I Want Her To Win, But…Can Alicia Keys Ever Get Back On Top?

November 29, 2012  |  

Before you get your panties in a knot, know that my question is one that comes from worry, not an actual desire for her to not succeed. Why? Because I’m a huge Alicia Keys fan. While I tried to resist her cornrow and beads wearing underneath a fedora steez and her talents as a pianist back when she dropped Songs In A Minor, tracks like “Butterflyz,” “Girlfriend,” “A Woman’s Worth” and more had me hooked on her. Seriously, you can still catch me walking around our office singing the intro to “Troubles” with an emphatic, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, YEAAAAAAA!” If that wasn’t enough, Diary of Alicia Keys was another classic; I was one of the first to have her very awesome Unplugged joint; and As I Am with its epic lead single, “No One,” was something I couldn’t help but play from top to bottom. To me, Alicia Keys is truly one of the few genuinely talented people left in our musical generation, with lyrics that are poetry and not some vulgar ish you could find written on a gas station bathroom wall. But with the state of music now, the state of her brand, and the personal drama that keeps playing out in public, I’m wondering if Keys will still be relevant a few years from now.

And I think that’s why I’m worried about Alicia. Despite the usual shade that has been thrown by some, as a fan, I don’t spend my days turning up my nose at her when her name is brought up, when pictures of her and her happy family are posted on blogs, and when interviews are released where she talks happily about her marriage and her son, enamored by the blessings in her life. But I’ve found that many people do, and that’s because while they might have been a fan of hers, they aren’t a fan of her decision to get involved with Swizz Beatz. Not because he’s all that, but because he was once a married man at the time they got involved with one another–separated or not. I wasn’t too happy when I found out about their relationship, especially when Mashonda spilled a lot of details about their love triangle, but I’m not one of those people who harshly judges a musician  by what they do outside of the studio, but rather by what they put out there in the industry for the buying public. Maybe that’s why I can still jam to a Chris Brown track when the right one comes on and only care about what Fantasia is doing when she’s got a new album coming out. But while I might not take her personal life…personally, there are plenty of people who won’t let it go, and for Alicia to still be relevant in today’s industry, she needs as many fans as possible, not detractors looking to remind everyone of something deemed negative.

If you’re wondering why that matters, it has a lot to do not necessarily with sales, but with having a strong brand. With albums no longer selling like they used to and even big names struggling to make it platinum, the brand you build is more important in this day and age than the talent you actually have. Sadly it’s true. Ad campaigns, clothing lines, movie roles, documentaries on your life, it all matters. And when you have a strong brand, you most definitely can have a stronger following. Enough people have to LIKE you, your style and your personality. And if she’s losing fans because of her love life, that’s not a good thing. If she doesn’t have a die hard following like Rihanna’s Navy, Bey’s Beehive and Gaga’s Little Monsters, the future might not be all that bright.

Aside from all that, I can’t help but also worry about her music. After her last release, Element of Freedom (which was led by the dull “Doesn’t Mean Anything” but later saved by the very smooth “Unthinkable”), I was pretty hopeful about what this new album, Girl On Fire, had to offer. And after listening to it, I didn’t find myself amped up about it the same way I had been about her previous efforts, but I don’t hate it either. It’s just…all right. As a coworker of mine (hey Jada!) who is also a big fan (and a bit indifferent about the new album as well) likes to say, Keys has a specific lane that she needs to stay in, but still find ways to reinvent herself so as to not to come off dull. If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is. And honestly, it’s hard for her to jazz things up when a lot of her music comes out with the same storylines: I could have it all, but I’d have nothing without you meets a powerful love that most people can’t fathom and ends with an uplifting ballad about how women rock!). And it doesn’t help when her husband puts Ruff Ryder worthy beats on her new album and expects her voice to soar over them. While there are some gems on this album, especially “Fire We Make” with Maxwell, “Listen To Your Heart,” “Brand New Me,” and “101,” the album as a collective is a bit underwhelming. It’s an overproduced album with so so lyrical content.

Alicia Keys is from a time before social media and the stans behind it ran the world. She’s from the era when albums were selling in the millions in a few weeks and creative Neo-Soul artists were embraced rather than slept on and given the “Who is that again?” treatment. She’s still one of the brightest stars that we have, no doubt, but when I look at her and listen to her nowadays, I can’t help but feel that her relevance is fading. When she performed at the VMAs a few months back she had to bring out everybody from Nicki Minaj to a flippin’ Gabby Douglas to keep the audience from losing interest after a show that had Rihanna jumping around commanding “We Found Love” and Frank Ocean stealing everyone’s ears and hearts with a simple performance of “Thinkin Bout You.” Even after bringing out her high profile guests, it just came off kind of corny. Her new tracks don’t do her voice real justice and spend too much time forcing her to shout and strain rather than croon and capture your attention. Everything she does these days seems a bit too forced, with the edgy haircut and clothes now, to having Swizz Beatz putting together some of her tracks. Even watching her perform “Girl on Fire” while doing her promo tours had me thinking she wasn’t having much fun. Sad to say, but I think many people, myself included sometimes, are losing the interest that captivated everyone years ago and kept us glued to the screens when she would jump on top of her piano or pound on it, passionate about the music she was performing and making. While I’d rather listen to Alicia any day over most of the mess playing on the radio now, I definitely would pick the old Alicia over this new one any day. So can this new Alicia Keys we see and read about actually stay on top?


