Working through my disdain for Alicia Keys

I’ve never cared for Alicia Keys. “Fallin'” may be the song that launched her career and got butchered at countless American Idol auditions, but “frontin'” is the verb I associate with her. Yet articulating these feelings means checking any impulse to serve as the race police. Where does a white southern girl get off calling a New Yorker of mixed racial heritage a phony?

Alicia Keys; image courtesy of idolator.com

A few months ago, I was tipsy in my house. The Grammy nominations were announced, and I went on a rant about the Arcade Fire. Deeming them Grammy bait, this dovetailed into me yelling about Taylor Swift and then, as if the heavens parted, I announced that Alicia Keys is exactly like Swift. My reasoning was that they both project an air of authenticity that I think makes them even more artificial. They also let Grammy voters feel really progressive for championing young women and artists of color, even though both artists do very little to upset traditional notions of gender and race. Also, it don’t hurt that they’re pretty and align with conventional (re: white) beauty standards. Or something like that. You’d have to ask my partner what I actually said. He thought I had a point and should explore it in a post, but he probably also thought the drunk lady needed a nap.

Shortly thereafter, I attended a bachelorette party. Back at the hotel, one of the guests put on As I Am as we were getting ready to throw lingerie at our friend (I bought a gift card to a local fetish boutique; I’m liberated, but I’m not the friend who buys you drawers). “Superwoman” came on and one of my friends mused “I really like this song.” Given the proceedings, and that the honoree was a friend from the college feminist group I was involved in, it was somewhat in the spirit of the evening. I think I gave said friend a reassuring nod and poured myself a margarita.

In theory, I like “Superwoman.” It’s got a nice message. I thought it was cool when Keys performed it with Queen Latifah and Kathleen Battle at the American Music Awards a few years back. As a feminist, I should like it. But I just can’t get into Keys. I’m bracketing off her film career, though I do want to see Smoking Aces and The Secret Life of Bees at some point. I do like one Keys song, which is also off As I Am. “Teenage Love Affair” is pretty catchy. But my enjoyment has much to do with “(Girl) I Love You” by the Temprees, which Keys’ hit generously samples from. The strings, groove, and backing beat all inform Keys’ track and make it irresistible. Keys’ vocals fluctuate between gleeful innocence and carnal grit. The lyrics, though trite, suggest expressions of teen female sexuality too complex and conflicted for the virgin/whore binary. 

But I’m not fond of the video, which repurposes Spike Lee’s School Daze. The source material is a disquieting film about the political life and troubling race and gender relations at a historically black college. The clip is a sweet love story between two college students (played by Keys and Derek Luke). Luke’s character registers as sensitive because he leads demonstrations for AIDS relief in Africa (he also lines up with Keys’ charity work). Vaughn Dunlap’s anti-aparthied efforts in School Daze didn’t suggest he was an enlightened male. Like many progressive males, his activism often engendered deeply ingrained chauvinism, misogyny, and elitism.

People treat Keys like a Serious Artist when I think she’s silly. When the press dubs certain musicians as Serious Artists, I’m automatically incredulous and looking for threads to pull (I did come around on Joanna Newsom and Antony Hegarty, though). Molly Lambert recently compared Keys to fellow New Yorker Billy Joel in a write-up on “Un-thinkable,” which placed 64th on Pitchfork’s Top 100 Tracks last year. I get the comparison–they’re piano-playing balladeers with an Empire state of mind. It’d be pretty cool if Keys had a defunct metal band in her closet, though I’ll take her Cosby Show cameo.

More than anything, Keys reminds me of world-class showboater Céline Dion, who is completely artless about how her big dumb feelings play out on stage. Keys’ scenery-chewing performance of “Adore” during the Prince medley at the BET Awards? Totally a Dion move. Actually, I’d really like to see Dion roll around on a piano. Wait, no I wouldn’t. Okay, yes I would. Keys doesn’t have Dion’s pipes, but she pumps love songs with such empty bombast that it becomes ridiculous. Maybe I just filter too many things through irony. Or maybe I think there’s something hollow about her performed earnestness. It’s probably both. Back me up, Maria Bamford.

Not that Billy Joel is above being a silly goose. What is boomer pablum like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” if not dead serious and, thus, sublimely silly. Damn you, Cola wars!

