As I reflect upon the 50 blogs I have written so far in my journey of exploring a myriad of musical genres and understanding that regardless of genre, God Himself can use whatever, whomever, and whichever, to show people things about themselves that maybe need to be addressed, or even show people things about Himself that people indeed need to address as well; I’ve come to realise a few things. One things for certain, I don’t know much about music that I initially thought I did coming into this experimental project. I was humbled, in a good way. I delved into the genres of country, exploring the likes of Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood and Shania Twain, to name a few, who have made a tremendous impact on today’s society and music in general, while I also dived deep down into the unknown with the realisation that rap/hip-hop wasn’t as scary as I initially thought, with the exploration of Christian hip-hop (CHH) crossover icon Lecrae. I immersed myself into the pioneers of CCM in artists like DC Talk, Steven Curtis Chapman, Carman and Michael W. Smith; while also taking to the artists that themselves have had quite a big of success in both CCM and mainstream- Switchfoot, Skillet and needtobreathe. Now here I am about to move into my 51st post (wow, already more than ½ way in my journey through this list- then it’s off to the timeless ones!), and I realise this- that the more you don’t know about a certain particular genre, or a certain artist, or the more you realise you don’t know about the things that you don’t know, you start to develop a bit of a hunger to know, to understand, to travel deep within the crevices and cracks of whatever genre you are discovering next, and realise that every musical genre out there, no matter how foreign it may be to you, will still impact someone in the world on their journey in life.
If you like CCM then good, that’s fine, but someone else will feel more of a connection to radio pop, while others have realised that the country music genre is what speaks to them the most at a certain point of time in their lives. And that’s ok. Too many times I’ve realised (and I hope it didn’t come out in my blogs previously that much!) that I wrote these blogs from a position of thinking that I knew something, when in fact, I don’t really. I mean, I’d listen to the artist in question (that I’m about to discuss for that particular week), and then I would proceed to write a blog about this artist, as if I were to know everything there was to know about them. Nevertheless, this was my practice for writing blogs for a while. But, as this is a new leaf and page to be turned (done are blogs 1 – 50, now here comes 51 – 100); here is me being honest with you all- I don’t think I know enough about soul music in a technical sense to discuss Alicia Keys to the level that many other websites will talk about her, and maybe that’s perfectly fine. I don’t necessarily need to be an expert about a certain genre of music in order for a blog to occur, nor do I even need to like a certain genre to bits in order for myself to appreciate and respect a particular artist in their influence over music in a general sense. But what I do need to do is realise that music when it comes down to it, is a connection on indeed a soul level- God uses the gift of song to penetrate even the deepest wounds and the hardest hearts, and thus, from here on out, artists that don’t necessarily have an impact on myself upon first listen, may not be discussed here on this blog…it’s something that I may have to do in order to make these blogs fun and enjoyable again.
I’ve spent too long trying to carve out these blog posts in a way that I thought I should’ve been doing it, that I lost a little bit of the enjoyment, the awe, the wonder, the initial buzz that comes from discovering something new. It’s what I felt with artists like Josh Groban, Avril Lavigne, Train, Sara Bareilles, U2 and The Corrs, and it’s with Alicia Keys as well. As I step back and take a look at this blog-series and what I’ve experienced so far, I’ve been impressed at how many genres I did in fact decided to travel into. Tackling rap, country, pop, rock, CCM, worship, it’s not an easy feat. Nevertheless, it was done, and as I move into the next half of this journey of musical appreciation, I am becoming more in tune to what I reckon God may be saying through a lot of these songs and these artists. If a song is edifying, if it builds you up, encourages you, makes you think about your life and what you know you should be doing, or even challenges your own viewpoints and allow you to see life from another person’s shoes, then the music I believe is from the Lord. And then the flipside is also true- if the song has the power to degrade, divide, hurt, intentionally demoralise, cause you to think that you are holier and more righteous than the rest of them, then it’s from the devil. That’s it, no two ways about it. Music either heals a life, or it can destroy it. There is no middle ground. Of this, I believe to be true.
‘…we’re all together. And, you know, for the first time ever, we can all understand each other. And I think that we’re all going through our own set of challenges and our own set of struggles, and it’s definitely difficult, but I see the power within us. And with this challenge, we also get to be the solution, and I think that we also get to be a light source. And even though there’s going to be days that you feel down, days that you feel great, days that you feel uncertain, all these things, you know, allow yourself the space to feel that, that’s natural, but also know that the light that you give your daughter, your son, your husband, your wife, the people you’re in the space with and also through our social media and being able to connect with people on our own and all the ways with which we’re trying to connect right now — the light that we can give really is infectious, and it doesn’t cost a thing. And I think, let’s be that for each other, and I think we’re going to find our way through it…’
Alicia has always been candid about her own thoughts on music, on creating a space where people can ask questions of life, love, and the rest of it, for making music that has a certain universal appeal across musical tastes, gender, familial backgrounds and even religious affiliations. Alicia’s music, even to this day, has been instrumental in shaping music as it is, and as I reflect upon her career thus far, as an outsider looking in (I wasn’t that involved with hearing Alicia’s music career from the beginning), I make this statement, but not so lightly indeed- Alicia’s music, by far, has a more powerful reach than a lot of the soul/R&B/hip hop music released currently in the market. Yes, there’s a place for artists like Beyonce or even Rhianna, but I’ve always felt by hearing songs like ‘No One’, ‘If I Ain’t Got You’, ‘Superwoman’, ‘A Woman’s Worth’ and ‘Fallin’; that Alicia’s music slightly has the edge- creating music that challenges the status quo about a lot of issues that may have been untouched, swept under the rug and not discussed for years, had it not been for these melodies. Alicia’s songs have a certain raw and honest feel to them- there is a certain aspect of drive and passion that I’ve observed in Alicia’s vocals and her mannerisms in a lot of her online interviews, that I’ve haven’t seen as much of in the mainstream music industry, even up to this point, which is very unfortunate indeed. Alicia’s music, reach and impact stretches far and wide, and while there’s so many songs to delve into and explain the rich intricacies of each track and how they relate to society and music as a whole; I’ll nevertheless give it a try, and understand that you don’t necessarily have to have the greatest voice in a music industry- just enough for you to say what you need to.
