With a new album and two movies on the horizon, it appears the Season of Beyonce has begun.
Then again, one could argue that it's always Beyonce season.
Two years ago, it was all about the release of her second CD, "B'Day" and her starring role in the movie "Dreamgirls." Last year, her "Irreplaceable" was up for a top Grammy and she was on a world tour. And this year, besides a high-profile Grammy performance with Tina Turner, her hush-hush marriage to Jay-Z and appearances on hit remixes with Justin Timberlake and Usher generated headlines.
Though it may have been hard to tell, she actually did take a yearlong hiatus from recording music.
"I think I did need to take a break. I honestly did," she says, sitting on a sleek chair in an even sleeker hotel room during a recent interview. "I needed to take a break even personally so I could relax and appreciate all the things that I worked for."
Of course, Beyonce being Beyonce, her hiatus wasn't a complete vacation: She spent part of that "break" filming her upcoming movie, "Cadillac Records," in which she peels off the glamour to play R&B great Etta James during her drug-addled years.
Beyonce says not only did the role propel an acting breakthrough, it provided a musical one, too.
"I felt like after I played Etta James, and I sang these beautiful, emotional, deep, honest songs, I really learned a lot about myself. And I wanted to make classic music ... to grow and make that transition into legendary," she says.
Her bid at musical immortality comes this week with the release of "I AM ... SASHA FIERCE," her third solo CD, something of a departure from the frenetic funk of her previous two multiplatinum albums, "Dangerously in Love" and "B'Day."
"She shows more vulnerability on this record," says Knowles, who with Beyonce acts as executive producer. "That's a natural growth of her age and life experiences."
Though Beyonce is an established veteran after more than a decade in the spotlight (she made her debut along with the rest of the members of Destiny's Child in 1997), the 27-year-old has always been among the more guarded celebrities, staying on message about her music and movies while giving up little about her life outside the spotlight.
"I'm learning the importance of balance, which is one of the biggest (concerns) of all working women — when is it enough, when is it time to relax, and to take care of yourself? But I'm very proud of my progress," she adds with a laugh, "and I'm growing."
Songwriter Makeba Riddick, who co-wrote songs on "B'Day" and was part of a team of writers on the ballad "Ave Maria" with Beyonce, says that growth was apparent during the creation of "I AM ... SASHA FIERCE."
"The energy, it was different," says Riddick. "'B'Day' was a bunch of dance tracks and it was a lot of fun records, party records, and this is more reflective and personal. (She's) just showing a more mature side of her and music."
That's partly because of where her head was at after filming "Cadillac Records," which she executive produced. The movie, which also stars Oscar-winner Adrian Brody and Jeffrey Wright, documents the heyday of the Chess R&B label.
To depict James in the harrowing throes of addiction, Beyonce spent time at a Brooklyn rehab center in to better understand something she says she's never done: drugs. The experience, she said, took its toll.
"I don't go around focusing on negative things, so it was really a difficult thing for me to be in that much pain for that amount of time, crying all day, all night, even when I left I was in a funk. I was a different person."
Beyonce also takes a dramatic turn in the upcoming thriller "Obsessed," due out next year.
"She's played two roles that really have helped change and mold her growth," says her father.
To that end, Beyonce appears to be taking a more streamlined approach to her music.
"I just wanted to do things that makes people feel, make people think. Even with the uptempos, with 'Sasha Fierce,' I wanted it to be simple and classic."