Ali­cia Keys on why you’re never too old (or too fa­mous) to rein­vent your­self.


ELLE (Canada) - - Contents - BySarahLaing

WHEN YOU PUT DOWN THE PHONE af­ter talk­ing to Ali­cia Keys, you can’t help feel­ing as if you’ve been to a per­for­mance of some kind. Not be­cause she sounds phony or like she’s putting on an act but be­cause there’s some­thing about the tim­bre and rhythm of her speak­ing voice, so sim­i­lar to her im­me­di­ately rec­og­niz­able vo­cals, and the in­ten­sity of the con­vic­tion with which she speaks (and laughs, loudly and richly) that makes it feel like you’ve pressed the “stop” but­ton on a spo­ken-word record­ing rather than just put down the re­ceiver.

Even in a stolen 20-minute con­ver­sa­tion (over a not-so-great con­nec­tion) with Keys, we were able to feel the charisma, star power or what­ever you want to call it that has taken the Hell’s Kitchen, Man­hat­tan, na­tive far be­yond be­ing a po­ten­tial one-hit won­der with “Fallin’.” In­stead, Keys (real name: Ali­cia Augello Cook) has re­leased five more chart-top­ping al­bums, won 15 Gram­mys and been named one of the 100 great­est artists of all time by Bill­board. Did we men­tion she mar­ried hip-hop artist and pro­ducer Swizz Beatz and had two kids dur­ing that time pe­riod too? We caught up with the singer while she was prep­ping visu­als for her new al­bum, Here. As we head into 2017, Keys says she feels like she’s at a “very pow­er­ful mo­ment” in both her per­sonal life and her career. h

No kidding: Along with the re­lease of Here, out now, Keys is cur­rently a judge on NBC’s The Voice, where her makeup (or lack thereof) has made head­lines and launched a thou­sand and one think pieces about what it means when a woman chooses to go barefaced (gasp!) on the public stage (and on pretty much ev­ery red car­pet re­cently, from the MTV Video Mu­sic Awards to the BET Awards). In con­ver­sa­tion, how­ever, it’s clear that Keys has a big­ger agenda than just stream­lin­ing her get-ready rou­tine; she is out to put a spot­light on “all the things we don’t talk about.” And, along the way, she has made an al­bum that she says “gives peo­ple a sense of who [she is] and where [she comes] from.”

Tell us a bit about the mak­ing of your new rec­ord. “I was able to write this al­bum from

a place of clar­ity, pur­pose and in­ten­tion. I’ve never gone into the stu­dio like this be­fore, not re­ally know­ing what I wanted to write be­fore I wrote it. That was a whole dif­fer­ent process for me be­cause it was so much more fluid—and that was much more pow­er­ful. The mu­sic is ur­gent and raw. In a lot of ways, it’s a love let­ter to New York, be­cause New York raised me in ev­ery way, and son­i­cally you’ll hear sto­ries that are di­verse the way peo­ple in New York are.”

But at the end of the day, the al­bum is about where you’re at right now in your life, right?

“It re­lates to any­one any­where be­cause it’s about what we all go through as hu­man be­ings. It’s def­i­nitely su­per-emotional and su­per-spe­cific, and it’s ag­gres­sive in a way that you’re prob­a­bly not ex­pect­ing from me. I’m at a very pow­er­ful mo­ment in my life and career, and I feel very strongly about it.” How did you end up here? “I be­lieve that for all of our lives, all of the chal­lenges we ex­pe­ri­ence—the pain, the frus­tra­tion, the hurt, the dev­as­ta­tion—lead up to where we’re headed. But you don’t know where you’re go­ing un­til you get there.” Now that you’ve ar­rived, tell us about this “mo­ment” you’re in right now. “I’ve been on this long jour­ney of cov­er­ing and un­cov­er­ing and find­ing the brav­ery to be aware of my­self. In many ways, I feel like I’m meet­ing my­self for the first time. I’m un­der­stand­ing who I want to be, don’t want to be, what I want to chal­lenge my­self with, to keep show­ing up for. That will­ing­ness to be so vul­ner­a­ble and so hon­est is kind of new for me be­cause of the na­ture of the world we live in.” What do you mean by that? “To tell it like it is isn’t en­cour­aged, but it’s what is so charm­ing about chil­dren. What they say is