Alicia is evidence of this- I’m sure maybe even she knows that vocally, there are other artists, especially in the R&B genre (of which she specialises in), that are more technically sound than her. But that doesn’t matter if you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, and if you’re not saying it with love for the people you want your message to reach. It reminds me of the Bible verse of 1 Corinthians 13, and how we are reminded to always speak with a motivation of love, from the tip of our tongue. I am certainly partial to The Message, and how ‘…if I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love…’ There’s a lot of music out there, often too much to count, and if I’m being completely honest, only a certain proportion of the music is said, spoken and sung with a motivation of love at its core- sad but true. Nevertheless, upon hearing a fair amount of Alicia’s music, I’ve come to understand that Alicia is one such artist where the motivation of love just oozes out of her music in a way that is infectious, as we’re met with a career of songs aplenty, but songs that still challenge and inspire people to become better versions of themselves than they originally were.
One look at the discography from Alicia and you can understand that the song everyone would probably gravitate towards are either ‘No One’ or ‘If I Ain’t Got You’, from albums As I Am and The Diary Of Alicia Keys respectively. I know I was familiar with these two songs prior to me listening to Alicia’s music, and I’m sure other people who may not be too familiar with Alicia can still recognise these two songs- it is for these two songs alone that I firmly believe in Alicia’s influence, not only of the generation of her peers and people that grew up in the same time period as her, but also influencing a generation below her, of people struggling to find identity in a world where ‘identity’ the word is so flippantly used in sentences when it shouldn’t; of people needing a role model to look up to, that I firmly believe that Alicia is, during a time where role models are sought after in a way that has been like finding a mentor or even dare I say it, a spiritual ‘guide’ through this uncertain life. Alicia Keys has created a platform to speak wisdom and hope in the lives of many people across the world, and songs like ‘No One’ and ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ are such songs that speak to the heart of what it means to be in connection and community with one another, to love another person without hesitation, and to understand if certain people aren’t in your life, then your life will look completely and drastically different, and not necessarily in a good way. ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ is a personal song for Alicia- inspired by the untimely death of hip-hop/soul artist Aaliyah in 2001, an up-and-coming artist who was of a similar age to Alicia around the time of her death. It is a reminder to refocus and realign, to make sure the things in our lives that we chase after, are things that will be meaningful and relevant to us at the end of it all, a notion and a jab at people who chase after fame, money, fortune and the rest of it, maybe even leaving behind the most important things of all- the relationships with the people along the way. ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ showcases Alicia’s piano skills quite nicely- there’s even a corresponding music video that shows Alicia at the piano playing away- as we soak into this quasi-spiritual track, one that can also be read from a Christian standpoint too- it is in these words that we declare that we realise that we are indeed nothing without Christ in our lives, that everything we amass means diddly-squat if we don’t get right with our maker, our Creator, our God, and our Friend and Saviour, before we know it’s too late.
