‘Fame can bring a lot of emptiness’
FROM THE age of seven, all Alicia Keys ever wanted was to get the chance to sing her songs. But 28 million albums, 11 Grammys and a fortune in the bank later, she admits living the dream isn’t all it is cracked up to be.
By (Daily Mail)
Published: Mon 18 Aug 2008, 9:37 PM
Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:50 PM
The singer is only just getting over what came close to a work-induced breakdown, but has never been busier and doesn’t seem to know how to stop. There’s the short tour of the UK, postponed dates from earlier this year when she developed tonsillitis, the British launch of her Aids charity, a series of Disney TV shows, promotion of her latest film and she has just been named as the singer of the latest Bond film Quantum Of Solace with Jack White.
What is my life?
“Fame can bring a lot of emptiness,” she admits. “I think about this a lot as I get older. You are so driven and focused on achieving this particular destination that you work 20 hours a day, you get four hours of sleep, you do all that for ten years straight and you keep on and on.
“Then, all of a sudden, you think: ‘Oh, what is my life, honestly?” Yes, I’m a singer and, yes, I’m a songwriter and, yes, I perform, but what else is in my life? Do I have a family? Am I growing inside? Am I always too busy to see my mother and the people I love?”
“You are around people, but they are not your family. You are in a different place every day, you don’t have any stability. You can get anything you want at any time, somebody will always get it for you. When you are around people who never say no, anything goes. It can change you and that is not the type of person I want to be. People always want something from you, you become like a ghost of yourself or of the person you could be.”
Coming from someone notoriously private, that is quite an outburst. But the 27-yearold singer has clearly become more openly introspective since coming close to burnout last year.
The huge success of her live album Unplugged coincided with the death of her paternal grandmother, who helped bring the singer up. When she became ill, Alicia gave up work to nurse her.
“I was with her the night she died. We were so close and I even look and act like her. Losing her made me realise how close I came to the edge. It took a while before I could even say the word ‘grandmother’ because I was so upset.’ Her death led Alicia to some serious soulsearching, and she went off on her own to Egypt to recover and think about her future.
She insists that she has reassessed her life.
“Now I know there is so much more to me than work,” she says. But her workload appears to tell a different story.
Rocking with Jack
As well as a new single, Superwoman, out next month, she will have the Bond tune to promote. Many have raised their eyebrows at the match of Alicia and White Stripes star Jack, but she says that the opportunity was simply something she couldn’t turn down.
“Rocking with Jack White is something that has absolutely been an unforgettable experience,” she says. “Mixing rock and soul for the Bond movie theme gives it a mysterious unexpected strong and sexy vibe that I love.”
A budding actress who has appeared in The Nanny Diaries and Smokin’ Aces, she will also be promoting her own movie, an adaptation of the best-selling book The Secret Life Of Bees which is out in the autumn.
Mixed race classical
Then she starts rehearsals for a new role, playing 1940s mixed race classical pianist Philippa Schuyler. Alicia has also signed a contract to work on live action and animated projects with Disney and is providing a cartoon voice-over for them.
As if that was not enough, she has in production a TV show based loosely on her tough childhood in NewYork. It’s no wonder that she sadly admits her status as single.
While lesbian rumours have always swirled around her, and she has always denied them, she now also denies that she is in a relationship with her songwriting partner Kerry Brothers, who American magazines claimed she was going to marry last month.
She insists their relationship is platonic: “We have a great relationship and we will always make incredible music, so he is my partner, but we are not together like that.”
Show off your body
The R&B and hip-hop world Alicia comes from may be known for its blatant sexuality and often violent lyrics, but the singer says she disapproves of the almost pornographic images used in many music videos and disagrees with teenage girls losing their virginity too quickly. “What bothers me most about the highly sexualised stereotypes you see in a lot of music is that people are not given enough options,” she says.
“It is standard to show off your body and even I feel that if I am doing a video, I have to look a certain way. Women should be able to see more options and be inspired.
You are not beautiful because you have a short skirt on. You are beautiful because you are smart, because you are kind, because of the way you hold yourself.
“Many teenagers are pressured to have sex. You should make the person wait, because if they really care about you they will wait up to a year or more, until you are ready. I would do that myself. I don’t have a problem with making somebody wait, they have to prove themselves.”
Attitude to work
Her strident attitude to work and relationships comes, she says, from her female dominated upbringing in the tough streets of NewYork. The daughter of an Irish- Italian mother and a Jamaican flight attendant father who left when she was two, the poverty line was never far away.
Alicia lived in a tiny tenement with her mother and grandmother and from the age of 14 carried a knife around for security.
Her mother saved up to send Alicia to music and dance classes to keep her out of trouble. “My mother always managed to somehow scrape some money together, but we weren’t wealthy. It was a tiny separation from where we were and where the prostitutes, homeless and drug addicts were.”
If one positive thing came out of her grandmother’s death, it was the rebirth of her relationship with her father. “We hadn’t had much contact until then, but suddenly I realised we had something deep and personal in common, he was her grieving son, I was her grieving granddaughter. The more I’ve got to know him, the more I realise how like him I am. Yet for years I’d refused to have much to do with him. Eventually, I realised I had feelings for him and by refusing to admit it, I was hurting myself.”
Keep A Child Alive
Last month in London, Alicia launched the British arm of her Aids charity Keep A Child Alive, which funds clinics and orphanages to help children who have suffered through Aids. It has 45,000 people under its care.
It runs in parallel to a similar charity run by Prince Harry and she says she would love to talk to him about their joint commitment to the cause. “I know that he has done a lot of great things over the years and has been inspired by his mother,” she says.