Alicia Keys: A Pop Music Icon Shaping Culture and Inspiring Change

By bonneville on June 21, 2023
Alicia Keys takes a selfie in front of a group of fans
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 15: Alicia Keys lights the Empire State Building in celebration of Starbucks Reserve opening on November 15, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)

Born in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, in 1981, Alicia Keys rose to fame 20 years later with her first album, “Songs in A Minor,” released on RCA Records. This breakthrough album, which was nominated for 6 Grammy Awards and debuted on the Billboard 200 in its first week, established her as an influential figure in the pop music scene. Her style incorporates elements of R&B and soul, with most of her songs accompanied by her on the piano (hence the stage name, Keys). Keys is a classically trained pianist who started playing when she was 12. 

Since her major record debut in 2001, she has released 8 more albums and has helped write and produce songs for several emerging and established artists. She is embarking on her 7th headlining tour with “Keys to Summer,” playing in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 28th, at the Maverick Center. Keep reading to learn more about her impact on the music scene. 

Alicia Keys

“Songs in A Minor”: Reinvigoration of Soul 

Alicia Keys seamlessly blends jazz, classical, blues, and contemporary styles in her songwriting and piano accompaniment. At a time when pop artists were expected to look and sound a certain way, her arrival in the music scene brought a fresh perspective to soul music. “Fallin,” her first single, was an instant hit that samples a James Brown’s hit, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” This hit showed her ability to sample soul songs and make them entirely her own for a more modern audience.  

Keys is also influenced by and influential in the hip-hop music scene. She has collaborated with famous rappers such as Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake, Pusha T, and many up-and-coming artists. In addition, her husband, Swizz Beatz, is a well-known producer and musician who has worked with countless notable hip-hop artists. 

Her Authenticity in the Music Industry

Keys was initially signed onto Columbia Records when she was 15 but never released a record with them. She wanted to focus on finishing school first and was turned off by how executives and others in the music industry wanted to change her style and songwriting. Rather than buckle under pressure, she broke her contract and was later taken on under Clive Davis’ wing, who was managing Arista Records at the time. That was in 1998. 

Her authenticity has inspired fans and other musicians to be true to themselves in spite of the pressure to fit in. She is not afraid to be vulnerable in interviews or during performances, resonating with people who have experienced the range of emotions she expresses through song, be it heartache, joy, empowerment, or even doubt. In addition, she is not shy about using her platform to discuss social issues. Keys is no stranger to protests, and she amplifies various social movements creatively through her work. 

An Inspiring Mentor and Coach

Alicia Keys has also empowered many other musicians in the music industry. From mentoring artists and her role as a coach on The Voice, she is not shy about sharing what she has learned with others who want to carve their own paths. She has encouraged women to speak up in the industry and not be afraid of who they are, knowing that authenticity and passion shine through creative endeavors. Her dedication to women’s empowerment shows in the founding of her non-profit, She Is The Music, whose mission is to help women make it in the industry. 

Her appeal bridges generational gaps, with young and old fans drawn to her musicianship and style. Among the artists who list Alicia Keys as an influence are Brent Faiyaz, Jazmine Sullivan, Adele, Rihanna, and John Legend. She has also written songs and produced tracks for notable artists like Whitney Houston and Christina Aguilera.  

“Keys” and “Keys II” 

Keys launched her latest albums within a year of each other. “Keys” was released on December 10th, 2021, as a double album featuring fully produced tracks and broken-down versions of newer material. It was her final release on RCA records. Her more recent album, “Keys II,” is a deluxe edition of the original. “Keys II” features original songs that pay tribute to her sound, with an “unlocked” side that reimagines and remixes the songs. 

Of the imagining behind the album, Keys reported that “It was all about imagining and dreaming in a way that just opened up the possibilities.” By hearing the same songs in different versions, listeners can see how much work goes into the production of a song and appreciate the process of remixing. 

Alicia Keys’ influence on the music landscape is significant, and the songs she’s released will far surpass her lifetime. Don’t miss your chance to see her live this summer—enter to win tickets here!

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