“Show some love for the talented, the beautiful Alicia Keys!” I was told last night, along with 13,000 others, the majority female. I would show love in my own time but objected being told to do it by some flunky. The ‘beautiful’ part shouldn’t have had a damn thing to do with anything, because in a smart world we wouldn’t be giving and receiving compliments for something we have no control over, but of course Alicia Keys’ smile and face and hips have a lot to do with it. Who was I fooling, I loved seeing her face and moods blown up on the big screen last night at her concert. We went to hear beauty but to see it too.
We don’t simply live in a world in which appearance/packaging/marketing is the most important thing. We live in a world in which the packaging is the only thing. What is inside, what the substance of the product or person is, quite simply does not matter. I hate it, I despise that that’s how it is, but that’s how it works out there.
Alicia Keys intrigues me because she is one of the very few stars that has gotten what she has because of her substance and not due to her façade. If anything the lady who plays the piano is a bit of an old-fashioned image, not that cool, or at least wasn’t until she made it cool. She must have something, that “it”, the indefinable magic that speaks to people deep inside themselves, because a lot of people have responded to her this decade and as I’ve just said, it couldn’t have been just for her look.
She wrote the song Butterflyz when she was thirteen, the song that would remain my favourite for years to come (or perhaps one of two favourites). As I half-jokingly remarked about Alicia Keys a year ago, her second album hadn’t been quite as good as her first, so my thinking is that when your greatest song is written at age thirteen, there’s nowhere to go but slightly down. But then she released her third album and gently responded to me, “Shhh!”
She’s graduated from being the piano lady to a more deliberate RnBer, while paradoxically letting her hair loose and ditching the braids. She’s occasionally gotten into some basic dancing over the last few years. On an instinctive level I hated that she had become so popular, that she belonged to everyone else and not just to me, but as long as she stays relevant then I too stay relevant and up-to-date.
She let her band jam it last night, instrumentalising up a few of her songs that had gotten stale over the passage of time, and I loved her for letting it all roll as I swayed. I loved the instruments and her frail brown backing singers. You could tell by the way she talked to the audience that she was used to playing crowds, had done it all before, but she is still a human being who smiled when she felt it and didn’t smile when she didn’t: at one point I think I saw her in a moment when she thought, this arrangement is not working that well. Her voice booms without sacrificing beauty, she has hips and a nice smile, and she wore white while her band members wore black. She has it.
On her second album she killed the song that could have been the kick-ass tune of her career, You don’t know my name, with an uninspired minute talking through the middle of it, and ruined it again last night by eliminating the piano from it and playing it as a croony shoop-shoop song. No matter. Her false finale was Fallin’, the theme song she will never get away from as long as she lives, and she should have ended the concert there. The build-up to the song was huge, they gassed the stage and she trilled for a minute before she started. I will never stop loving Fallin’, and evidently no one will, it was the only true song when it came out onto the plastic music scene in 2001 and established her as the only true songstress.
She came out for two more staged encores, but didn’t sing Butterflyz, which is a song that stays with me after everyone else has forgotten it and which I once sang in front of a bunch of people at camp four years ago. (But if it was her first song she must always remember it too, I’m thinking?) But the idea of the slow, simplistically-emotional Butterflyz at one of her hip concerts of funky songs is like going on a date with Miranda Kerr just to see her nose, like seeing the Brazilian soccer team – Kaká, Ronaldo et al – for its goalkeeper, like going to a seafood restaurant for its salads: irrelevant.
She has it, she has it, and I hope she keeps it, and shows it, and never loses it.