There’s also something insidious about the racial politics of Keys’ critical success. Upon arrival, I was always suspicious that the press and music industry embraced Keys in response to Lauryn Hill’s rapid artistic decline. In 1999, Hill swept the Grammys. By 2002, Hill went into hiding and Keys was the lauded newcomer. Both dropped out of Columbia, won Best New Artist, and had the burden of model minority status to deal with. But Keys was the one with a steady career. She latched on to political causes that relied on institutional reform rather than radical action. Hill made one of the best records of the 90s and then promptly got branded as crazy, in part for questioning a racist music industry. One fit in, the other dropped out. Given her status, Keys was able to assert an urban black female identity, so long as it was diluted and palateble to a white audience. She did this largely through sartorial choices and in generic identification that could accomodate a mass audience.

Together, we can all be free; image courtesy of mtv.com

I would imagine the presence of Keys’ white mother eased some people’s concerns. It certainly seemed to give her allowances. When she wed Swizz Beats, who was married when they got together, few raised an eyebrow. The rumor mill was not so kind to Fantasia Barrino. But I’m not making any pronouncements that Keys plays up her blackness or projects a studied black authenticity. I will say that I think it is a performance, and one I don’t particularly care for, but will leave it at that. Stronger claims are dangerous. I have no right to assume how Keys conceptualizes her identity. 

Furthermore, I don’t know how one negotiates mixed heritage and issues of passing and representing. Having seen friends work through it, I can gather that it’s a fraught ongoing process but refuse to offer judgment over something I can never experience. Nor am I intending to blame Keys for benefiting from institutional racism, as I’m sure she could tell me some stories. What I am saying is that there’s something profoundly unsettling about a music industry that treats talented black women as replaceable. I am also saying Keys has benefited from this system. As has Beyoncé, an artist I like but gave me pause after she donned blackface and performed for Hannibal Gaddafi.

I'm performing too, Alyx; image courtesy of colorlines.com

I don’t have a tidy conclusion to offer. I’m still struggling with why I don’t like Alicia Keys and what racist underpinings might inform my disdain. I’m tempted to chalk it up to having little regard for a competent musician championing love one bland pop song at a time, but I know it’s never that simple.

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19 comments

  1. Sarah

    Too bad for you, she makes amazing music. You like the foolish lyrics and visuals Beyonce puts out but hate one whose actually being positive with her music? Fantasia was broadcast because she responded, it was two entirely different situations. Maybe your disdain is just because of the fact that she is mixed. Work that out, it seems to be a problem within yourself. Alicia’s skin color does not take away from how immensely talented she really is.

    • Alyx Vesey

      Well, I didn’t get into what I like about Beyoncé. Nor did I proclaim my fandom without equivocation, as I can’t do that with anyone. In many ways, Beyoncé may be more problematic than Keys (Nadra Kareem Nittle addresses some of the criticism that the singer has betrayed women of color in a recent Bitch post). And, as I said in the post, I don’t want to create some false binary where we can either have one or the other. Nor did I say I outright hate Keys. I said that something about her persona rubbed me the wrong way and I found her music to be fairly unremarkable yet palatable to a large audience. That’s not the same as hating her.

      I’m also not sure what you mean by your comment that “Fantasia was broadcast because she responded, it was two entirely different situations.” If you’d like to elaborate, feel free. When I first read it, I thought you were talking about Barrino being an Idol contestant, but that can’t be your meaning.

      As to your comment that I might not like her because she’s mixed, I’m pretty sure that’s not my problem. Granted, I knew in writing this post that I was working through my own ingrained racism. But blended racial or ethnic identity hasn’t stopped me from liking other artists (and since this comment sounds like “I have tons of black friends,” I’ll shudder to myself and refrain from counting them; I will, however, recommend Murs’ “Dark Skinned White Girls,” which is a great song about the subject). I don’t think Keys’ skin color takes away from her talent. What I said in the post and what I’ll repeat here is that I think her posturing is assumed by many as authentic when in fact she’s performing a particular kind of racial identity. She’s hardly alone in doing this, which is why I brought up Beyoncé (whose mother’s Creole heritage also challenges staid notions of racial purity). Now, I may be leaning too closely on Keys’ earlier image in this argument. But while I mentioned that Keys’ performance of a black urban identity seemed somewhat disingenuous, I was actually taking issue with the reception of that image, which tends to assume its authenticity at face value. Given her mass acceptance with a mainstream audience, this assumption should be challenged. Matter of fact, the word “authenticity” should always be challenged. It’s a loaded word that encourages binarism and essentializing, which we should always contend. This is also why I brought up Taylor Swift, who I think is far more fake than Keys.

