Keys to suc­cess

She may have tal­ent cours­ing through her veins (plus shelves of Gram­mys to prove it), but the 36-year-old singer, song­writer and judge on The Voice US knows that if you want to spark a good de­bate, noth­ing beats giv­ing up your con­cealer.

Glamour Hair - - Contents -

Celebrating Alicia’s nat­u­ral rev­o­lu­tion

“I’m not a slave to makeup. I’m not a slave to not wear­ing makeup ei­ther.”

Polls con­ducted only among your friends have no real sci­en­tific value. You’re ba­si­cally just sur­vey­ing a land­scape of your own opin­ions. But know­ing that I was go­ing to ig­nore science al­to­gether I de­cided to ask friends and ac­quain­tances their opin­ion of Alicia Keys. Snapchat­ting mil­len­nial: “She’s on point.” Forty-some­thing mother of three: “She is won­der­ful on The Voice – so smart, sin­cere and kind.” Straight dude: “She is hot.” Gay dude: “She is hot.” There were too many “Oh, I love her” and wist­ful “I wish I had her skin” com­ments to count. So the un­sci­en­tific con­sen­sus is that she is a per­fect amal­gam of tal­ent and beauty.

Close up and in per­son, all of those ob­ser­va­tions are true. The first things you no­tice: the fab­u­lous hair wrapped par­tially, ca­su­ally, with a scarf; eyes that are alive with in­ter­est and maybe a lit­tle mis­chief; the an­gelic smile, sin­ful body and skin that looks al­most sus­pi­ciously healthy, like she’s never eaten a potato chip in her life. What isn’t im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent but sinks in after about 10 min­utes of con­ver­sa­tion is her sin­cer­ity and warmth. (Mother of three was right, too.) Each ques­tion mat­ters to her and she con­sid­ers her an­swers care­fully.

Alicia is not play­ing a game. Her words, her mu­sic, her po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism – even her de­ci­sion to do the no-makeup thing (this is the first time she has worn makeup in an ed­i­to­rial photo shoot since last Au­tumn) and to let her hair be free – are part of a co­he­sive whole. “I’m not a slave to makeup. I’m not a slave to not wear­ing makeup ei­ther. I get to choose at [any] given mo­ment. That’s my right.” This is a woman who knows her own mind and says and does only what she wants. It may have taken her a while, but boy has she ar­rived, in a place of self-pos­ses­sion, cre­ative au­ton­omy and power that few popular per­form­ers ever achieve.

She is a 15-time Grammy win­ner. Some per­spec­tive: Adele has 10; Tay­lor Swift, 10; Mary J Blige, nine; Rihanna, eight. “The We Are Here Move­ment [a wide-rang­ing so­cialjus­tice or­ga­ni­za­tion founded by Alicia] will stand in sup­port of His­pan­ics, refugees, peo­ple of colour, Mus­lims and any­one who feels afraid in the US. As an artist, I ex­pect to con­tinue to use my voice for things that mat­ter, as I have since the be­gin­ning of my ca­reer. That won’t change. As an ac­tivist, I will con­tinue to fight for what’s right. That won’t change, ei­ther. It’s time for all of us to be en­gaged. As a mother, I am a li­on­ess.” The pol­i­tics of ap­pear­ance is an­other realm in which Alicia’s voice has an in­creas­ingly large mi­cro­phone. Sev­eral months ago – she de­scribes it more as an evo­lu­tion, a process of self-re­al­i­sa­tion, than an on-off switch – she took a break from wear­ing makeup, in­clud­ing on the set of The Voice, re­plete though it is with HD cam­eras.

It caused quite a stir, and many peo­ple be­gan to read into the de­ci­sion all sorts of mo­ti­va­tion and see it as a rad­i­cal act. It was never in­tended as such. Alicia is not an­ti­makeup at all. “I think makeup can be self­ex­pres­sion,” she says. “I have no in­ten­tion to shame any­one at all [ who chooses to wear it]. No one should be ashamed by the way you choose to ex­press your­self. And that’s ex­actly the point. How­ever, if you

want to do that for your­self, you should do that.”

Para­dox­i­cally, Alicia’s per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence with years in the spot­light has led her to the place she is to­day. “I started at 20 years old in this ridicu­lously in­va­sive world [the mu­sic busi­ness] in which ev­ery­one cov­ered me in makeup and then threw me un­der tons of lights, so I’d sweat for two or three hours.” She would break out be­cause of it, mak­ing her feel even more self-con­scious, ob­jec­ti­fied, judged. “It took me so long to fi­nally say, ‘Whoa!’” she says. “Who am I un­der there? That is just my own per­sonal quest.” You do hear a lit­tle en­vi­ous grous­ing oc­ca­sion­ally, along the lines of “Well, if I had per­fect skin like hers, I wouldn’t have to wear makeup, ei­ther.” Alicia ex­plains that she has suf­fered with skin prob­lems for years, that she is not per­fect, and that, most im­por­tantly, per­fec­tion is not the point. “I am all about a woman’s right to choose. I think a woman should do any­thing she wants as it re­lates to her face, her body, her health. What­ever mode of ex­pres­sion that em­pow­ers you, that’s what you should do. What I am not down for is this ridicu­lously high, un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tion about ap­pear­ance that we as women are held to.”

Like her ap­pear­ance, Alicia’s mu­sic has evolved, too. You could say on a par­al­lel track, but that would be a lazy over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion. Alicia traf­fics in sub­tlety, depth and pas­sion, which is what makes her such a com­pelling artist. Her new al­bum, Here, is re­flec­tive of some of the per­sonal growth she’s achieved in re­cent years. “It started with a list of things that I am sick of,” she says. “One of the big ones is that I was so sick of the way women were forced to feel in­ad­e­quate in many dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances or forced to feel in­se­cure by the way we’re por­trayed or the way we look. An­other one: I am so an­noyed at the way we force boys to be fake strong – don’t cry, don’t be soft. Let a boy be able to dance! Let a boy paint his nails. All these strange, op­pres­sive ideas.” You’d think that the mu­sic that started with a list of gripes would be, shall we say, bit­ter – and yet it’s ex­pan­sive, af­firm­ing and beau­ti­ful.

In a mo­ment, her tone changes. She has left some­thing un­said, some­thing that she’s con­sid­ered and that seems tai­lored. “I think there’s some­thing re­ally beau­ti­ful about what res­onates from within us. One thing I’ve heard more than ever is this glow that peo­ple re­fer to that I have. I kind of recog­nise that glow be­cause I’ve be­gun to lis­ten to my­self in­side. And I think there’s some­thing re­ally pow­er­ful that hap­pens when you start to lis­ten to your­self. I’m not more con­fi­dent be­cause I think I’m bet­ter than, but be­cause I’ve been hearing my­self more, lis­ten­ing to my­self more. And that’s taken a lit­tle minute to ar­rive at that place. But there’s def­i­nitely some­thing pow­er­ful about the way your in­ner feels that re­flects on the outer, on your skin. That, to me, is real beauty.”

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