It's been a minute, but Alicia Keys is back in the spotlight. Mature and demure, Scarlett's new bosom buddy (holla!) gets her grown & sexy on.
This feature originally appeared in Complex's October 2007 issue.
The road towards her recent projects—the soon-to-be-released third album, As I Am1, and the late-summer flick The Nanny Diaries with Scarlett Johansson2—hasn’t been all gravy, though. She’s still the strikingly beautiful chanteuse who blew up the popscape, but the 27-year-old native New Yorker speaks of harder days past with measured, mellow tones. (If you ever need a second career, ma, we suggest phone sex.) Two years on the road, a burgeoning acting career that began with an impressive femme-fatale role in the otherwise overly indulgent Smokin’ Aces, and some vaguely alluded-to “personal issues” all added up to Ms. Keys needing a breather. Badly.
We have to say, though, that she doesn’t seem all that vulnerable in person. She just seems happy, and as smokin’ as her film debut (thank you, Aces costume designer). Ms. Keys sat with Complex to discuss personal drama, how far she’s come as an actress since rolling with Heathcliff Huxtable3, and setting the record straight about her business partner Kerry “don’t call him my boyfriend4” Brothers. And we ended up fallin’ all over again.
I know you intended to take some time off between albums. What’s been your focus the past few years?
We toured for two years, ’til 2006. I came home and I did the film [Smokin’ Aces], I went on my pilgrimage to Africa right after that, and then had some family things come up. And then boom, now it’s 2007.
When you started the recording process, what were your initial ambitions with it?
I was already hearing very different melodies and musical progressions. It kind of scared me a little bit because the things I was writing were reflecting my mood and I wasn’t in a very good headspace. I was extremely worried—a lot—very tense, and just began being judgmental of myself.
You know, when you’re not in a good space, you’re kind of extra hard on yourself about things that are unnecessary. So on top of whatever I was dealing with, I was creating more hardship because I was being so judgmental about everything. And it was obviously time for me to take some time to figure out what the fuck was going on with me.
I’m usually so solid—I’m not the chick that breaks down, I’m not the one who loses it and wilds out, that’s not my thing. I was trying to hold in these emotions, so as to not trigger any type of unusual behavior. But it was inevitable. It just came to the point where even people who I’m so good at hiding from—
I’m not the chick that breaks down, I’m not the one who loses it and wilds out, that’s not my thing.
Yeah, they were like, “Something’s not right with you.” And I was pretty crazy.
What kinds of stresses were you going through?
When you’re planning a schedule for an album, you’re planning things a year and a half in advance, and saying yes to things a year and a half in advance. And when I confirmed to do [Smokin’ Aces], the smart thing would have been, “I can do that, but I gotta have at least a week off, just so I can kind of get my head together.” That’s not what I did.
After all that, though, the end result is a hot album. You worked with John Mayer—
That boy is so talented, man. We actually got a chance to get to know each other a little before getting to work together. It was more of a friendship, as opposed to, like, “OK, we’re just gonna write out of the blue.” And it just flowed easy. I love the song [“Lesson Learned”].