      For the record, I also like “A Woman’s Worth” and “You Don’t Know My Name,” even though I included the Maria Bamford clip that makes fun of the spoken word section. But c’mon, that section is silly. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the song. However, I realize that including Bamford opens the post up to issues of minstrelsy. I’m willing to elaborate on that. And to go back to the post, I also kind of like “Superwoman.” I’m just not bowled over by her. But she’s probably a better pianist than I gave her credit for. If you have any suggestions about starting points to revisit Keys’ work, I’m open to them.

    • Alyx Vesey

      I’m actually interested in what else you think I got wrong. I would also really like for you to elaborate on why you like Keys. As I wrote a long, contradictory post about why I can’t get into her, I’d really appreciate a thoughtful comment about why Keys is a great, important artist and what you personally get out of her music.

  2. Vanti

    I feel saddened that you feel this way towards Alicia Keys.
    I am not only a fan of her music, but also her work with charities the philantropist she is.
    Why i like Alicia Keys?
    She is unique in what she brings to the table. The sound she started out with wasn’t that mainstream or popular. She incorporates so many different sounds and genres into her music, making it that more entertaining. She writes her own songs, even produces them. She has her own sound. And yes, she has gone a little Pop as of late, but at her core she is a soul singer. With elements of classical music, Hiphop and Pop.

    Your issue with her skin color or heritage is somewhat racist. I dont think its her fault that she has mixed heritage. And i dont see how she sells herself as black. She has the right to consider herself black, cause thats what her father is. Thats how she grew up.
    And no. She has never said she’s black. Heck, to be fair, she exudes both elements of her heritage. Black and White. In her music. In her personal life.
    So her identification is anything but generic.

    As for her music. She is far from a pop artist. She actually started out as a contemporary neo-soul artist. Neo-soul being the least popular genre when it comes to sales and radio airplay. And she defied that notion by selling millions. Her sophomore effort is witness to that. A neo-soul album with HipHop influences that went on to sell millions. That my dear is why Alicia Keys is respected. She didnt conform to any mainstream traditions when she started out.

    I wonder if you also have the same dislike for Mariah Carey? Because she is exactly what Alicia Keys is. A mixed race girl doing R&B Music.

    Alicia Keys is the last person to be tied to a certain demographic group of listeners or a certain genre. Her music incorporates way too many genres. Her song writing is subpar these days, i agree.
    But her sound is exeptionally beautiful and unique.
    And has always been.

    Some advise: listen to the music, and leave the race of the artist out of your listening pleasure. What do you have to say about Amy Winehouse? A white girl selling herself to an urban audience and sound? And Adele? The same story.
    Listen to the music. Just enjoy the music.

    • Alyx Vesey

      I appreciate that my opinion might not be a popular one with regard to Alicia Keys and I thank you for your honesty. I also appreciate her philanthropy. I stand by my comment that it’s calling for institutional reform rather than radical action, but I also think several kinds of political activism need to work together.

      To be clear, once again, I don’t take issue with her skin tone. I take issue with how other people perceive her racial and ethnic identity as proof that she has access to some kind of black authenticity when such notions are usually couched in racial essentialism. I’m not sure if I overstated her role in this. I also quibble with your claim that her starting out as a neo-soul artist is proof that she’s not a pop star. First of all, she’s totally a pop star. You don’t appear on American Idol, sell millions of records, and perform duets with Jay-Z and John Mayer if you aren’t a pop star. Second of all, the term “neo-soul” has been roundly criticized by artists saddled with the moniker (i.e., Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo) as a marketing term. It was believed to be coined by Kedar Massenberg, who was once president of Motown Records. He specifically used the term to help market Badu, who he once represented. Speaking for myself, I’ve always found the term essentializing and an insidious way to sell certain black artists to a white audience.