‘No One’ features the raspiness of Alicia’s vocals in a song that is again also very familiar to a lot of people, even those who may not have heard much of Alicia before. This and ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ are in fact her two most impactful and chart-topping songs of her whole career, and whether that is indicative of the meanings behind each of the track, or even the fact that I truly believe God’s hand has been upon Alicia’s life and music throughout all this time, is a matter for another story. But what I will unpack is this- ‘No One’, with its message of unity (in a romantic sense) where a bond between two people cannot be easily broken or torn, is something very necessary in this world where divorces are happening left, right and centre, and people aren’t playing value upon a bond between two people than people originally did way back in the day. ‘No One’ challenges us all to find our own special ‘someone’ and understand that once a bond and connection occurs that is life-giving and edifying between two people, then trying to break something like that can be very difficult. Alicia herself imparts to us the message behind her track in an interview for MTV Canada, relaying that ‘…’No One’ is really talking about the way that in relationships, so many things are around you all the time to try to distract you. And even though people may talk and say whatever they may want to say, but then no one can get in the way of this…’
‘…there is certain points in your life where you do know what you want and then these points in your life where you don’t know what you want, or you don’t know how to present it properly. In the case of the music, I knew who I was and I knew what was unique and I knew what felt good to me and I didn’t want to change it. I didn’t want to try to do something that was more commercial — or whatever it is that often happens when there’s a cross between art and business. But I knew that right away. I did. And I knew I wanted to be a representation of a young woman that I didn’t really see in music. I didn’t see, at the time, a girl who really looked like me. The closest that I identified was a Mary J. Blige, who is also from New York, a Lauryn Hill, who was also, you know, this mixture of a woman. Other than that, it was mostly kind of big, beautiful, elegant singers with big dresses. And I just didn’t identify; that wasn’t how I lived or how I grew up. So I was looking to represent these young girls that I am, that one who’s kind of a tomboy and doesn’t really do her nails like that and puts her hair in a bun and wears braids. And so I was very clear that I didn’t want to switch that up. And I’m very glad that, for the grace of God, I was able to have the encouragement by my then-manager as well, and just a spirit to know where I was going…’
It’s very rare for an artist to know what they want to give to listeners and what they stand for (and even don’t stand for), especially in a career where compromises and doing things you don’t want to do, often reign supreme. Nevertheless, Alicia’s quote just above speaks of a confidence that she has in knowing of what she is indeed capable of, and which void she feels like she needs to fill at a certain moment and point in history. ‘Fallin’, Alicia’s first single ever, was released on her debut album Songs in A Minor in 2001, and speaks of the ins and outs, the turbulent nature of what a first relationship can be and feel like, when two people connect on a deep level for the first time- the song even features a piano sample of a classical piece by Fredrick Chopin, one of Alicia’s piano inspirations, and one of the pinnacles of influencers in terms of classical music (alongside, I believe, the greats like Mozart, Bach and Beethoven). While ‘Fallin’ for sure has a bit more of a raspy vocal than I’m sure even Alicia would’ve wanted, the raw and unfiltered nature of a voice on a song so popular, is testament to the connectivity of said song and its influence in spite of the vocal, a reminder that having the best vocal isn’t the only criteria to make up a good track. ‘Fallin’ ventures on a lot of musical genres at once- gospel, classical, soul and pop, and Alicia has created a gem of a track that is one such song from Alicia, that has stood the test of time, even around 20 years later from whence she wrote and recorded it. ‘A Woman’s Worth’, also from Alicia’s first album, is again another track that still has impact and relevance in the culture of 2020, along as in the culture of 2001 as well. The song itself is self-explanatory, of how the culture and society, of any period, needs to treat women with the respect and dignity they deserve as human beings, and how a worth of a woman shouldn’t be drilled down to numbers and dollars and cents- which unfortunately has been the case in a lot of industries in the culture of today. Alicia challenges us all to see the worth, beauty and the undiscovered talent that is there in a woman that maybe they don’t necessarily see themselves, while ‘A Woman’s Worth’ is nevertheless a reminder for humans in general that worth and love and acceptance is not conditional with our performance- we are worth it in spite of what we do or don’t. This is called unconditional love, ‘A Woman’s Worth’ is a careful and timely realisation that people in society don’t always act as though the woman (or man) is worth it in how they act or even treat them- and such a song can hopefully encourage us to turn the tide on this issue, one that is still at the forefront of many problems now as it was back then.
Alicia’s storied career of powerful radio hits and heartfelt songs that tug at our hearts, is something for Alicia herself to celebrate, as the many melodies over the years impact and challenge us in our own quests and journeys through life. ‘Superwoman’, from 2007’s As I Am, speaks of this notion of not having things all-together in this life, of realising that we are indeed humans with all these flaws and imperfections, but also understanding that in light of us admitting to not only ourselves but each other, of all the things that we cannot live up to, we can be an influence and an impactful role model to future generations to be honest and forthright about their own struggles and worries, their own demons and things they deal with. It is in the process of admitting that we are in fact weaker than we claim to be, and not as strong as we once thought we were, that we can truly be courageous and ‘super-people’ to others. We can be an inspiration to people who feel like they can’t share the things that are weighing them down, and we can remind others that what people can often think of as a weakness is in fact one of the greatest strengths about us- using said weakness and admitting to that, creates a culture of honesty, realness, transparency and freedom, and that is by far some of the greatest strengths people can have in this life we lead.