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  • TinyBrain

    U speak out my thoughts. I love AK so much, and I like Girl On Fire, but at the same time I feel a bit sad. When I see her struggling to dance and shake her hips nowadays, I feel sad. That’s not the old Alicia Keys. I don’t think she enjoys it that much.

  • Ay

    Another article like this? smh Yes she can get back on top, but it’s ultimately on her. There are factors preventing this

    1)Her priorities have changed. Being on stage is no longer the highlight of her life.

    2)She’s not a bubblegum artist or a country artist,and thats all thats on the charts. Adele is an exception.

    3) Her brand has been changed since the whole Swizz thing. Either she’ll have to change or we well have to adapt to the “new” her.

  • shame on you

    ”She is very talented beautiful butt…the song she write don’t say she that person…

  • Alohilani

    I don’t see why not. She is an actual musician (plays piano) and has a pretty decent singing voice.

    By the way – I really like her song “Brand New Me” from the new album.

  • Jade Nicole

    I think she need to go back to drawing board and start over just like Keyshia Cole did. Her fans did not enjoy her cd and she went back to the old formula. Alicia music is terrible girl on Fire is bad its like she sang the song first and tried to add teh music in behind but its off and the song she has with Maxwell would be great if she wasn’t singing it.

  • The Truth

    Black people are going to mess around and kill her off like you did Michael Jackson. You didn’t appreciate him until he was dead just like Whitney. Black people don’t appreciate and love their musicians or artist.

    White people support their musicians like Bruce, Mickey Jagger, Stephen Taylor, Barbara Streisand,etc who still sell out arenas.

    You will still have Chris and Rihanna to love. Long live the King and Queen.

  • I love Alica, Hate her screaming at me about being a girl on fiyyyyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

  • 1Val

    Perhaps Alicia has restricted her brand with her women’s empowerment anthems contradicted by her got a man any way she could love life. The Girl On Fire is a horrible song and words rang hollow. She has started to dress as a sex kitten perhaps that should be her new image.
    Nobody would buy cds from R.Kelly if he were singing about children, Chris Brown if he sang about respecting women, Snoop if rapped drugs were bad so Alicia’s new music should align with who she truly is. Like it or not Alicia’s image affects her ability to sell products. If she leaves the woman empowerment’s rhetoric alone she can reinvent herself.

    • 1Val

      Alicia reminds of old Betty Wright tune, “You’re A Hoe And You Don’t Know.” Like it or not society only promotes whorish white women celebrites Angelina Jolie, Kim Kardashian, etc..

  • Dang

    She is a R&b artist. Not pop. I happen to like growth in music so I dig the new album. Singers like Rihanna and beyonce are more pop oriented. They go with what’s popular, hence singing about sex, and being a single lady when you’re married. Alicia is like the Diana’s and temptations where your kids will learn of their music through you and old school stations. Her art reflects her life so her fans age with her. **disclaimer** no shade was being thrown in replying to this article. I like a lil bit of music from each singer referenced.

    • TanTan78

      “Being a single lady when you’re married.” Preach! Did anyone else catch that?

    • Idk if she was married when that came out tho? I could be wrong

      • heyheynow

        she wasn’t thanks for clarifying don’t believe this article was about Beyonce who dated and married a guy who wasn’t married therefore is the ish in her personal life and music..let’s continue to talk about boring azz alicia keys thanks

        • #boom

        • Dang

          Actually I was referencing how her art doesnt imitate her life. She was married in 08, single ladies came out in 09. I was insulting your queen( hence the disclaimer) so go Stan somewhere else. Have a good day ; )

          • Typo

            *wasn’t insulting

        • Ay

          Jay’s a cheater and you know it…….


    I never knew she wasnt still on top!! I cant tell she is every where and the song “New York” among others have set her for life!! OAN: I have NEVER met a man who was screwing someone whether married or single, your man was someone elses before he was yours unless he was celibate! I also notice only Black media is talking about this….

    • Dang

      Exactly!!!! This hasn’t been on E! or HLN. And they love to gossip on those networks. And when TMZ does touch it they be sure to put “allegedly” in every sentence.