      I’m a Mariah Carey fan. I wish she took better care of her voice because it was once exceptional but has lost some of its power over the decades. She just can’t do “Vision of Love” like she used to, but folks as disparate as Maria Callas and LeAnn Rimes lost much of their voice from overuse. I still like Carey. “We Belong Together” and “Shake It Off” stand shoulder to shoulder with “Honey” and “Anytime You Need a Friend”. However, I think you lumping Carey and Keys together is essentialist. Sure, they’re both mixed race female R&B singers, but it sounds like you’re saying they’re the same because of this. I’d say their music and image set them much apart from one another. As for Adele, I’ve mentioned multiple times on this blog that I like her. As for Amy Winehouse, I think she has a powerful voice (that reminds me more of Lauryn Hill’s singing voice than anyone else’s) but needs to keep it together. I’ll take your point that Keys incorporates many genres, including hip hop and classical music. I like artists who play with genre, and thus wonder how we could dialogue Keys with artists like Janelle Monáe, Esperanza Spalding, Joanna Newsom, Björk, Beth Ditto, PJ Harvey, Ebony Bones, Bat for Lashes, Robyn, Dessa, M.I.A., Rihanna, Karin Andersson, and Erykah Badu. I like these artists quite a bit. They also seem to have a certain cache that Keys may lack (i.e., it’s “cool” to like them), and challenging this is worth looking into.

      I’ll counter your advise (sic) with some advice: you can’t just listen to the music. Image construction, gossip, and celebrity personae all come to bear on our reception of music. Much of this is informed by race, gender, sexuality, age, class, bodies, ableism, and a host of other representational issues. The same is true for Alicia Keys as it is for a white female singer-songwriter or any combination of four white guys in a band together. I won’t pretend that this isn’t problematic, but I believe attempting to understand all the ways in which music gets made and received ultimately strengthens our cultural understanding. I’m troubled that I don’t like Alicia Keys. But attempting to dialogue my personal disdain for her music through the complex image construction at work is my effort at uncovering some unfortunate truths about myself and work through them. I may not come out of this an Alicia Keys fan, but I do hope to better understand why I’m not.

  3. Vanti

    Oh, and gossip and celebrity persona does not influence my perception of music. Or how i listen to music.
    Michael Jackson was gossiped about, and the media made him out to be a monster, but in my opinion he was a musical genius and the greatest Pop Star ever. No gossip or celebrity persona can ever change that.
    The same with blind Stevie Wonder, and weird Björk. She might be the weirdest living being, but Björk is a musical genius ane exeptional musician.

  4. Vanti

    I do get your point. But still…

    They can criticize Neo-soul all they want. The fact of the matter remains it IS a semi genre within R&B. Neo-Soul has a distinct sound and use of instrumentation. That is how it is defined. That is how it is different from the everyday R&B. So peoples criticism of it lies with something other than its existance. Neo-soul does exist.

    Are you implying every artist that performs on mainstream Television is a Pop star? If you are seen on American Idol, The Grammys and you collaborate with certain artists, that immediately makes you a Pop star?
    If Esperanza Spalding collaborates with John Mayer on a song, and they Perform it on American Idol, will that automatically make her a Pop star?
    No. Thats erroneous on your part. Janelle Monae is no Pop star. There is nothing Pop about her. Yet she regularly performs at mainstream events.
    Alicia obviously had the success because she was a regular on mainstream channels, but that doesnt make her a Pop star. Lets leave the Pop star accolate to the people in that genre. Katy Perry is a Pop star. Britney Spears, Beyonce, Rihanna etc are Pop Stars. Why? They sing and perform Pop music. Their catalogue is made up of Pop hits.

    And i still dont get the racial issue you are refering to. What institutional reform are you after exactly? Because people perceive her to be black because she is in a black genre?
    My point was, Alicia is Black! Would you have been more comfortable with her if she were white? Because it looks like it. You dont have a problem with Adele singing R&B, Soul hits. Does Adele have access to some black aunthenticity? And Alicia doesnt? I dont get your point.

    And yes, you can dialogue Alicia with Janelle Monae and Esperanza Spalding. They are all in similar genres. R&B, Soul, Neo-Soul and Jazz. Spoken word and Jazz.
    I dont know how you can dialogue Esperanza Spalding with Rihanna, to be honest. There is no way those two names can be mentioned in one sentence, other than the fact that they were both at the Grammy Awards.

    Your basis on not liking Alicia is because she lacks a cache of coolness than? Because thats what you are implying. What exactly are you basing your assumption on? Rihanna can be compared to Björk because its cool to like Rihanna?
    Seriously?

    I really dont have anything more to say. Im confused as to what you really are trying to say.
    Thanx for the discussion, but i really believe you don’t know why you dont like Alicia. Or you dont have a reason not to like her, other than the fact that you probably dont like her music.

