Arts & Culture

Alicia Keys’ eighth album ‘Here’ features songs, poetry, conversation

Keys’ raw voice tackles themes of economic strife, marginalization in world defined by success

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Alicia Keys expresses frustration about societal expectations regarding beauty and sexuality in her 16-track album released Nov. 4. The album incorporates quotidian sounds from New York City.

With raw, unadulterated vocals supported by soft piano, violin, raspy guitar accompaniment and a modest baseline, Alicia Keys continues to inspire the movement toward celebrating authenticity in her newest album “Here,” released Nov. 4.

“Here” features a 16-track compilation of songs, rhythmic poetry and moving, conversational interludes that draw from classic rhythm and blues and soul, in addition to a collaborative piece with A$AP Rocky: “Blended Family (What You Do For Love).” Paralleling her confrontation of societal beauty standards by pledging to stop using makeup, Keys seemingly strives to demonstrate her genuine self and urges others to do the same.

Frustrated by societal expectations of women’s bodies and personalities, Keys tackles feminine individuality and authenticity in “Girl Can’t Be Herself.” In an essay in the online newsletter Lenny Letter May 31, Keys wrote that she “was not good enough for the world to see.” She sings: “When a girl can’t be herself no more / I just wanna cry, I just wanna cry for the world.” She continues: “Who says I must conceal what I’m made of / Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self esteem.”

The album also gives prominence to Keys’ New York City roots, as the chorus of the song, “She Don’t Really Care,” references many of the neighborhoods and boroughs in the city: “She grew up in Brooklyn / She grew up in Harlem / She grew up in Bronx … She lived in Queens.” Other tracks explore her role as a stepmother, her desire for the public’s embrace of free expression of sexuality, her insecurities, her perception of addiction and her reflections on black femininity and success. Keys’ rough, smoky and unaltered voice rings out without the presence of stifling backup vocals or smothering band accompaniment. Her raw sound tackles themes of economic strife and marginalization.

Keys’ interludes might be the most powerful features of her album. Through these pieces, Keys explores themes such as body image and insecurities in “Cocoa Butter (Cross and Pic Interlude)” and institutional racism in  “You Glow (Interlude)” through poetry and dialogue.

To continue in the vein of authenticity, Keys’ eighth album incorporates signature New York sound bites such as the commotion of city traffic, loud construction and greetings between friends. “The Gospel” ends with clips of New York road rage and commotion, while “Kill Your Mama” finishes the outro with a subway announcement that reminds the listener to “stand clear of the closing doors.”

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