‘Girl on Fire’, featured in both an original non-rap version alongside a remix featuring rapper Nicki Minaj, is a track that discusses the issue of female empowerment, and a realisation that once people move from a life of mediocrity and uncertainty to a life of purpose, intentionality, and an impactful way of reaching people to show them that their worth is not dependent on how they act, talk, think or behave, then these people are in fact ‘girls on fire’ or in the case of just people generally, ‘people on fire’. It is in us realising the potential that we have to change a world with just a single encouraging word, is something that people don’t often realise when they speak before thinking, when they things and run their mouths without any regard for the other. ‘Girl On Fire’ is a coming-of-age track, of realising that we have more influence and impact than we ourselves realise- those who we come in contact every day, are opportunities for us to build them up or tear them down with our words and actions- there’s no middle ground on this, and ‘Girl on Fire’ is a message of people coming to terms with the responsibility to impact a generation, not just on a global scale (like a lot of artists, actors and musicians are undertaking), but a local one as well. ‘New Day’ is a joyous anthem, also on Girl on Fire, that is a departure from her piano-prominent sound as this track becomes more percussion-based; as we see Alicia impart the theme to us that each new day that we wake up is another chance and opportunity to undertake things that we may not have completed the previous day. It is a way to see that every day is a possibility to do things we may not have dreamed about in previous days gone past; as Alicia draws inspiration for this track from the birth of her son Egypt Daoud Dean. ‘Doesn’t Mean Anything’ is by far is one of my favourite inspirational tracks from Alicia (alongside other melodies like ‘Superwoman’, ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ and ‘Girl On Fire’), as we see this track, which was the first song unveiled in 2009 from her album The Element of Freedom; speak volumes to listeners. It’s all well and good for you to follow dreams and to amass trophies and accolades, but in the end if the people you want by your side to share the moment with, aren’t there for you, then is there really any point to the quest for material success? This song challenges us in a way that I reckon a lot of songs in mainstream media don’t, and for that, I’m grateful for a lot of Alicia’s tracks, especially this one. As Alicia herself invites us all to partake in the song and realise its meaning to focus more on relationships than tangible things at the expense of it, we see that ‘…the song touches you in this way. You dream of having all these things, you dream of going all these places. But what’s the point of doing that, having that, if the one you want to be there isn’t with you? Even though that sounds like a heavy feeling, the sound of it, it makes you feel inspired. To find where you’re going and be there with the people that you love – what else is life, really?…’
‘Brand New Me’ is perhaps the song that speaks ultimately about what Alicia has been discussing in a lot of her music to date- that often change and moving from one version of yourself to another isn’t meant to be shunned or feared as maybe it previously was- change occurring in someone’s life is just a part of life itself, and to acknowledge that who you once were isn’t who you are now isn’t meant to be a bad thing, but rather, just an observation that through life and its struggles, you may have changed in the process, and that’s ok. You may have become wiser, more hopeful, understanding, empathetic, seen things through another person’s eyes, explored from a different POV, whatever the case that occurs to bring a new alignment into focus, ‘Brand New Me’ is a reminder that it is ok to change in a life that is full of changes. Alicia herself reminds us all that change in life, that growing and being a journey, is nothing to be worried about- ‘…there is nothing wrong with growing. There may be people in your life that knew you for a long time and they think of you only as the person you used to be and not the person you now are. And this song is a conversation introducing them to the new you. Where nothing can hold you back and no one can hold you down…’ The song itself can be also presented as something quasi-spiritual too- that the brand new me we’re referring to when we sing this song is the me that has been sold-out to Christ and diving deep into the basking in His love for us, the change from our self-centred natures within ourselves to the ones that we know Christ wants for us- the thinking of others before ourselves, and to love without reservation, condemnation, or judgement, things that I know we may have undertaken in a ‘previous life’.
As Alicia imparts to us themes of hope and encouragement in these songs that, unlike modern pop songs that unfortunately speak of vapid things that don’t have any transient value after death; we see melodies that cut right to the heart of human relationships and what it means to live through the complexities of this life, as we’re reminded of our on self-worth that is independent of our actions, and something that is worth us taking and receiving regardless of how own states of being. ‘Karma’, from The Diary of Alicia Keys, speaks of persona’s ‘significant other’ and how they decided to leave a relationship, only to come back and ask for forgiveness. The song itself speaks of how certain actions lead to certain consequences, that if you leave a relationship when that particular someone is vulnerable or in need, it may not be even accepted or expected for you to come back and expect things to be as they were. ‘Karma’ is a reminder to check inside and look at our actions, that what we do or say will have consequences to where we end up. ‘Put it in a Love Song’, featuring superstar powerhouse Beyonce (from her 2009 album The Element of Freedom), speaks of the theme of asking people to talk the talk, to walk the walk, in direct relation to how often many men use their words to charm and to speak words that are in fact empty, when in reality their actions are far from the words they used to speak to these women. The song is a reminder to always let our actions back up what our words say, whether we are in romantic relationships, familial ones, or otherwise. ‘Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down’ is a sequel if you will, to Alicia’s very own collaboration with hip-hop artist Jay-Z on the song ‘Empire State of Mind’ from his album back in the day- the reworked version with just Alicia is a much more sombre outlook, as the song still has the same elements and theme as the collaborative original- that New York is a place of tremendous opportunity, awe and wonder, and that such a song as this is paying tribute to the state and where Alicia herself is from. Alicia also brings to us the themes of teenage love and the euphoria that comes with young-love that may or may not be real, or just based upon infatuation and lust (‘Teenage Love Affair’), alongside notions of trying to live without a certain someone in your life, upon the realisation that what you thought they were prior to separation was in fact not what you wanted or even thought they could be (‘Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart’), as well as being on the verge of committing to a relationship, while still unsure of whether the pursuing of it is the best thing forward (‘Unthinkable’), while also reminding us all that relationships, whether they’re broken or fixed, or never broken in the first place, are all part of life and the human experience. What we go through shapes who we are as people, and much of Alicia’s songs speak of how real and sometimes unforgiving this world can truly be.