  5. SapphicOwl

    I think the entire post was an intersectional stream off consciousness dissection on why Alyx doesn’t like Alicia Keys, because she doesn’t know exactly why. Everything she mentioned is a possible factor in it, OR not; she’s leaving no stone unturned to figure out why she doesn’t like Keys.

    What I took the institutional reform comment as, is that it is less threatening to the privileged white mainstream than radical action. As in “Alicia Keys’ philanthropy is hip and easy to go along with, because it’s done in a way that doesn’t offend the masses and upset the status quo outright.”

    But to comment on your original post Alyx, I get it. Our thoughts may not line up completely, but I totally get it. I’m kind of in your boat.

    Alicia Keys for me is one of those artists that I say “Yeah, they’re talented and they have a few songs I like, but they’re just not my thing and I’m overall not very interested in them.”
    Take her song “Karma” for example. I love the arrangement and flow of it, but when I think about the lyrics I get a case of the fuck its, because I don’t even believe in karma and I can’t believe someone made an entire song singing about “what goes around comes around”. Same with “Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake. It sounds nice, until I actually listen to the hook and then I’m like “Yeah, right.”
    I think “yeah, right” sums up my feelings on Keys music and to a lesser degree her, (because of the fact of how much hype there is surrounding her vs how underwhelmed I am by her).
    Music-wise: When I listen I hear the nice arrangements. I like how “Karma” sounds, I really like “Unthinkable”, I like the sentiment behind, “Doesn’t Mean Anything”. But when I listen to them, I don’t FEEL like she’s as into the song as the songs’ titles, lyrics, etc. imply that she should be [to me]. When I listen to Mary J (granted she’s not playing her own instruments, I feel like she’s singing from the recesses of her emotions. She could be singing about making PB&J and finding out there’s no jelly left and she puts all kind of stank on it, which she could easily not do and have a hit in the world of “hip hop soul”.
    Subsequently, I hate hearing people talk about Keys like she’s the second coming of soul, given how I feel about her music.

  6. Jessie

    Thanks for this post. I don’t care for her or her appraisal by music industry. I find her music and lyrics empty and trite and secondly, I clearly remember hearing and reading comments such as, “She’s uber talented, you know-all she writes and plays her own songs.” To which I thought, “She’s a musician, right? That’s what she should be doing!” Highly suspicious of the entire Alicia Keys machine.

  7. apaperbackwriter

    I think it’s tricky criticizing Alicia, because she’s navigating a difficult path through pop stardom. She is just “black” enough to give her music cred but she is just light enough to appeal to a broader (racist) audience. Her music is definitely rooted in a distinct African-American tradition that is “authentically” hers but it’s watered down enough for mass appeal.

    On one level, it’s wrongheaded to criticize Alicia instead of the machine. It’s hard for female pop stars in general and black female pop stars in particular to have much of a career without courting blandness — in both music and/or personality. The masses and system can only digest so much complexity — in controversy and politics — especially from women. Putting these sorts of politics squarely on the shoulders of one artist and expecting her to rise up and buck the system is too much to ask. It could even come off as racist — are black artists responsible for changing the industry? Is fighting racism every black artist’s mandate? I’d like to think black artists have each others’ back, but the work of fighting racism isn’t theirs alone.

    Maybe you don’t like Alicia, because it doesn’t even seem like she’s even aware of her role in this authenticity charade that seems to carry the banner for blacks and feminists? Like, she’s a part of the system and plays the game unwittingly. Like, she would never in a hundred years call the industry out on its shit while she benefits from its fruits.

    Maybe so, but it’s tricky calling her out on this more so than anyone else without doing so delicately.

