Music: Alicia Keys


by Claude Julian  | ARCHIVES

Alicia Keys has always marched to a different drummer. While attending Professional Performing Arts School at age 12, she majored in choir and began writing songs at age 14. She graduated in four years as valedictorian at age 16. Keys’ success has been mired by the label of very talented but “kind of boring” label. “Girl on Fire” is uptempo liberation of a woman feeling the power of her music, motherhood, and inner peace.

Keys released her fifth studio album “Girl on Fire” through RCA Records on November 27, 2012. Keys have stated that she wants the album to “liberate” and “empower” fans. The single was released on September 4 as its lead single, and she performed the song for the first time at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards on September 6, 2012.  Alicia Keys has managed to create a powerful 11-year music career with her famous contralto voice range. Unlike her peers, Keys believes in creating music, touring and then moving away from the public eye before releasing new albums and resurfacing back into the world. It is not surprising, then, that Keys is just releasing her fifth studio album, “Girl on Fire,” after the platinum-selling “The Element of Freedom” (2009).

Having sold over 25 million albums worldwide and with 11 Grammys safely tucked under her belt, Keys has reached a position in her career where she couldn’t care less of what the critics say, as long as her fans enjoy her music. “Girl on Fire” opens with “De Novo Adagio,” literally translating to “A New Slow-Paced Piece,” with Keys paying homage to the love she has for the piano. The ballad “Brand New Me,” co-written by rising Scottish singer Emile Sande, sums up the new direction she wants for the album with, “I’m not waiting for your OK / I’ll never be perfect / But at least now I’m brave,” accompanied by a backing string section and piano that are synonymous to Key’s powerful voice.

“Girl on Fire” was conceived shortly after Keys’ marriage to record producer and rapper Swizz Beatz as well as the birth of her first child Egypt. The title track became the album’s lead single, and has peaked at eleven on the Billboard Hot 100.  Speaking on how the events of the last three years inspired her during an interview with Billboard, Keys stated: “These last three years have been the most in every way. The most new, the most difficult, the most loving, the most dream-filled, the most breaking free . . . an entire crazy dynamic of lessons and emotions to grow into and claim. This whirlwind has definitely forced me to be who I am, to be free enough and brave enough to just not accept anything else-nor try to be anything else.”

“Girl on Fire” has a balance of conventional R&B songs and piano ballads. It also showcases Keys’ attempt at different styles, which range from electro soul and hip hop, to rock and reggae flourishes. The songs are mostly mid-tempo and feature unconventional chords and melodic changes. Lyrically, “Girl on Fire” features aphorisms about relationships and God. A portion of the album’s songs have their narrator examining and struggling with a stifling relationship, while others touch on Keys’ recent personal life, including marriage and motherhood.

“Girl on Fire” debuted atop the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 159,000 units. Although this secured Keys’ her fifth number one album on the chart, it also marked her lowest opening sales for an album. It was a considerable drop from her previous effort, The Element of Freedom (2009), which opened to sales of 417,000 units. It debuted at fifteen on the UK Albums Chart and number two on the UK R&B Albums Chart, selling 31,675 copies in its first week. In Australia, it has reached number twelve on the ARIA Singles Chart and number two on the Australian Urban Albums Chart.


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