  • She needs good singles and heavy promotion. People aren’t buying cd’s they are buying singles. No good singles, no good sales. While I think she sold herself short hooking up with him, that doesn’t impact how I view her as an artist. Controversy can be a good thing for artists granted they continue to deliver on radio friendly, catchy, songs.

  • realadulttalk

    She’s not peeing on little boys so her personal life doesn’t matter to me. That Girl on Fire crap is just that…crap (the song-not referring to the cd) and even though I can download it for free–I don’t desire to. When you drop a very lame first single it makes people apprehensive.

  • Renee

    I love Alicia, have since day 1. As far as her personal life, yall can thumb me down or say I’m naive, but I actually believe her…I think swizz and mashonda had been separated, for I while, and I dont think their is anything wrong with that, like I really don’t. I know tons of couples that started dating while one partner was separated, it’s actually how I was created, so maybe that has something to do with my bias.that being said, alicia isn’t winning because, her music is, well, bad. Breaks my heart to say, but girl on fire is bad.

    • Renee


  • TeahMonae

    I’m kinda wierd about who I patronize and give my hard earned money to. I stopped buying Chick Fil A (although I love it) because the owner made that comment about homesexuals. I refuse to buy a Papa John’s pizza (love thier pizza too) after their founder and CEO announced after Obama’s re-election that he would be terminating or reducing hours for a large number of employees because he doesnt want to have to pay for their heathcare under Obama’s plan. I just cant bring myself to put more money in his pockets. Even back in the day, I stopped buying/wearing Tommy Hilfiger after he made the comment that he didn’t design his clothes for blacks. So even though I like Alicia’s music, and I’m flawed just as all humans are, I will not be patronizing her and giving her any of my money. Nothing againist her personally, but again, I’m wierd about stuff like that.

    • heyheynow

      thanks for the info about papa john’s fugg them !! I didn’t know that happened but you are right that’s the same way I feel about chris, I know their talents are supposed to be seperate from their music but everyone knows that people put celebrities on a pedestal you can see that on the news everyday. Alicia Keys could have gotten any man she wanted to yet she choose to take someone else’s so I feel sorry for the sister a little bit but whether she remains relevant or not I could careless. Hey she got what she wanted a nice family so…

  • IllyPhilly

    I think she’s doing fine despite her personal issues and I hope she doesn’t try to saturate the world with herself like two of her counterparts. Let her do her humanitarian work and be fab in that area.

  • D-Money

    This article tackles a difficult question—can artists stay the same as their personal lives evolve? The answer is no. Unfortunately, people will say her music has changed for the worse, when in actually she’s no longer the sad New York girl. She’s a happily married woman with a family. Her music and sound must change and grow as she continues to do so. Without it, she’ll be stuck in the early ’00s.

    I appreciate what “Girl on Fire” brings to the table—both lyrically and sonically. The latest album is her best work since 2004’s “Diary of Alicia Keys” but I do agree with the writer that something’s missing from the piece. I think it’s the sadness I talked about earlier.

    Alicia Keys is happy now. I’m happy for her. I still appreciate and honor her music way above the pop-divas of today. It will always and forever be a step above the rest—even when it’s not her very best.

    • Trisha_B

      I agree! Everybody wants the only Alicia. But the old Alicia was younger, no kids, not married, & was 1st stepping onto the scene. She’s in a new place, so her music is going to be different. Just like everybody was loving Mary J when she had those songs about cheating, not gonna cry no more, male bashing songs lol, but once she got married & was finally happy, people weren’t checking for her no more. It seems like women soul artist are more successful when they are talking about pain & seeking love, then they are when they are actually happy & are in love…But i love the new song Alicia has w/ Maxwell!!

    • I disagree. I don’t want her to stay the ‘sad lNY girl’. I love that she’s evolved and grown to a beautiful woman. However, while she’s evolved, her music seems to have devolved. It’s like she pulled a benjamin button. She wrote better material as a 16 y/o. These new songs come off as amateurish and frankly, desperate. I don’t care for how she’s conducted her personal life, but that’s not what is keeping me from buying her music. Her music is keeping me from buying her music. It’s no longer nuanced, the melody’s not there. Something is off. I expect more from her, because I’ve experienced what she’s capable of. I still listen to Songs in A Minor & Diary of Alicia Keys. But since those, I’ve only listened to a few singles here and there. The full albums don’t capture me like they used to.

  • Her album sales predictions are an all time low for her and I think ppl will blame swizz but the underperforming 1st single is to blame honestly she can get back on top but with much better material

  • JaneDoe

    Sure she can is she lets her hubby stop producing her tracks.. They don’t compliment each other musically…

  • Aplee

    I agree, I like Alicia’s music. But I think her music was much better when she was with Krucial Keys.

    • IllyPhilly


    • Ce1999

      This is so true. I know that artists should evolve, but Girl on Fire lacks luster and I it made me really uninterested in what the rest of the album had to offer. Her sound was so much more appealing then. I don’t what it was.