‘…celebrities that are relentlessly hounded by the paparazzi pick up their phones to let them know where they’re going to be shopping that afternoon and which flight they’ll be on the following morning. They’ll make sure to have lunch and dinner at the most fashionable eateries, where photo ops are all but featured on the menu. Making tabloid headlines is a full time job, and I simply don’t have the time for it. Some people perhaps feel that they need the attention, that they feel more complete when they’re basking in the limelight. In which case, good on them: I hope they enjoy it. But I need to be able to move the way I want to move, and I don’t like anybody getting in my way. I would become a very nasty person if I had to endure such scrutiny…’
‘…the [downloading free music] problem arose when there was a lack of good, complete albums. People got sick and tired of liking a particular song, and then buying the album, only to discover that it sounded like someone had thrown a bunch of crap songs together on it. When you produce an album that’s a journey, an experience that moves you from beginning to end, then folk will buy it. Music-lovers want to be treated with respect and not just messed around…’
‘…I feel very sad about it: [the meltdown of music artists]. Celebrity can certainly drag you down, and I don’t know to what extent you can ever hope of resurfacing once you hit rock bottom. Fame is worse than heroin. I totally see how you can become addicted to your own notoriety. It’ll freak you out if you’ve been used to a certain amount of fame and attention, and then suddenly it’s not there anymore. It’s like withdrawal symptoms…’
It is in these three quote above, all by Alicia, and about topics of celebrities and paparazzi, the downloading of free music and its cause, and the meltdown mentality of music artists, respectively; that I truly can relate on a human level to an artist who has a great care and concern about issues relevant to the society of today. Frankly, when someone becomes a ‘celebrity’- either by choice or by accident, they are immediately a role model, whether they want to be or not. And it is often sad when mental things happen to these people we look up to, because in all honesty, we pride ourselves in trying to be like them, when in fact, putting them on pedestals all the time may in fact contribute to their eventual downfall, both physically and mentally. Alicia and her music are both honest, and her outlook on the fragility of humanity in relation to how people handle the ‘drug’ of celebrity, is what has made myself be in more admiration to Alicia and her confronting, yet equally compelling and comforting, music. ‘Tears Always Win’ is a reminder for ourselves as humans, that celebrities have feelings too, and in the context of the song, the persona who should not be feeling things for an ex, is instead feeling all these certain emotions, because in all honesty, sometimes getting over a relationship takes time. It takes patience and a whole lot of prayer and asking God ‘Why’, but on top of everything, ‘Tears Always Win’ is permission for us to feel the ugly feelings after something horrible, regardless of how people say in our lives that we need to ‘get over it’ and ‘quickly’. Sometimes to bask and sit a little more in the hurt and confusion is often what is needed for healing to occur, rather than a quick-fix of ‘dusting yourself off’ again.
‘You Don’t Know My Name’, from Alicia’s second album The Diary of Alicia Keys, speaks of how feelings for someone can be so strong and central for your life, even if the someone that is causing you these feelings doesn’t even know you, a reminder that love the feeling (or is it infatuation?) can be very strong, to the point where you can ‘crush’ on someone at a distance and have a certain ideal way of how this person is, even without getting to know them- a sad reality for a lot of people out there, who maybe because of their introversion, can’t necessarily approach people because of their own worries, fears or inadequacies about situations. Nevertheless, ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ is a song that people with society anxiety and introversion can relate to- and a song that reminds us all that these people who aren’t necessarily the ‘loudest in the room’ still have a voice as well. ‘Unbreakable’ challenges us all to understand that these people on TV that we admire are just like us, with the same amount of problems as well as triumphs. It is in this light of understanding, that we ought to try and see what has worked in our own heroes’ relationships, and try to strive to take hold of what is useful and apply it to our own lives as well; while ‘Like You’ll Never See Me Again’ is a reminder of our own finite nature here on this Earth, and that whatever we want to undertake or feel as if it’s necessary to do, we must with the urgency and intentionality that we undertake all important tasks with (in the song’s case, its declaring a love for another as if what you’re saying to them will be the last time you’re saying it!).
Alicia also invites us to partake in the listening experience of her covers, primarily the tracks ‘Don’t Give Up’, a collaboration with U2 on arguably one of Peter Gabriel’s most iconic songs, with proceeds of the song going towards the Keep a Child Alive charity; and ‘How Come U Don’t Call Me’, a cover of the famous Prince song back in the day, placed on Alicia’s first album Songs in A Minor, and its message about asking the question of why- why disappear from a relationship that is starting when the persona is under the assumption that the certain connection they are having is something worth pursuing. Prince’s song was originally just a vocal and a piano, and so Alicia, loving the song so much, choreographed the track to make it much more rousing and declaratory with the addition of these instruments. It is in these covers where we’re reminded of the power of a song that is independent of the person singing it- both these tracks are evidence of how a song of yesterday can still be impactful and relevant to the people of today- with new life being brought into the track itself by way of a cover!
