What happened to Alicia Keys?

The sultry singer-songwriter that emerged, still in her late teens, a decade ago seemed to ooze confidence. Despite her youth and rawness, she seemed to be the new millennium equivalent of a Carole King or Roberta Flack. Her mega-hit debut single “Fallin’” was inescapable and pulsed with a sincere longing that caused fans to wonder aloud if she was older than she seemed. Her first two albums, Songs In A Minor and The Diary of Alicia Keys were monster sellers. Though initially viewed by some as part of the neo-soul vanguard that was at its peak in the early 2000s, it soon became obvious that Keys was something else entirely; a sophisticated urban contemporary songstress capable of straddling genres and crossing audiences and generations.

And then, something strange happened…

Somewhere in the four-year gap between Diary… and her third album As I Am, Alicia developed a penchant for sappy melodrama and overcooked “anthems” that lacked heart and inspiration. Some of that can be credited to her partnering with songwriter Linda Perry—who is known for both melodrama and corny platitudes. Some of that could just be Keys’ growth as a woman. But she seems to have regressed as an artist.

Her latest album, Girl On Fire, is buoyed by the hit single of the same name. She now releases the kinds of songs that seem more suited for arena pop stars like Beyonce or Kelly Clarkston—gone  is the sultry sophistication of her early years, replaced with this sense of female empowerment that seems hollow and forced. She cranks out songs with nonsensical lyrics that sound like parodies of self-help pamphlets and would fit better as the theme songs to Lifetime movies.

Nonetheless, she’s still very, very popular. And she seems the happiest she’s ever been in her life. After all, you can’t expect a wife and mother in her thirties to sound like she did as an 18-year old. But one has to wonder if she’ll ever get back to what she did best.

And leave the “she-ro” anthems to Beyonce.

–   stereo williams

  • MusicMaven

    So true, you describe the sad decline of Keys perfectly. Her recent performance at the live Sandy benefit was atrocious and unintentionally laughable, singing for a mass display of audience cellphones.