    • Alyx Vesey

      I agree with your comment about criticizing Alicia instead of the machine. Perhaps a left-field reference point, but I came to this post largely out of an embedded response toward some friends’ hatred toward Natalie Portman. A few friends of mine really don’t like her and I thought their response against her Black Swan award sweep was out of proportion. I’m no big fan of her work and wanted Annette Bening to win, but was fine with her work getting recognized. But their reaction to her celebrity persona started me thinking about what celebrities I don’t like and why. Since I’ve written extensively about how I don’t like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift (here and here; also a comparative analysis between Swift and Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino) the only other celebrity I could come up was with Keys (besides Gwyneth Paltrow, who Womanist Musings recently took to task to great effect). That realization made me really uncomfortable for obvious reasons–hello racism! So my intent with this piece was to puzzle through why I felt this way and it became clear to me that I was madder about the machine than Keys. However, I did single her out and you’re totally right by pointing out that fighting racism shouldn’t be every black artist’s mandate and that they shouldn’t be expected to fight racism in isolation. I tried to include Beyoncé, who I love even when she makes it really hard for me to love her, in this conversation too. I could have included Janelle Monaé (who I don’t want to represent as a model minority, though I think she’s providing a very interesting commentary on race) and Nicki Minaj, or white cultural poachers like Madonna, Gwen Stefani, and Lady Gaga who are much worse offenders on this charge than Keys. I almost didn’t publish this piece but decided I should throw it up and be challenged by my own prejudices. So thanks again for your comments.

  8. cancionesdejamila

    I related to nearly all of your post and appreciate your honesty! Sometimes I think I don’t like Alicia Keys just due to straight-up jealousy. I mean, it’s clear Keys has a vision for what she wants, an outstanding work ethic to make that happen, some beautiful music and musicianship, and gorgeous, racially-ambiguous looks. So I thought, maybe I’m just jealous? Also, I grew up near where Keys did and I always sort of resented her fake “ghetto” accent and attempts to act tough. The artists I most respect, like Ledisi and Lauryn Hill, are courageous enough to be themselves and be honest, even if it negatively impacts their careers. Keys grew up in the nicest building in Hell’s Kitchen, in the historicmanattan theater district. The building where she lived is called Manhattan Plaza, and has its own swimming pool, tennis courts, health club, doorman, music practice rooms, and low rent (It is a government subsidized housing complex for artists. Keys’ mother is an NYU-educated actress who had a steady job as a paralegal). I used to pass this building every day, and I’m jealous she got to grow up there. It probably helped her a lot, though. Fellow residents included Angela Lansbury and Larry David. A perfect place for a young artist to grow up, I mean it’s the New York City Theater District! I’m jealous! Sure, there were porn shops around it until recently, and druggies, but it’s a city- get over it! Keys always complains about growing up in a “ghetto” (see in song, Ghetto Story) yet I think she should show some appreciation for her mother for bringing her up in a supportive community of artists in a safe residential complex in an area close to so many great cultural institutions! Sorry, just venting….I mean, if it wasn’t for her fake accent and her African heritage, no one would take Keys “ghetto” act seriously. It’s one thing to raise awareness about urban poverty, but lying or misrepresenting yourself for $$ is not cool or necessary….besides, she doesn’t need to be fake. She’s really talented and it’s a tough industry; she has worked hard to get where she has. I just can’t stand her fakeness; it rubs me the wrong way.

  9. cancionesdejamila

    Ugh, I just made dinner and then checked to see if my comment was posted. Re-reading it, it sounds so bitter! I used the word “jealous” 3 times. I should be happy to see an artist thriving and expressing herself, and regardless of how “authentic” Keys is, I have a lot to learn from her example. For instance, there’s a reason she’s a multi-platinum artist and philanthropist with a tremendous voice and power for good in the world, while I, in contrast, just wasted time sitting here obessing and ranting over her on the internet. As artists we all have choices to make about how and to what extent we are going to play “the game”, and regardless of what we think of Keys in terms of her so-called fakeness (I still think her persona is wayyy phony), she has succeeded in the male and white-dominated mainstream music industry game. LIke I said, I don’t think she needed to act like a charicature of a “ghetto” black person in order to do it, and sing songs about not having any food growing up when that clearly (thankfully) wasn’t true. She has grossly exaggerated her story through those songs and YET she has inspired also many people who did grow up in unstable economic situations, and I appreciate that. At least she embraces and expresses pride in her African-American heritage. She has played it safe to the extreme and thus comes across as gifted but bland, yet perhaps that’s deliberate on her part given the way the industry is. In fact, I except due to her intelligence that most everything is deliberate; she is bluilding a media empire and a brand. So I wish she could do so in a more real way, but good to see a woman makin it anyway. So Anyway, nobody’s perfect! I’ll just stick with the artists who strike me as having more integrity in their brand.
    Thanks for the post,.

  10. Kerry

    I had similar feelings about Alicia, after watching her tribute to Whitney at The Grammys.. It was like she was trying too hard to be authentic, and I didn’t feel any emotional connection. I appreciated Chaka Khan’s reaction, refusing to attend the party. But although some did attend the appeared more genuine in their emotional connection. Even Toni Braxton felt more real than Alicia, and that’s saying something.