some­times dev­as­tat­ing­— like, ‘Whoa, you’re not sup­posed to say that!’ But there’s some­thing to be learned from that and not for­got­ten. Of course, we should say things with kind­ness and grace, but we should say ex­actly what we mean at all times. I’ve fi­nally come to a place in my life where I’ve learned how to do that.” It does feel like, over the past year or so, the world has met a “new” Ali­cia Keys. “You’re right. I’ve al­ways been the per­son I am, and when I meet peo­ple who knew me in high school or what­ever, they say I’m the same, and I love that. It’s a com­pli­ment be­cause my spirit is the same; I’m not a changed per­son in a neg­a­tive way. But, of course, we’re al­ways grow­ing and learn­ing, and prob­a­bly over the past two years of cre­at­ing mu­sic I’ve got­ten to know my­self. It’s like, ‘Whoa, nice to meet you! I never knew this side of you be­cause you h

never let it out or you weren’t ready or it was too hor­ri­ble or you were too afraid.’” What does that re­al­iza­tion ac­tu­ally look like in your life? “You know how you used to re­act a cer­tain way to things, and then maybe you grow from it so that when you find your­self in that cir­cum­stance again, your re­ac­tion is to­tally dif­fer­ent? That’s an amaz­ing feel­ing. Like, my friend told me the other day that she didn’t like some­thing I wore. In my past self, I would have got­ten this feel­ing in my stom­ach; I would have felt doubt­ful about my choice and tried to jus­tify why I liked it. But now, when she said it to me, I just laughed and said, ‘I love you too.’” And that’s all there is to say to that, right? “It was so cool be­cause I looked at my­self later and rec­og­nized that there was a ma­jor dif­fer­ence in my true feel­ings about that mo­ment. It’s a silly mo­ment, but it re­ally showed me be­ing com­fort­able with my­self and not be­ing able to be shaken. That wasn’t how I used to feel.” You talked ear­lier about fig­ur­ing out who you don’t want to be. So who is that? “I don’t want to be a peo­ple pleaser, and I feel like I was that for so many years. That’s to­tally a woman thing: We’re so gor­geous and amaz­ing and our na­ture is to care for peo­ple, and that is phe­nom­e­nal. And I am that; I am a nur­turer and a lov­ing per­son, but I don’t want to be a peo­ple pleaser to the ex­tent that it goes fur­ther than I’m com­fort­able with or that it changes my ini­tial in­stinct just to make an­other per­son feel bet­ter.” That is al­ways a hard bal­ance to strike— hav­ing con­fi­dence in your own opin­ions and wishes while still some­how try­ing to be a de­cent hu­man be­ing! “Some­times I look at my son [six-year-old Egypt] and re­al­ize he’s like me in that way. I’m like, ‘Damn, no!’ I don’t want him to be like that, but then I do want him to be like that be­cause he’s so won­der­ful, and it’s beau­ti­ful to see him so open and caring and reach­ing out to peo­ple and won­der­ing if they’re okay. Of course I want him to have all those qual­i­ties, but I don’t want it to be to the detri­ment of him­self. And I don’t want to do that my­self ei­ther.” Is there any­thing else you’ve de­cided you’re not go­ing to be or do any­more? “I don’t want to fall prey to so­ci­etal pres­sures. I just don’t want to do that any­more—where you judge your­self so hard be­cause of what ev­ery­thing else looks like, what ev­ery­one else says. And, man, I re­mem­ber that starts when you’re so young.” Oh, it to­tally starts in kinder­garten, if not preschool! “Don’t you re­mem­ber that in school? It’s like, ‘Jamie doesn’t like me’ or ‘They don’t like my hair,’ and then all of a sud­den you go home and you’re like, ‘Mommy, I can’t wear my hair like this any­more.’ Shit!” And that doesn’t re­ally go away as you get older.... “It gets worse! And now with how the world is shaped, and all of us so closely linked, ev­ery­one’s opin­ion al­legedly mat­ters. The pres­sure is on: if they ‘like’ you or don’t ‘like’ you, if they fol­low you or un­fol­low you. I can’t imag­ine be­ing a young per­son grow­ing up with this. This whole con­cept of ‘lik­ing’—to be hon­est, fuck you! Fuck you if you don’t like it. You have to be­come more like that be­cause this whole thing of fit­ting and smush­ing and push­ing—that’s who I re­ally don’t want to be!” So where do you want to go from here? “I hon­estly don’t know the an­swer to that, but I do know that it’s a good place and I only want to go for­ward.” n


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