Beyonce's 'Beyonce': Grammy Album of the Year Spotlight

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for DirecTV

Beyonce attends the DirecTV Super Saturday Night at Pier 40 on February 1, 2014 in New York City.  

Who will take home Grammy's biggest prize?

The Nominees: Beck | Beyoncé | Pharrell Williams | Ed Sheeran | Sam Smith

Once upon a midnight dreary, Beyoncé gave the world something to talk about. And listen to. And watch. In the early morning hours of December 13, 2013, the singer, songwriter, dancer, working mom and media mogul released her self-titled fifth album: a 14-song, 17-video collection she'd recorded in secret and readied without warning. For the first week, Beyoncé was available exclusively through iTunes, and as brick-and-mortar retailers harrumphed and critics scrambled to write think pieces, fans ate it up. More than a year later, they still are. It's a powerful set of cutting-edge pop and R&B tunes, many centering on sexuality and female empowerment. If Sam Smith wins the 2015 Grammy for Album of the Year, he says he'll give it to Beyoncé.

Vital Info

Release DateDec. 12, 2013
Label  Parkwood/ Columbia    

Billboard 200 peak

No. 1 (three weks) 
Album sales (as of Feb. 2, 2015)
2.2 million

Fun Fact: Five of Beyoncé's songs reached the Billboard Hot 100, including "Drunk in Love" (featuring Jay Z), which hit No. 2 -- Beyoncé's highest-charting single since 2009.

This might not be an issue. Beyoncé is many people's pick for the Grammy, and not simply because of the innovative marketing. After the initial shock wore off, and fans had a chance to absorb the music, the focus shifted to where it belongs: Beyoncé's growth as an artist. The album opens with "Pretty Hurts," a feminist banger she wrote with Ammo and Aussie hit-maker Sia, who was still months away from her breakthrough, "Chandelier." Other key collaborators include Boots, the man behind that haunting "Haunted" beat: Drake, who spits distorted lines on "Mine"; husband Jay Z, who joins her in making monogamy sound sexy on "Drunk In Love"; and Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose 2012 TEDx talk on feminism Bey samples in "Flawless." Also: Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Miguel, Frank Ocean, and some promising youngster named Blue Ivy.

Beyoncé sold 80,000 downloads in its first three hours en route to debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, making Beyoncé the first female artist to top the charts with each of her first five albums. The single "Drunk In Love" reached No. 2 on the Hot 100, and in June 2014, Beyoncé and Jay Z took a well-earned victory lap with their joint "On the Run" tour. In the promo video "Run," Jay and Bey play modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, though in real life, they've fared far, far better than those doomed '30s gangsters. This power couple is uniquely able to hijack pop culture and get people of all ages chatting about class, sex, gender, race, parenthood, and, well, surfboards. It's all there in Beyoncé, and it all sounds fantastic.