Singer Alicia Keys | Teen Ink

Singer Alicia Keys MAG

By Mary W., Briarcliff Manor, NY and Darina S., Warren, NJ

      This Manhattan native has sold 28 million albums and singles worldwide and won, among other awards, nine Grammys. Keys is working on her third studio album and looking forward to the opening of her first film, “Smokin’ Aces,” on January 26.



You founded Keep A Child Alive and are very active in Frum Tha Ground Up. Why did you choose those charities?

Well,there are actually three charities: Keep A Child Alive, Frum Tha Ground Up, and another called Teens In Motion. When I was around 12, it was a huge time in my life that shaped who I am. I like to find organizations that focus on motivating and telling people that you can do it, nomatter what your situation. There are so many people out there telling you what you can’t do and shouldn’t do and what you’ll never be able to do as opposed to everything that you can do. All these organizations, in different ways, focus on that, and that’s why they are important to me.



Some artists have late-night jam sessions or brainstorm in the car. How do you write your songs?

Well, it’s not a technique, there’s no set way. Sometimes it comes to me, like I’m having a conversation and I have to leave for a second because I need to write down my thoughts.Sometimes it’s just chords or melodies circling in my head that I don’t have words for and sometimes it’s a million words and I have no idea what it’s going to be, or how it is going to become anything. And maybe for five years it’s nothing and then suddenly it’s something.

So there isn’t a specific way it happens. And every time I think I know how I do it, I’m shown that I don’t. And I am shown how much of a blessing words are to me. And then it’s like magic, you know? And you don’t know how it will come but when it does, it’s great and it’s there, and you’re like “Wow!” So, that’s sort of how it happens.

Reading also sparks me a lot. When I read I find I write differently.



There are so many scandals in politics and the entertainment world that it’s hard to find a good role model. Besides you, of course, who is a good role model?

I think there are a lot of different people for a lot of reasons. You can’t really compare people. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, because comparing yourself to someone else really stops you from being who you are.

I tend to choose people who aren’t alive, people I don’t know. For instance,there’s a woman named Assata Shakur who was a black panther. A lot of people disagree with what this group did but I take what she stood for and how she stood up for what she believed and apply it to parts of my life. I take parts of peoples’ lives and apply them to my own.



In a lot of your writing you use the term“Real Man.” What defines a real man, and how is that different from the “Samsonite Man” you talk about in one of your songs?

That is a great question! I never get asked these good questions when people interview me.

So, a “RealMan” implies a person who is trustworthy, who is noble, who says what he means and means what he says, and a person who loves. All these things you look for in a person you really know, so there is nothing secret about him, and he is very much a stand-up kind of a person.

“Samsonite Man” means a guy who is always packin’ his bags. He’s always leaving. Once you think you understand him, or think you have something, you know, you’re wrong. He’s always on the run. So that’s the difference.

Great question, I love that!



In terms of civil rights and racism, people say that our generation is more accepting than those who came before us - but then some people say it’s just surface progress. Where do you think we stand with that today?

Good. Another good question.

I think there is a multi-faceted answer. In many ways, yes, look how far we have come. How far we’ve come when we can be sitting in the same room together,enjoying a conversation with no issues, no tension. You know what I mean? I think of the workplace, I think of school, I think of those places that at one time were segregated. Now we are able to have friends in a million shades of every color and I think that is pretty incredible. We’ve absolutely come far.

At the same time, I think we have come so far that we are actually going backwards because we almost take it for granted. And since we don’t know where we’ve come from and what those before us had to go through and deal with, we are a little innocent, or ignorant of it, so consequently we don’t realize how far we’ve come.

I don’t know how much open communication we have with those who are older.It’s not as open as I wish it were. We are so distracted now with our own lives, with television and games and everything else that I don’t think we talk as much so we can realize how far we’ve come.

So in a lot ways we’ve made huge strides but in other ways we are still just on the surface and need to dig deeper.



In your poem “No Room For Religion,”it’s clear that faith is important to you, and a certain set of values, as opposed to what you were just talking about, all the distractions from what is important. How does religion affect your life?

Yeah, well, I would call it spirituality because I think religion gets very sticky. I think it’s beautiful to have a belief in something and that’s where religion comes in. It’s perfect in the sense of believing in something bigger and greater and having faith and hope. But for me it’s definitely spirituality in the sense of having integrity and certain morals I stand by.

I pray a lot. I think prayers are like affirmations, things that you speak out loud and therefore they can come to you. I believe a lot in the power of words. That’s why I love them so much. I feel like at onetime in my life I would say, “Oh, just my luck” or“You know my luck” or “Well, you know how things happen with me.” And I was wondering why things were happening tome that I didn’t really like. But I kept saying, “Well, you know, that’s my luck,” so I was affirming that my luck was negative and that something bad would come to me.