Alicia Keys and her songs have always been an avenue for people to have her music as a way of expressing their own feelings in a way that maybe they themselves never could. It is when we understand that music in its truest form, is creating a space where you don’t have to be afraid for revealing things about yourself that you deem unfixable or even unworthy of love, but a space of dialogue and discussion, one of figuring out identity without the preconceived notion that you have to do it in a certain way. Alicia’s music, especially from her 2016 album Here onward (inclusive of songs that are to be present on her self-titled 7th album, to be released TBA 2020), has been very instrumental in a lot of people’s life, and had I listened to her music at that point in time, maybe instrumental in mine as well. ‘In Common’, a single from Here, speaks of how there is a certain realisation that is sweeping all over the globe, that we as humans have a lot more in common with people who are different than us, than we actually do have differences. I mean, sure, there are many different religions, and a lot of them believe a whole bunch of different things, but at the end of the day, we shouldn’t really love or treat people differently because of that difference that is highlighted. Too many times people have been segregated based upon race, gender and religion, and this song ‘In Common’ is a reminder to treat people with dignity, respect, and to listen from their point of view- I’m sure we can learn as much from them as they from us. Yes there are extremists in all sectors of society- on all levels and across all spectrums, but as this song is a reminder of how we as humans and even we as Christians should behave in a world full of differences- to do justly, love mercy, and show God’s hands and feet through us loving unconditionally the people who are different than us, as how God would see and love them; Alicia’s melody, as tropical and dance-like that it is, promotes a message of hope and unity in a world full of hurt, anguish and division. As Alicia herself relays to us all, ‘…that song sums up the theme of how we are all on or journeys and trying to figure out who we are, which presents a lot whole of problems and challenges. We’re all messed up in our own separate ways with things we’re trying to get through. There’s something really liberating about being able to say, ‘I got my mess, you got your mess – and that’s all right…’
‘Blended Family (What You Do For Love)’ is the other single from Here, and is yet another song that is also impactful and emotive, as Alicia divulges into the topic of what it means to be in a family, and what a typical family looks like to the outsider. As I’m sure people have been aware, Alicia’s husband was married before- and Alicia, on top of being a mum to a couple of kids herself, is also step-mum to two more kids from her husband’s previous marriage. In the music video accompanying ‘Blended Family’, we see the whole of Alicia’s family- her husband, two kids biologically, two step-kids, as well as the ex-wife, in familial shots together, a reminder that sometimes the typical ‘definition’ of a family doesn’t fit what is actually seen anymore…and that’s ok. it doesn’t make the family set-ups any less structured, reliable, or even less good for kids to grow up in. This song is very personal to Alicia- what initially started off as being animosity between herself and her husband’s previous wife, has now turned into a respect and a unity that comes with parenting the same kids and wanting them to grow up in a way that they can face a sadly unforgiving world. ‘Blended Family’ is a reminder that often there isn’t really one-size-fits-all, and that we need to stop placing guilt and shame on families that don’t ascribe to what we believe to be right and true. This is a perfect exercise for us Christians to come and have restraint, understanding that even through these unconventional ways of being a family and parenting, the Lord can still use these situations for good, reminding ourselves that sometimes it takes the unconventional, the different and the unique, to show us all things about ourselves and things about God in the process.
‘…It’s incredible how things come together the way that they’re meant to come together. Part of me is kind of sitting back and watching that like, “Wow, okay, what’s happening here? How can I make all of this work?” And then another part of me is just in the excitement of it all, of giving birth. There’s a solid amount of work ahead in a great, inspiring way. I really want to execute the visions as I see them. So I’m feeling excellent. I’m feeling invigorated. It’s a new year [in 2020]. My energy is super high. I’m just feeling, like I like to say, on my b******t. As much hard work and grind and grit as you have to put into executing something or creating something, there’s as much space you have to leave for the magic. I definitely have learned much more about the magic and leaving space for it, and allowing that to come through too, because there’s so much that you can’t plan for. There’s so much that you have to just be ready for and have faith in. You need a certain sense of belief that it’s all going to be what you can’t even imagine yet. You have to carve out the time to put the work in, execute, imagine, dream, and create…’
It is in looking at the quote that I can fully understand that there are sometimes in life, during a creative process, let alone making music, where having plans and sticking to structures can be of greatest value to a body of work, while also understanding that having the space for ‘magic’, or what I truly believe, God’s hand on a certain outcome and His words and what He wants to occur flowing through you in a way that you may not even know that it’s Him; is something that is also necessary for creating bodies of work that are truly art. And I think that Alicia understands that, even if she may not be religious in that sense of the word. She still understands that there are moments where you have to abandon the plan and just allow space for free-flowing creativity to come into play. Sometimes it is when we surrender to the process off of ourselves and understand that we don’t have to control it all, that we can truly find comfort and rest in knowing that we don’t have to have the pressure to always believe things will be a certain way. God will use what He wants to use in order for His fame, renown, and our own refining in life, to occur and happen. That’s just how it is. And when it comes to music and songs, God can still be working through the music even if the musician is unaware of it- and that is certainly true with a lot of Alicia’s songs throughout the years. She may not be the greatest vocalist ever, but her obedience to allowing the process to fall as it may (and further on from that, her obedience to the Lord, even if she may think that’s not the case), is what I believe has allowed her to create songs that are certain to be deemed classics in years to come.
Alicia has new music coming this year. While it was originally slated to be unveiled in March 2020, the COVID-19 experience changed all of that. Now her new album is TBA, but regardless, her bunch of new songs that have just been released over the last year or so still nevertheless impacts us as we hear these new songs from an artist truly inspiring for a myriad of generations. ALICIA is unknown, and whether it will be released now or at a later TBA date is anyone’s guess, but even so, her songs that have been unveiled from whence her 2016 album Here released till now, are nothing but spectacular and heartfelt, emotive and compelling. ‘Underdog’ in particular, is a song birthed in 2020 that has become an anthem for a lot of people around the world that have been in hardship and difficulty, exemplified and exacerbated by this uncontrollable pandemic that has been sweeping the globe. Initially ‘Underdog’ was for in fact the underdogs- the hustlers working in NYC, day in day out, trying to attain a dream that may or may not be within reach, the single mothers working 2 jobs and sometimes nights, just so that the money can be coming in, the marginalised and different, the people with physical ailments, or even those who may feel like they cannot fit into normal society because of the colour of their skin.
