Her first album “Songs in A Minor" is one of the most successful debuts in music history. Today “Girl on Fire,” Alicia Keys’ fifth and highly anticipated studio album went on sale, although the album's title track was released Sept. 4, and she performed it for the first time two days later at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards.
After selling millions of records worldwide and winning 14 Grammys, Alicia Keys feels she has "evolved."
"I have finally learned how to give everything," the 31-year-old US singer told The Interview People ahead of the release of “Girl on Fire.” It's her first album since she got married and gave birth to a son in 2010.
Your new album is called "Girl on Fire." What can fans expect?
I love this album. I love how it feels, I love what it says, I love the way the music sounds ... fresh, exciting, triumphant, big, bold, brave, powerful, but also soft, intimate and quiet, too. It has so many different journeys that you take with it. It is experimental, but the core of it is also things that you might expect from me. The piano is always a big part of it ... I hope that it is able to relate to people's lives in a way that it relates to mine.
It has been a while since your first album, “Songs in A Minor.” How have you and your music changed?
Wow! “Since Songs in A Minor,” it's officially 10 or 11 years – that is unreal! The core of the songs and the music is still similar in a way that it has always come from a personal place, from personal experience and I have always been the one writing and producing it. But it has definitely evolved. I have evolved as a person, I have become more clear about how to express myself and I am in a zone that is more direct. I have become a better songwriter, I have become more clear in how to execute it. I have definitely become a better producer, I have finally learned how to give everything.
How do you do all the touring, promoting and recording now that you have a son?
I am very lucky that he is of the age that he can travel with me. I think that is a big blessing. I don't have to worry about him having to be in a school everyday – and now the world can become his school. But it’s definitely different. I did my first European promo a couple of weeks ago, and at the end of it I was very exhausted. I will always have to sacrifice something, but I really am able to make more proper choices, to know what’s the right thing at the time. It actually makes it a little more concise. I think I am actually beginning to figure it out.
Your son is on the album, too?
He is! It's on a song called “When It's All Over.” When we were writing that song, he came into the room and he saw me on the microphone and then I put him on the microphone. He was a lot younger then, so he was kind of saying the couple of words he knew. So after a while, when the album was coming together, I thought that it would be so cool to get him in all his him on the end of that song, and it's so cute.
What does a normal day off in your family look like?
Like yesterday! We slept in and we got up late and ended up going to the Children's Museum of Art, which is so cool. I had never been there. It has many rooms, like there is a claybar, you can play with the clay and make different things. It has this ball-bouncy-room, it has a painting area, where you can draw on the walls with crayons. It's super cool like that! After that, we walked to our favorite little café and had hot chocolate, and then we walked to the park and played a little bit in the sandbox. And then we walked home, had some dinner, took a bath and went to bed. It was the perfect day!
Any more children planned?
I can’t say it's planned, I don’t have it on the schedule. So I can'’ say when, but I really would love to. It’s a beautiful experience, I am really enjoying it, and I am also really enjoying having the one-on-one time with him now.
You have come so far, what goals do you still have?
I have so many dreams. I really want to continue to expand my business, because I finally have found this very interesting way to express myself in new forms. I sing, I act, I write songs, I produce and now we also have this amazing children’s app. I really love these processes. I want to explore new ways of being creative and new way of business, and I am looking forward to doing that for many years.
How do you manage to keep your life private?
The paparazzi know that they would get their tails whopped. They are scared of me. That is the secret. And also only drinking at home.
I found this picture of yours in a sexy, black see through dress. And I thought: “Geez, is that what she looks like now?”
That’s me, babe. What can I tell you? Gets better with time (chuckles).
You mean: Women are getting better with age?
Oh, so much better. Woman, I think, just naturally get increasingly more delicious with time.
So it is true what they say about hitting 30?
It’s true, it is true, it is true, it is true. Even when they become 40, 50, 60. I find that I sometimes look at women who are 50 or 60, and I’m like: “Man, there’s something about them that ...” There’s a regality or confidence that I look at them and go: “What is that? What is that, how do they have that thing?” And it’s really cool. So, I look forward to just getting better over time.
What makes Alicia Keys a girl on fire or a lion breaking free? And why has it taken you such a long time to get here – to quote the lyrics of that song?
