Alicia Keys is Raising Her Voice for Equality

Alicia Keys is Raising Her Voice for Equality

For its November issue, V honors the leaders shaping popular culture and carrying it into the future, whether by changing the way we talk about identity, redefining stereotypes, or championing new movements in the realms of fashion, music, film, and television. First up is Alicia Keys, whose new album 'HERE' tackles issues of representation and social justice.

For its November issue, V honors the leaders shaping popular culture and carrying it into the future, whether by changing the way we talk about identity, redefining stereotypes, or championing new movements in the realms of fashion, music, film, and television. First up is Alicia Keys, whose new album 'HERE' tackles issues of representation and social justice.

Photography: Inez & Vinoodh

Styling: Jay Massacret

Text: Joseph Akel

This story appears in V104. Click here to pre-order the issue before it arrives on stands November 10.

If you ask Alicia Keys, 2016 has been quite a year for the multiple-Grammy Award winning artist (15 Grammy’s, to be exact). After the announcement in March that Keys would be joining the music reality series The Voice as a judge, in May she released her first single— “In Common,” her first in four years—and is set to release her next album, HERE, November 4th. Coinciding with the single’s release, Keys penned an op-ed for Lena Dunham’s online feminist newsletter, Lenny Letter, in which she outlined the motivations behind her decision to stop wearing makeup.

“I think that it's definitely tricky being a woman,” Keys points out. “You go to work, and it's like, if you don't put on makeup that day people say, 'Oh, you look so tired!'” Keys’s recent stance reflects an attitude toward existing notions of beauty that extends well beyond the scrutiny which celebrity status entails to our everyday understanding of it. “It’s not only the entertainment industry,” she explains, “it's not only the film industry, it's not only the fashion industry, it's not only every job that anyone works at or every magazine that everyone has read, it's a collective consciousness.”

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The impetus behind her decision not to wear makeup—and she points out that she is not anti-makeup—is, in part, fueled by her desire to convey the natural beauty inherent in all women. “There's nothing you could do to take away this unbelievably innate beauty that lives inside of you as a woman,” she notes, “because we are the most spectacular creatures that were ever created.” “The most incredible thing,” Keys continues, “is that all women are beautiful.”

As with her single “In Common” and the music video accompanying it, both released earlier this year— and which she described in a personal statement as “celebrating our individuality”—Keys’s forthcoming album, HERE, will undoubtedly continue to examine issues of gender, race, and social equality, all of which she has become an outspoken advocate for. When pressed as to the sentiments informing “In Common,” Keys replies, “[Everyone] deserves to have the right to do what everybody else does and to have the same opportunities to get where everyone else is going.”

Indeed, just this past weekend, Keys unveiled the track list for HERE via Twitter, among which included “Elaine Brown,” named after the pioneering civil rights activist, musician and Black Panther chairwoman. Tapping into a legacy that draws a direct line from Keys to the likes of Nina Simone’s fiery protest ode, “Mississippi Goddamn” and James Brown’s civil rights anthem “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” Keys emphasizes the important role that respect plays as theme not only in “In Common,” but also throughout her larger body of work. “How we speak to each other,” she notes, “and how we treat each other should always be done with a certain amount of respect—the same respect that we want to be treated with. We all deserve that and I think our kids deserve it.”

Recently, Keys seems ever more confident in her role as the musical inheritor of a legacy of social activism that connects her with the likes of Simone and Brown. That confidence was evident during her appearance at the 2016 Democratic National Convention where, in addition to performing “Superwoman” and “Girl on Fire,” she headlined Politico’s lecture forum addressing, among other topics, the issue of criminal justice reform.

Ultimately, for Keys, music has the power to change minds and bridge the widening social divides she sees in America today. “There's definitely an imbalance,” she points out, “and I think that we're all feeling that imbalance, to be honest.” Music, for her, is one way to close that gap. “I love how much we all can identify with music,” Keys concludes, “whether we're artists or just working at the post office, music is our life.” One thing is for sure, Key’s ability to marry soulful music with socially minded commentary continues to strike a chord for us all.

HERE is available November 4 from RCA Records.

Credits:

MAKEUP JEANINE LOBELL (Tim Howard Management)  Hair Christiaan  Makeup (Alicia Keys) Dotti (Streeters)  Manicure Deborah Lippmann (The Magnet Agency)  Executive Producer Stephanie Bargas (VLM Productions)  Production Coordinator Eva Harte (VLM Productions)  Studio Producer Tucker Birbilis (VLM Productions)  Studio Manager Marc Kroop (VLM Studio)  Digital Technician Brian Anderson (VLM Studio)  Lighting Director Jodokus Driessen (VLM Studio)  Photo assistant Joe Hume  Stylist assistants  Olivia Kozlowski, Sean Nguyen, sophia torres-ulrich, tallia bella pepe  Makeup assistant jessica Ross  Hair assistant Taku Sugawara  manicure assistants Stephanie Aria and Riwako Kobayashi  retouching stereohorse  Location Pier 59 Studios  Catering Dishful

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