Friday, February 1, 2013


Alicia Keys -
Alicia Keys is set to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl this Sunday. Presumably it will not be lip synced. She's not a surprising choice for this honor. The stunningly beautiful singer, songwriter, pianist, actress, director and author, who possesses some natural musical gifts, is one of the hottest music stars in the world right now. She’s also arguably the most overrated artist of the last decade.

I'm not usually this harsh on music artists, especially ones who actually have talent, but Keys has not lived up to all the hype, nor has she established a strong musical identity. Part old-school R&B singer, part introspective songwriter, part serious musician (with classical piano chops), and part hip-hop diva, Keys, under the tutelage of music industry impresario Clive Davis, became a show-biz untouchable after the release of her 2001 debut record Songs in A Minor, which sold 11 million copies and got generally good reviews. Some critics hailed her as hip-hop’s answer to Roberta Flack, while others even compared her to Aretha Franklin.

But in her decade-long stint on music's A list, Keys, who just yesterday was named global creative director of BlackBerry, has yet to charm a song the way Flack did, and she will never be in the same vocal universe as Aretha. Keys has moments of vocal inspiration, but like so many singers of her generation she unnecessarily squeezes too many notes into each bar. And she doesn’t always hit those notes. Keys has a nice-enough voice and can beautify a song, but too often she’d rather beat a melody into submission. She should just let the song come to her instead of chasing it around the block. But in this age of excess and American Idol, The X Factor and The Voice, who notices?

Keys’ biggest drawback, ironically, is her confidence. She believes in herself to a fault. There’s no vulnerability, no introspection, no admission or even consideration that maybe she isn‘t all that, vocally, and that maybe she could be a better lyricist and melody writer and singer if she really worked at it. In an age when so many artists on the record and download charts can’t even carry a tune, Keys’ natural musical ability, combined with her physical beauty, have left her teetering on the edge of smugness, even though she still sings off key more often than any superstar should and even though both her words and melodies are sometimes sophomoric and cliché-ridden.

Keys' emotions sometimes feel sincere, but other times feel rote. She uses too many predictable, amateurish stair-step chord progressions, and she never digs deeply enough to reveal any real passions or demons. Her ego was especially glaring when a few years ago she sang I Am Superwoman. On the tune, Alicia’s backup vocalists answered her declaration, "Yes she is.” When the great Chaka Khan belted out I’m Every Woman in 1978, it sounded like a sincere, egalitarian anthem for all women; when Alicia Keys sings I Am Superwoman, it sounds shrill and self-aggrandizing.

Her singing on Another Way to Die, the theme song for the James Bond film, was gratingly inconsistent. Stripes frontman Jack White, who wrote and produced that song, told MTV after it was recorded,  “After a couple of years of wanting to collaborate with Alicia Keys, it took James Bond himself to finally make it happen. Alicia put some electric energy into her breath that cemented itself into the magnetic tape. Very inspiring to watch. It gave me a new voice, and I wasn’t myself anymore. I drummed for her voice and she mimicked the guitar tones, then we joined our voices and screamed and moaned about these characters in the film and their isolation, having no one to trust, not even themselves. Maybe we became them for a few minutes.”

White continued: “The Memphis Horns were there to help us out, along with some of Nashville’s finest. Might be the first analogue Bond theme in twenty years, I don’t know. We wanted to push soul into those tapes, and join the family of Barry, Bassey, Connery and Craig.” 

Another overrated artist, White, who isn’t in the same league as his rocking idols, either, should turn his giddy praise for Keys down a notch. She is a decent singer, Jack. ‘Nuff said.

Keys has also been bitten by the acting bug, but so far her performances have been passable, at best. She made her movie debut in Joe Carnahan's Smokin' Aces as Georgia Sykes, a stunning street assassin. She also appeared in the movie adaptation of the popular book The Nanny Diaries, opposite Scarlet Johansson, Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti. 

In her short career, Keys, whose biggest hits include You Don’t Know My Name, Troubles, Like You’ll Never See Me Again, and Fallin’, has already won Grammy Awards, Billboard Music Awards, American Music Awards, World Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, MTV Europe Awards, BET Awards, NAACP Image Awards, Nickelodeon Teen Choice Awards, Soul Train Music Awards, Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, People's Choice Awards, My VH1 Awards and more. In 2005, she also became a New York Times Bestselling author when she released her first published work, Tears for Water: Songbook of Poems & Lyrics.

She’s also been a spokesperson for Keep A Child Alive, which provides anti-viral drugs to the millions suffering from AIDS in Africa, and works closely with Frum Tha Ground Up, which equips America's youth with the tools essential for achieving success on all levels, as well as Teens in Motion, a non-profit organization created to offer teens the opportunity to develop their minds and bodies in a safe and secure environment.

All of which begs the question: When does Alicia sleep? Some of you Keys loyalists are undoubtedly drafting an angry message to me right about now. Before you send, though, just know that I know that Keys is talented, and despite her surplus of self-esteem she does seem like a caring and compassionate person. But it’s unlikely she will realize her full potential as a singer or songwriter because she’s already been crowned one of pop’s new queens and seems to be wearing the crown without irony or reflection.

Perhaps in Keys’ case, a star was born too soon. She should at this point in her career still have the humility of a Vicki Lester, but instead she has the hubris of Norman Maine, if not the self-destructiveness. Fame, wealth and popularity don’t lend themselves to self-analysis or self-improvement. Alicia evidently believes all the hysterical hype that surrounds her, and that’s unfortunate because she actually has enough musical ability to someday live up to it.


  1. It just shows to go you how the right backing can make someone a star.

    Excellent writing and review.

  2. yeah she's sooooo overrated. Her music is so boring. she's not even that good at the piano. I felt bad for the people who had to carry the piano onto the stage for her during the superbowl?? was it? for the national anthem b.c. she didn't even play it that much plus she's not that good at playing. I've moved my piano with my family from one house to another with moving and it's damn tiring lol. Unless they used a machine.

  3. I agree with the article. Who didn`t learn the piano when they were eight anyway? Oh well, best of luck with her getting away with the hype I guess!

  4. Thorough analysis. Thanks for that. I remember seeing her interviewed a long time ago. Already crowned music royalty, Alicia explained how the idea for her stage name, Keys, came from the suggestion of a former classmate. The interviewer smiled and said "Oh, have you thanked him for that?" And Alicia replied (and I do paraphrase here), "No, why? I'm responsible for my success, not him or the name".

  5. Miss perfect.. There's nothing wrong with her..So boring :(

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  7. I couldn't agree more. She is now on the voice and I just to get why people heap so much praise on her. She thinks she is the end all, be all. She is so BORING!

  8. 'No one' made me very angry because it so bluntly follows the overused chord progression from famous songs - ugh! And all the hype and praise she got for this makes me scared for the people's musical tastes!!!

  9. Or just a millenial whoop?