You’re so good. What makes me a girl on fire is kind of finally finding my place. Finally finding my footing and standing confidently in my space. And that’s what makes anyone a girl on fire – or just on fire. May you not be a girl, you’re still on fire. You’re in your own place and you’re 100-percent confident being yourself. That doesn’t mean that you’re perfect, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any insecurities. That doesn’t mean that you’re not still finding your way. It just means that you are confidently comfortable being yourself right now. And I think that’s an amazing feeling.
Meaning: Being a mother and a married woman you’ve actually entered the next chapter in your life?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think it’s natural. It’s definitely a natural progression. And I think now being a mother and being married, it is the next chapter of my life. And there are certain things that come with that. Like, you’re not going to do the same things that you did before. And you’re not going to take the same crap that you took before – to be honest. You get to a place where you’re: “You know what? Here’s my life, and I don’t really want to deal with that extra stuff anymore.” I think when I first started in this business or when I was in my early 20s, it was like you’re kind of more willing to take people’s crap because, first, you probably don’t know that much better. Or secondly, you feel like you have to do whatever. And then you get to a place where you’re like: “I don’t have to do this.” And it’s not just because I’m me or because I’m “successful” or something like that. It’s just period. It’s just a life understanding that I don’t have to deal with things that I don’t feel comfortable with. It’s a life choice.
When we talked for the last two albums, I had the feeling you weren’t really there. You were unfocussed, unhappy, and in need of something or someone – which was after you went on that trip to Egypt in order to find yourself.
Is there more stability in your life now? And is that what you were looking for? Like some kind of re-confirmation? If that word exists.
A re-confirmation? Yeah, or a discovery of who I am – because, naturally, from “As I Am” it was a big transitional time for me. And I think musically I was able to really find a pretty incredible place. But it was a big transition, a lot of things were going on during the making of the “As I Am” album. And that was a pretty tough time for me. Really, really tough. And then the accumulation of it all kind of came out in this album. And I think it was triumphant going forward, because I had made it though that moment. And then “Element Of Freedom” was a really interesting time, too. And I think that the name of the album says it all. And I never even thought about this before until now, an element of it only means a small portion. And at the time when I named that, I thought it was: look at all this freedom that I understand and feel now. But in actuality, it was still just an element of it. And now I think that it’s finally come to a place where I really can understand what it means to be my own woman. And what it means to be free in that space. Just really claiming what it is that I want. I think there comes a time in all of our lives where we’re going to stop blaming other people for whatever it is that our life is. And we’re going to start wanting to choose how we want our life to go. And that’s a process, it is a process and it takes time. And it takes a lot of balls. And it takes a lot to say: “Wow, I’m not happy with this anymore. I’m going to have to figure out how to move in another direction.” And that’s not easy. But once you do it, I think the world opens up for you. Because you’re ready for it.
Did you feel misunderstood or limited in a way?
Yeah, I think I did. I think I did feel misunderstood in so many ways. And I think I did feel limited in so many ways. I think in actuality what I realized is, this interesting world, this interesting entertainment world, it can free you or it can jail you. And it’s so crazy, how that can happen. And it happens for many reasons and different reasons for different people. But I think that it’s so interesting because here you have this opportunity to speak and say and sing and reach so many people. And that in itself is a freedom. That in itself is a privilege. It’s a freedom, it’s a power. And at the other side sometimes I think you could end up feeling so restricted at the same time. And so I think in some ways, in certain periods of my life, I did feel restricted or misunderstood or unable to be fully myself or whatever. And it’s different now.
And now it’s like all the doors are unlocked?
It’s way different now. And I like it. What I like the most is just being able to have an opinion that is clear and it’s mine. And I don’t think everyone has to agree with me. And I don’t want you to agree with me – if you don’t. But I feel proud of myself of having a strong sense of what I feel. And to be honest, I know it sounds crazy, but I think so many of us might not. And I know, for a long time I didn’t. I had a good idea, and I had some strong ideas. But like the majority, I can probably be swayed easily. If someone pushed hard enough and convinced me good enough I could probably back down, you know what I mean. Like: “You’re probably right and ah...” But now I don’t back down so easy.