    And I’m mixed race, female, and really admired her before the Clive Davis Party.

  11. TheoryForYou

    In my opinion you don’t like her because she triggers some buried emotional conflict within yourself. Your criticisms are shallow and basically empty. You definitely don’t understand why you dislike her but it sounds to me like maybe you dislike her because she is so fucking likeable. I daresay she threatens you with her authenticity, extreme talent, multi-race heritage, grace, poise, and her unshakable self-esteem.

    Alicia projects an image of extreme self-confidence–borderline hypomanic self-esteem. I think her self-esteem threatens those who don’t have it and especially threatens White Protestants who are raised to believe that self-esteem is wrong (even if you’ve rejected Christianity you probably still internalized the white protestant self-hatred).

    Alicia is amazing precisely because she has haters like you but she doesn’t let it stop her. This is the theme throughout all her music–she has haters but still does her own thing and focuses on her friends and family. She’s an inspiration.

  12. Venus

    There’s no need to front, she IS fake. She tries way too damn extra hard all the time. Like “I’m down to Earth, my brotha, my sistah” bullsh!t, but then turn around and wreck her “sistah’s” home, and all the brainless zombie-fans still defend her. And don’t get me started on her fake activism: do you or do you not think gangsta rap was a ploy made by the government? She tried to back-pedal out of that one because she realized how far her Blackness could really go in Amerikkka, and opted to just stay in her safer lane of not saying anything else and raising money for AIDS in Africa, (which almost always means South Africa by ignorant celebrities), you know, the safest spot to get recognition for caring about the world when your own brothers and sisters are getting stop-and-frisked in your own home, or I guess, nearby home.

    Does she do more than other celebrities, maybe, not sure I don’t keep up with celebrities. But I do know that she always take safe approaches to things so I don’t really take her authenticity seriously. She ain’t that deep as everyone makes her out to be. You wanna like her, like her, but stop throwing her in my face as some role model for young Black women.

  13. Elle

    Alyx, I’m 3 years late on this.

    First off, your honesty is commendable. I used to be an Alicia Keys’ fan, I borderline worshipped her, pretty much like most of her fans, and some of the posters here. But here is why I used to like her. What Alicia Keys was showing us was the opposite of the generally oversexualized image of black women. Her songs weren’t “stupid”, and most of all she was standing for women’s empowerment. For some strange reason, everything about her was positive to me. I was aware of politics in music (India.Arie lost to her for being darkskinned, at the Grammys or something) but I thought, oh well, as conscious as she is, she will probably change something in the industry. She will probably collaborate with people of all hues, all colors and “change the game”. I knew from the start that that she wasn’t as “amazing” as the media claimed she was, but my judgement was clouded because I was seduced by her image, she represented what I wanted to see in this business for black gals. A sexy, empowered, involved woman, not merely a sex object with nothing but her aSSets to offer.

    But then, the Mashonda/SwizzBeats scandal exposed her for who she was. She had contributed to disempowering a woman by destroying a family along with her now husband, and Mashonda was pregnant. This wasn’t even an “accident”. They stayed together and got married. What bothered me was that this single situation made all that she was standing for look like a pack of lies. The empowerment, the “sisterhood” (with all races of women, Alicia was about that as well), the “Woman’s worth” that she was preaching about. I was no longer “in a trance” as fans are when they see their fav stars, I started seeing clearly the fraud I was sold. In fact, she was perpetrating black stereotypes, but differently. Her first video, “Falling”, showed black men and women in jail, and she was in the ghetto. “A woman’s worth” was the exact same thing. “If I aint got you”, ghetto life, drug dealers. Her song with rapper Eve titled “Gangsta Loving”, then that Jamaican song “Ghetto Story”, when she has NEVER lived this life. As for her art, it was never original. She ripped James Brown with the very first single of her career. The lyrics of the song “Diary” are laughable. Even some parts of “Superwoman” (with an S on her chest!!!) crack me up. Her piano skills are good but nothing to write home about. All in all she is talented, but not nearly as talented as she is portrayed to be.

    Alicia Keys got away with all of this because she has universal appeal. Not because her talent is proportional to her success. Plain and simple. To me she’s worse than Beyonce because she looks far more “authentic” when she’s just as fabricated.

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