But when I changed that around and started saying, “Well, you know that’s going to work out because I have fantastic luck!” I found that those good things happened.

So prayer and giving thanks and being connected to something greater keeps me very humble and makes me realize that it takes a lot to find your space inside of you that makes you strong and confident and comfortable and a good person.



You are a singer and a dancer, but also a writer and a poet. We are both writers and wonder what we could do to make our generation understand the importance of writing down what they find in that space that you just spoke about. What can we do to foster creativity and writing?

I really think that you doing it encourages others to do it. Sometimes, when my friends talk to me about their problems, I ask if they’ve ever written about them. I find that when I write, it makes things clearer and relieves me because I got it off my chest. So, I find that by me doing that, somebody else might give it a shot. Just doing it and setting an example, you’d be surprised by how many people you’ll inspire.



Can you describe the process of turning your songs into a video? Do you have a lot of input?

Definitely! That’s my thing. Usually because I wrote the song, I have a story of where it came from. I talk to key people about that story and then we get a director and they have a vision and they write out what is called a “treatment” and summarize what the video could be about. From there I’ll ask, can we add this or change that, or is there anything else we could do to make it better.

So that’s the first step, and once we have it all together we have a basic outline of what we will do. Then I get a whole group of people together - a stylist and set designer and makeup person - and determine the feeling.

And eventually it comes into place. I really do like to be involved so that what you see is part of who I am.



What movies and books would you recommend for teenagers?

My favorite movie of all time is“Beaches.” It makes me cry every time! Another I really like is “Set It Off” with Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah. I like classics like old Barbara Streisand movies. I really like Barbara, she has a style that you can depend on. You’ll probably like her movies.

I like science fiction movies, too, like“Matrix” that ask “Is this real? Could this be possible?” And I teeter between loving and hating end-of-the-world movies. I like them but they freak me out.

Book wise, I like all kinds. I love Willa Cather, she is an incredible writer. Her descriptions are unreal. Just the way she describes colors is amazing. Her book My Antonia is beautiful. I like Alice Walker, she’s a great writer, very passionate. You can get wrapped up in her stories and feel like you are part of them. Who else do I like, there are so many! I’ll go for a good Steven King book, especially on the beach. I like a variety of genres.



I have many friends with eating disorders and body image issues. One of them told me, ‘I will never be satisfied with myself so I should give up.’ You are in the public eye, do you ever feel the pressure?

I definitely understand that, and it’s crazy but I feel like everywhere I look we see the same image. When I first started getting into music, I would meet with these big-time executives and they had a bowl of candy in their office. And you know, I like chocolate, so every time I went there I took a little candy. A couple weeks later my manager told me,“They think you are too heavy. They think you eat too much chocolate. Every time you come in, you are eating.” And I was like, “What! It’s one piece of chocolate.”

From the beginning there’s been a very big emphasis on what you eat and the way you look and I remember it affected me greatly because it made me realize that I am who I am. I am not ever going to be a stick-thin person. I think curves and a little bit more on the bone is beautiful. That’s my personal thing, and I think that those who are very, very thin, it’s not becoming.

So my point is that we are all different and can’t compare ourselves to others.They’re not perfect and they’ll never be perfect because nobody’s perfect. In fact, sometimes the magazines fix the photos, stars don’t even look like that. So, it’s a bunch of crap, you know what I mean. I have seen pictures of myself and I say, “Why did you do that to me? I do not look like that and I don’t want to look like that. ” We are all beautiful in our own way and it’s very important to embrace that. To be healthy. To be strong. To be smart. It’s our inner confidence that truly makes us beautiful.



You’ve gone to Kenya and Uganda to help kids with AIDS. For teens who can’t go there, what are someways to help?

There are plenty of things you can do. In regards to Keep A Child Alive, it’s very much about the idea that from nothing, you can become something great. You can go to the website KeepAChildAlive.org and donate money, which is an amazing help. I am telling you, just two dollars is a help. At colleges, students have started Keep A Child Alive Chapters to spread the word. I have had kids sell lemonade in the summer to help and incredibly smart college students who hold rallies and tell everyone about the campaign. So I would just say, spread the word and anything you can do will really help.



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JOIN THE DISCUSSION

This article has 89 comments.


♥C.H said...
on Jan. 22 2010 at 1:36 pm
this interview is one of my favorites of Alicia Keys

on Jan. 15 2010 at 7:44 pm
cheekack BRONZE, Singapore City, Other
3 articles 0 photos 1 comment
This is insightful. Alicia Keys always came across as someone of substance, and I've always wanted to know her thoughts on some of the issues you asked her, like spirituality and body image. Thanks for this interview.

on Jan. 4 2010 at 6:23 am
xAllegria BRONZE, Singapore, Other
1 article 2 photos 112 comments

Favorite Quote:
Ça fait tellement du bien d’aimer les gens qu’on aime, que ça finit par faire mal. Je sais pas comment on survit a ça. Non franchement, je sais pas. LOL (laughing out loud) ®, Lola.

