-reigning queen of mainstream R&B, both personally and professionally. Having taken a year off following the 86-date I Am ... Sasha Fierce Tour, [artist id="1236911"]Beyoncé[/artist] re-emerged on the music scene late this spring with the single "Run the World (Girls)." While "Girls" fell squarely in the Beyoncé canon, what she had coming with the rest of her album 4 represented a dynamic and risky change for the superstar.
"My life was award shows and tour buses and hotels, and it kind of goes by so fast. You're getting awards and people are saying how much they respect you and I couldn't even hear it anymore," she revealed in the documentary "Year of 4," which debuted on MTV in June. "I'm just thinking about the next shoot. I'm just thinking about the next video, the next single, the next tour."
She craved change and knew that meant the time had come for some shake-ups in her professional and personal life. The first major change came in March, when she parted ways with her longtime manager, father Matthew Knowles. There were rumors that the split was acrimonious, though both Beyoncé and Matthew insisted the decision was mutual and only "on a business level."
In command of her own career for the first time, Beyoncé began opening up in ways fans had never before seen. 4, which debuted at #1 this summer, turned out to be the most revelatory and personal album of her career, a ballad-heavy meditation on the bliss and impact of being with the one you love. When she did kick up the tempo, the results were joyous jams peppered with blasting horns ("Countdown") and heavy on '90s nostalgia ("Love on Top").
It was during a blistering performance of the latter at the MTV Video Music Awards that Beyoncé revealed one of the biggest surprises of the year. With the final words of "Love on Top" still echoing through Los Angeles' Nokia Theatre, she dropped her mic and unbuttoned her sparkling jacket to reveal a small baby bump, which she rubbed joyously, wearing an ear-to-ear smile that said it all. The crowd went wild, of course, and when the camera cut to Jay-Z, the proud papa-to-be saluted his beautiful wife as pal and the Throne collaborator Kanye West practically jumped on his back with excitement.
When it comes to the real Beyoncé, the star has always played her cards close to the vest, but this year she brought us in closer. In "Year of 4," she showcased her tireless work ethic, inviting fans into the studio and dance rehearsals. Later, at her intimate dates this summer at New York's Roseland Ballroom, she revealed that record execs feared her debut solo album, Dangerously in Love, had no top-10 hits when it went on to have four, including #1s "Crazy in Love" and "Baby Boy."
So many pop stars seem trapped in time, eternally chasing a hit to beat their last, but not B. For her, 2011 was a year of evolution, one of growth both personal and artistic. She's long been a force to be reckoned with, but now, managing herself and with a new family life in the offing, she is setting the stage for something new and exciting. That she's opened herself up so much to fans is heartening because now we know that no matter where life takes her, we'll be invited along for the ride.
MTV continues our Best of 2011 coverage by looking back at the biggest pop-culture stories of the year. As we count down the newsmakers that mattered to you most, also check out our Best Artists, Best Songs, Best MTV Live Performances and Best EDM Artists of 2011.