Alicia Keys: Unlocking Alicia (2012 Cover Story)

Alicia Keys: Unlocking Alicia (2012 Cover Story)By Rob Kenner (@boomshots); Photography by Gavin Bond; Click Here For Additional Credits.
It’s half past seven, the morning after the show. The streets of London are quiet at this hour. Top-hatted doormen await their first visitors of the day as cops with machine guns stroll in front of royal embassies. Inside a nondescript townhouse, Egypt Daoud Ibarr Dean slumbers peacefully as his mom prepares to head off to a video shoot for her single “Girl on Fire.” His dad’s across the pond at the moment, where he’ll soon be spinning a DJ set in New York with Jermaine Dupri and AraabMuzik. A truck pulls up outside Alicia’s window and empties a dumpster full of bottles from a nearby restaurant, but Egypt sleeps right through it. He’s a born New Yorker.

 

You stay outta the doghouse by not being a dog. You know what to do. That’s it. Life is real easy. You know what the key is? Honesty.

 

Alicia’s head of security and a driver wait outside in a black Mercedes minivan. Finally she steps out dressed in black with dark glasses. The minivan sets off for Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, half an hour north of London proper—the studio where George Lucas shot part of The Empire Strikes Back.

During the drive she talks about music in a soft voice. Alicia’s been listening to Frank Ocean lately. She appreciates his songwriting—he cowrote “One Thing” on her new album—and admires the courage of the open letter he wrote about his sexuality. “That was super brave and I’m so glad that he wrote it,” she says. “He is the voice for so many people. We’re all boxed in to these stupid things that we’re taught is the way we’re supposed to be and it’s so ridiculous. There are so many people that need a champion to assure them that no matter who you are, you are a beautiful person. That doesn’t change the fact that you’re talented or intelligent. Thank God that we have come to this place where we can actually know and be more open to the fact that people come in all different ways. And that’s great because it’s a very boring world otherwise.”

Despite its combustible title, the “Girl on Fire” video will require no pyrotechnics or special effects wizardry. “It’s been tricky to really nail,” she says. “Because the song is so damn big, your instinct is to do some crazy, ridiculous big shit. But that’s so obvious. You could do crazy lights and fire at the top of a building, like, ‘Oh my gosh! She’s on fire!’ But to be so literal is cliché.” Director Sophie Muller proposed a different approach: showing Alicia doing everyday activities—being a mom, paying bills, cooking dinner. “That grounded every-day-ness is the shit that makes it firey,” Alicia says.

After an egg-white-and-veggie omelet, Alicia settles into the glam room where Gilberto Gil booms from her iPod dock. There’s a Frida Kahlo book nearby for inspiration. Her assistant, Jen, lights another stick of surya rose incense, then gets back to checking Alicia’s sent mail folder to ensure that all the invitations have gone out for this year’s Black Ball, Alicia’s ninth annual fundraiser for Keep a Child Alive, which provides meds for the children of AIDS patients in Africa and India. Beyoncé is performing this year, and Oprah’s an honoree.

“Did Tyra get hers?” Alicia asks. “And don’t forget Clive. Make sure he knows I want him to sit at my table. What about Will and Jada? Wait, never mind. I just need to text Jada.”

While clouds of hairspray billow around her head and another stylist sits on the floor giving her a pedicure, Alicia studies her white iPhone and dictates emails to her assistant. “Make it read, ‘Can you believe this lineup? It’s going to be amazing. I hope you can be there with us,’” Alicia tells Jen. “‘Thank you for always showing love—smiley face.’”

Alicia says she likes Complex. “I got sneakers for you,” she adds, speaking of her collaboration with Reebok Classics, where Swizz serves as a creative director. “That’s me doing me and him doing him,” she clarifies. But before she can outline the vision for her sneaker designs, Alicia bursts out laughing. The wardrobe stylist has slipped her top on backward. “He’s putting the damn shirt on me wrong,” she says. “And it’s mad tight.” Someone points out that wearing clothes backward worked for Kriss Kross. “’Cause it’s wiggedy wiggedy wack,” Alicia adds and now the whole room is laughing. Just then Sophie Muller bursts in asking, “Are you ready yet?” with mock severity. She soon takes a seat on the couch and begins flipping through a fashion mag, but Alicia wants to keep talking about Complex.

What do Complex readers want to know? Considering the amount of R&B songs in which ladies are mad at the guys in their life, can she offer some advice on how to stay out of the proverbial doghouse?

“It’s real easy,” she says. “You stay outta the doghouse by not being a dog. You know what to do. That’s it. Life is real easy. You know what the key is? Honesty.”

But in what world is honesty easy? “OK, honesty isn’t easy,” she admits. “Honesty can be hurtful. It can be painful. It can be difficult. But honesty makes things easier. ’Cause then you don’t have to go back and do all types of other bullshit. It’s just better. Trust me.” 

Related: THE 25 BEST ALICIA KEYS SONGS

Related: Alicia Keys Covers Complex's October 2007 Issue!

ADDITIONAL CREDITS: (STYLING) June Ambrose. (SET DESIGN) Rob Strauss. (HAIR) Italo Gregorio. (MAKEUP) Ayako Yoshimura. (CLOTHING) OPENING SPREAD: Top by All Saints / Earrings by Wouters & Hendrix. FOLLOWING SPREAD: Cardigan by Plein Sud / Bra by Natori / Earrings by Wouters & Hendrix. PREVIOUS SPREAD: Top by Wolford / Earrings by Wouters & Hendrix.

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