July 04, 2021
Alicia Keys reflects on 20 years of stardom, going makeup free and where she gets her ‘grit energy’In 2016, when Alicia Keys released her sixth studio album, Here, she celebrated the launch with a gig in New York’s Times Square. An article written in the Guardian by a journalist who was on the promotional junket described the machinery of her management system at the time, as functioning “like an onion”. A formidable, multi-layer of managers, confidants, coaches, assistants, a personal film crew and various people with ambiguous Job functions formed around Keys, like a “shock absorber”. Fast forward to 2021. I am waiting to interview Keys via Zoom on the day she launches a special edition of Songs in A Minor, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the groundbreaking award-winning debut album that started it all. When she appears on screen there is no “onion”, no entourage, no shock absorber. Just her. She is sitting on a light-coloured sofa in front of a floor-to-ceiling wall of immaculately lined-up books. And she is trying to pull a jumper on. Her voice – smooth, deep and slightly gravelly – calls out, “Good morning!” and as she inches in to take her position close to the screen, she smiles so fully that every crevice of her face lights up.
Alicia Keys: ‘I’ve always had to be strong’
Looking at a barefaced Alicia Keys, hair pulled back into a bun, one can’t help marvel at how much she still resembles the 20-year-old who made her 2001 TV debut singing Falling on The Oprah Winfrey Show. (Winfrey, who calls herself Alicia’s “mother-sister-friend” has since said, “Even before she belted out the first soulful notes of the lyrics that made her famous, I could feel the power of her presence.”) Following the God-like endorsement of the influential Winfrey (and the backing of Clive Davis, the legendary music producer who gave Keys her big break), the song topped the charts. The album sold millions (10.5m physical sales and 645.8m streams to date) and Keys was nominated in six Grammy award categories. She won five of them and has since gone on to win 10 more. Keys is still awestruck that she, and the album that brought her global fame, still have a presence today.
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