‘Underdog’ is an anthem for these people, as we understand that God Himself on high champions the underdog and cares for them deeply. ‘Underdog’, though I know it wasn’t based upon any Bible verse of any kind, still reminds me of the New Testament, and how in the book of James 1, we see what the true definition of what ‘religion’ could be- ‘…anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world…’ We are reminded that the underprivileged and overlooked have value, if it’s not in the sight of man, it’s in the eyes of the Lord. We are not to discount people because of what we perceive to be an inadequacy in them, but rather, see things from God’s POV- sometimes it can take being in fellowship or communion with someone who is different than you to realise the assumptions, judgement and condemnation you give to them is indeed unwarranted, and maybe they can even teach you things about yourself you may not have known, had it not been for that encounter. ‘Underdog’ is a great song by a powerfully soulful artist, one that I’m sure will become an anthem in the upcoming months for people fighting in the front-lines, placing their own lives at risk against the unseen enemy which is COVID-19!
‘…we’ve all been in that place where we have to overcome adversity. My life is different from yours, and your life is different from hers. Everybody has a different experience. But that ability to know that even when it feels like everything is at its worst, that there are these challenges that we can overcome—we can figure it out and we can have the tenacity to fight the way through it. That’s what “Underdog” is about. Like that word, I think a lot of the time that it might feel like [underdog is] a negative word, but to me it’s one of the most powerful things to find a strength in ourselves to defy the odds. And I personally really need to hear that right now. We’re surrounded by all this other energy that makes you confused and makes you doubtful. You feel frustrated and it makes you just want to curl up in a corner. These feelings are all valid. But to remember that we are meant to defy the odds? I just really need that right now personally… Part of the greatest stories ever have been those that have proved everything and everybody wrong. And I think in a way we’re all looking to do that, and we’re hoping that the dreams that we have or the vision we have for ourselves can literally prove those who don’t believe it wrong…’
Aside from ‘Underdog’, there has been other tracks, from her upcoming album ALICIA and other songs scattered through the years, that still have charted through to impact people, myself included. The ‘comeback’ single from Alicia in 2019 was ‘Show Me Love’ featuring American singer-songwriter Miguel, and features the duo exploring the theme of love in a lot of different facets- self love, the love between couples, the love that someone has in creating something that is of value to them, and the overall sense of love that is given to us from a ‘higher power’ as I’m sure Alicia and her collaborators assume that presence to be (but I know as a Christian this love given to us freely and unconditionally is from Christ Himself!). ‘Show Me Love’ also has a great music video/visual attached to it, with actors Michael B. Jordan and Zoe Saldana (and her husband) acting in this collaborated video, as we’re reminded that this notion and idea for love can be understood by a lot of people to mean different things. Nevertheless, ‘Show Me Love’ is a powerful concept, and a great revelation to know that to be loved without condition is sometimes a scary thing to understand and get our heads around. As Alicia says herself, ‘…none of us are just one way. We’re at work and we’re that way at work, or we’re with our family and we’re that way with our family, or we’re with our friends and we’re that way with our friends, and then we’re this way with ourselves. And so I’ve been focused on being more clear [about] who I am in all sides of it. I feel like it’s scary as sh*t to be who you really are. It just is. And it’s easier to kind of default to that one that works like, ‘If everybody knows me like this, Imma just do that.’ And then we’re growing and we’re trying to figure out, ‘Wait, why don’t I feel right in that space anymore?’ And I think it’s because we don’t give ourselves permission to be all the things we are…’ The song is asking for love to be shown to us, the kind that will never leave, the kind that will love us even when we show all sides of ourselves and we think no one will understand or even love us if we show the parts that we ourselves often deem to be unlovable. And this kind of love, has a name- Jesus. Alicia has delivered a stellar performance in this track, and for me, alongside ‘Underdog’, are some of the songs that have been impactful by Alicia of late, songs that I reckon will change the trajectory of people in the future, from those who may be self-centred, to people who puts the needs of the other before the self.
‘Good Job’, the last song for Alicia to release as of now, is track #15 out of 15 in this new album, and a song written out of a gratitude of thanks and appreciation to all the unsung heroes who have made the place that we live, the place that we live. Even though the song wasn’t actually written and recorded in response to the hard work people in the essential services industry are undertaking in the wake of this COVID-19 experience, the song still has a lot of meaning for those working in these areas because of the virus. Totally unrelated to the pandemic experience, ‘Good Job’ was actually written for Alicia’s own mother, as she honours her parents and people who have built up the city she has lived in, before her, a reminder to always pay tribute to people who have gone before you had have had it tougher than you have at the moment. ‘Good Job’ has a unified feeling, as we give thanks to things that we have taken for granted all this time- our health being one. Alicia also brings to us an inspirational track called ‘We are Here’, though not on ALICIA, but rather, still has importance even now in 2020 with the effects of this global unifying virus that is affecting almost every country on the globe. The song itself is a call to action and a way to stand with one another in a community sense to vow to create a world that is better for our children than it is for ourselves. When Alicia herself was writing this song, she was in fact pregnant with her second child- it is in these moments when you are carrying the life of another inside of you, that you understand that ‘…I can’t help and think about the world I’m bringing my baby into. No matter where we come from, when we see the state of the world today, we can all feel the growing frustration and desire to make a difference. And we all have a voice – we just need to know how to make it heard…’ Anthemic and powerful, and a song that I firmly believe God has been using around the world in subtle ways in bringing together people despite differences, to shape the world into one that lifts people up instead of tearing them down; ‘We are Here’ encourages us all to be present here in this space where things are happening, understanding that our actions today will deeply affect the trajectory of what happens to future people, tomorrow!
