Alicia Keys has one of the most-recognized and celebrated voices of our generation, but she’s no one-trick pony.
Since the release of her 2009 album, The Element of Freedom, Keys has produced a Broadway play, directed a short film, designed shoes for Reebok, married hip hop artist and producer Swizz Beatz, and given birth to their now 2-year-old son.
All of these experiences have shaped her as an artist and while recording her newly-released album, Girl On Fire, Keys stepped out of her comfort zone by collaborating with new producers and experimenting with new beats.
“I’m in a new space of my life, you know, and I think that because of that, I was more open to just doing things I never did before.” she told Carson Daly on AMP Radio Monday morning. “I needed to do things I never did before. I couldn’t go in and kind of do it in maybe the comfortable way that I’ve been used to doing it. I needed to kind of like break all the rules and break all the walls down and because of that, I think that the songs have come together in the best way I’ve ever written.”
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The fresh perspective seems to be working. Industry insiders project that Keys will debut at number one with as many as 170,000 copies sold.
“There’s no filler on this album,” Keys explained. “There’s nothing on this album that you’re not going to be able to play or not going to be able to love in a different space in your mind and that’s actually what I wanted to do from the beginning. I wanted to make songs that were going to be like really special, so I feel proud. I feel like I achieved that.”
From the moment Alicia first wrote the lead single, “Girl On Fire,” she knew it would be the overarching theme of her fifth studio album.
“There was an aggression to it. There was a simplicity to it. There was a loudness to it. There was a quietness to it. There’s everything that…felt right and I knew at that moment I was going to call this record Girl On Fire because that’s who I am and it’s more than just a great phrase. It’s more about where I am in my life and claiming myself and saying, ‘You are who you are and love who you are, wherever you are.’”
Another song near and dear to her heart on Girl On Fire features a cameo from her 2-year-old son, Egypt.
“There’s one song called ‘When It’s All Over’ that I actually put him on the end of the song and people love that part of the song and you know they’ll call me like, ‘You made me cry!’ And the song is about like when it’s all over, when it’s all said and done, at least I got to love you, like, that’s what the point is…So, at the end of the song, he’s like talking and he’s talking his little two-year-old jargon like just saying his little words.”
It’s a whole different world since 20-year-old Alicia first stepped onto the scene with her piano and soaring vocals, but she refuses to give in to the trend of writing singles instead of a full album.
“It has become such a singles market or a singles world that sometimes people might not even think a record’s going to be any good and for you to say that this album is a full album of real songs that people could love, you know, that’s what I want. I don’t want people to feel like they’re going to get jerked when they hear the album. You’re going to get more than you actually ever thought you would.”
Alicia revealed that her second single will be “Brand New Me,” which brings up the valid question, what was wrong with the old Alicia? Nothing, she insists, rather, it’s about her evolution as an artist and adult.
“There’s so many people around you all the time kind of like telling you who you should be and it’s about finding who you are and being cool with that, so that’s really been a big theme for me.”
Keys is hoping her self-realization will lead to critical success. Over the years, she’s amassed a total of 27 Grammy nominations with 14 wins. She described what it felt like winning her very first award.
“I was in a space ship! Seriously, I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing there and literally it felt like I had suddenly been beamed into the TV and seeing all of my favorite people just sitting next to me and it was the most out-of-body experience I’d ever had. And then on top of that, not only to be there, but then to have won, you know was like, I couldn’t even really hold myself together very well.”
In 2006, she was also nominated for a duet with someone Carson knows all too well…The Voice season 2 winner Jermaine Paul! He was one of her background singers until he got his big break on the singing competition series.
“First of all, Jermaine is like the truth, for real! For real, for real, for real,” Keys exclaimed. “He’s an incredibly talented guy and this, actually, was a tribute to Luther Vandross, so there was a whole tribute album that was put together for him that we did ‘If This World Were Mine,’ which is one of my favorites.”
Until the inevitable accolades start rolling in for her most recent body of work, the “girl on fire” is focused on the next step of her journey, touring for her fans.
“I start actually rehearsing in January. We’re going to go on tour in March, so, you know, soon tickets will be on sale. I mean, this tour, this time, everything is different. Everything is different! The album is fresh, brand new and [I’m] excited to tour. It’s going to be a new way to express music, but emotion and visuals all in this way that just totally knocks you off your feet. Everything, everything. I’m just reinvigorated in a whole new way, so it’s on and popping!”
Listen to Carson’s interview with Alicia Keys below:
-Sarah Carroll, 97.1 AMP Radio/Los Angeles