Nice! Great questions, unique and interesting, with fresh and inspiring answers.

on Dec. 9 2009 at 9:53 am
AnneOnnimous BRONZE, Peterborough Ontario, Other
3 articles 0 photos 147 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Saying 'I notice you're a nerd' is like saying, 'Hey, I notice that you'd rather be intelligent than be stupid, that you'd rather be thoughtful than be vapid, that you believe that there are things that matter more than the arrest record of Lindsay Lohan. Why is that?' In fact, it seems to me that most contemporary insults are pretty lame. Even 'lame' is kind of lame. Saying 'You're lame' is like saying 'You walk with a limp.' Yeah, whatever, so does 50 Cent, and he's done all right for himself."
— John Green

wow, this is good. the one thing that bothers me is how you structured the paragraphs- they are hard to follow

LILSTLOUIS said...
on Oct. 27 2009 at 12:40 pm
omg she was so good......and we realize she is a good role model

nachoooooo said...
on Oct. 8 2009 at 9:22 pm
I love Alicia Keys! This interview was amazing! U r sooo lucky!!

ashley said...
on Oct. 8 2009 at 12:15 pm
Alcia keys is so awesome and she can sing great! <shes so awesome :D>

on Aug. 5 2009 at 4:16 am
msztweetybabii PLATINUM, Mattapan, Massachusetts
21 articles 0 photos 10 comments

Favorite Quote:
"No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true."- Natheniel Hawthorne.

yur rlly a gud at interviews..like alicia said gud questions..and i cant believe you got to meet her..aww man she is amazing!

on Aug. 4 2009 at 8:00 pm
Faithband3 BRONZE, Westbury, New York
1 article 0 photos 17 comments
This interview is so nice! Alicia Keyes has always been one of my role models and this interview is the perfect example of why she is such an inspiration to so many girls around the globe. Great job!

ball b said...
on Jul. 19 2009 at 8:14 pm
sunshine ur name is sunshine right? Well u just brong some clouds to my day!!!!!!!!! Why? Because the other commenters said some thing positive and look at u. Alicia is doing some thing good for people and u should be happy about it. The article is good to me and it is very perfet to me because i am a big alicia keys fan and i've been to all of her concerts. NOW WHAT?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

on Jun. 11 2009 at 5:47 pm
<JAZZZY> BRONZE, St.louis, Missouri
2 articles 0 photos 1 comment
dat was a gud i loved it keep it up

Abreika GOLD said...
on May. 3 2009 at 3:21 am
Abreika GOLD, Suffolk, Virginia
10 articles 0 photos 19 comments
Wow Alcia Key is amazing and she reminds me alot of myself at times.

Mikal SILVER said...
on Apr. 27 2009 at 7:28 am
Mikal SILVER, Brooklyn, New York
6 articles 0 photos 41 comments
She is so hot. I wish I WAS HER BF

sexy1 said...
on Apr. 23 2009 at 8:14 pm
sexy1, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
0 articles 0 photos 1 comment
wow you got to talk to alicia keys that is awsome

a3linn said...
on Apr. 19 2009 at 12:57 am
a3linn, Los Angeles, California
0 articles 0 photos 1 comment
I agree with the previous commenters. This was an exceptional interview with thought provoking questions and the way Miss. Keys answered them put me in a state of awww! I loved reading! It made me want to not stop reading and I became sad when there was no more to read. Awesome!! :)

on Mar. 29 2009 at 3:03 pm
Celeste Moore, Plainfield, New Jersey
0 articles 0 photos 1 comment
This was great I did not want to stop reading it and also because alicia keys is my favorite singer.

adams BRONZE said...
on Mar. 23 2009 at 5:02 pm
adams BRONZE, Greenville, South Carolina
4 articles 0 photos 3 comments
it is very unique and i really enjoyed it great work

on Mar. 19 2009 at 3:27 am
chaskins SILVER, Dutch Harbor, Alaska
6 articles 0 photos 2 comments

Favorite Quote:
Never Give Up the Opportunity.............to use the Bathroom!!!!!!!!

I think that the Questions that you read were wonderful and very true to the teen age! good job

on Feb. 26 2009 at 6:50 pm
Jasmine Rigling BRONZE, Louisville, Kentucky
1 article 0 photos 1 comment
I love you and I love your story. You are truly an insparation to kids

on Feb. 2 2009 at 1:44 am
that's one serious article


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