While for the most part, Alicia’s impact and effect on society as a whole has been through her music, she’s just as much involved in things outside of music as well, reminding us all that often it is the things that you do outside of what your calling is, that can have the most impact on society and people as a whole. With Alicia being a co-founder and the global ambassador of the Keep a Child Alive NPO, the organisation provides medical care, social support and orphan assistance to children and their families who are suffering from HIV and AIDS, in the regions of Africa and India- Alicia’s involvement in this organisation is a personal one. Alicia’s mothers friend perished from the disease when Alicia was 8, and thus, this initiative was one that has been dear to Alicia’s heart. Alicia also has been involved in various charity benefit concerts and other events throughout her career- sharing the stage with the late David Bowie in a 2005 Live8 concert that was to raise awareness to poverty in Africa, participating in the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo in 2007, and appearing in a video titled ‘23 Ways You Could Be Killed if You are Black in America’, that was made to take action against racism in the U.S.; are just some of the many, many things that Alicia has been involved in over the years that have increased her platform as an artist with a sense of responsibility to affect and positively change the climate of the world. Alicia has also been a coach on the U.S. version of The Voice- in seasons 11, 12 and 14; alongside being part of the protest during the Women’s March in Washington, a day after President Trump was sworn into power in January 2017. All these activities are just a reminder that what you do outside your primary objective matters- in this case, being a music artist is just half your role. People look up to artists as role models, and thus, what happens behind the scenes, can be equally important, maybe even more so, than the actual music.
Alicia’s music has been reaching people’s homes and hearts for a long time since her unveiling of her debut album way back in 2001. And with all the accolades and awards she’s been getting, it’s no wonder this NY native is quite possibly one of R&B/soul’s most impactful artists of this generation. Alicia has been referred to by many media outlets (Amnesty International, Houston Chronicle, CBS) as being the Queen of R&B, while the annual publication TIME has listed her as being in a list of 100 most influential people twice (in 2005 and again in 2017), while other publications like Billboard listed her in 2015 as #27 out of the top 35 R&B artists of all time. Alicia has also been listed on the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)’s best-selling artists in the U.S. in all of modern music history, while Billboard again honoured her by stating that Alicia was ranked 5th for ‘most successful artist of the 2000s decade’. It is in these accolades and accreditations that we can see the impact Alicia’s music has had on the culture, society, and overall reaction towards Alicia’s style of R&B over the years. Even The Recording Academy reminded us all that Alicia has had the ability to cross over genres with ease, grace and poise, infusing classically trained piano and music style, into her music to present to us various styles throughout her years as being an artist- gospel, jazz, blues, soul, rock and pop and just some of the many genres, on top of R&B, that Alicia has incorporated into her music. It is when you marry together classical music with anything else, like what Alicia has done, you ought to be commended for it.
And with Alicia being influenced in her music by artists like Whitney Houston, John Lennon, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, Prince, Barbara Streisand and Stevie Wonder (to name a few), and influencing tons more with her craft, from Adele, Rihanna and Emeli Sande, to H.E.R., James Bay and Alessia Cara (also to name a few!); we can see Alicia’s music inspiring a new generation to take leaps of faith as the musicians of tomorrow take risks into the unknown, using Alicia’s music as a guide and a way to have permission to try new things sonically, thematically and stylistically. Alicia’s music has continued to have its effect, and will continue to do so in years to come- her self-titled album ALICIA, that has a sense of gratitude and thanks around it, is a nice reminder to always be appreciative of music artists that are willing to push the envelope and challenge what was assumed to be true for ages. Alicia is one such artist, that we are thankful for, as we see her boldness to step outside the ‘rules’ of music and marry together genres that may not otherwise have been married had it not been for Alicia and her signature style. Nevertheless, Alicia is here to stay, and as we head into the rest of 2020, let us become beacons of change and positive encouragement- and if artists like Alicia can undertake such feats, maybe there’s hope for us little guys yet!
‘…I just feel so connected to people. I’ve always felt like I understand people. I can walk into a room and I can feel the energy of people so clearly. Even if I don’t know exactly what’s going on, their exact details, I know the energy and I can relate to that energy. It doesn’t matter where I am. I can be in Korea, I can be in Europe, I can be in Brooklyn, I can be anywhere. That’s something that really is part of who I am and part of who I’ve always wanted to be. I always wanted to have and create conversations that are real and genuine. I’ve always considered myself an artist of the people. I don’t want to be on some pedestal that is unobtainable. That’s not even a real thing. I believe we can connect with each other, and it does something for you. I definitely love not only performing, but I love connecting with people on a real level. I love sitting down with people and just having a really honest conversation because I find that there are so many similarities that we’re all experiencing. We’re all going through this, trying to figure it all out…’
Does Alicia Keys and her music make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘If I Ain’t Got You’, ‘No One’, or ‘Underdog’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!