When Alicia Keys talked to The Times about her latest album, "Girl on Fire," the singer was candid about the newfound confidence she showcases on the disc.
A decade into a career that boasts 14 Grammys and more than 35 million albums sold, Keys says she has finally found herself -- and people are listening. According to Nielsen SoundScan, “Girl on Fire” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart after logging 159,000 copies sold. It’s the fifth time Keys has bowed at the top spot, having seen her first four releases, including 2005’s live “Unplugged” set, hit No. 1.
"[The album] is really about finding your own passion, finding your own flow and standing in your own space,” she said of “Girl on Fire.” "I think this album is the most personal so far because I have stepped into a more comfortable space where I'm able to be open and clear of what I want to say and how to say it.
In celebration of this newly assured Keys, we asked her to look back at her previous albums and highlight some of her favorite moments.
“Songs in A Minor” (2001)
“Troubles.” It’s almost like a conversation that I needed to have with God. That’s what the song is really about. I love how we were experimental with the music, and there is this part in the bridge that has these outside sounds and ambulances. I was living in Harlem at the time and we walked around with a DAT player and heard all these sounds and we just threw it right in the middle of the song. It was a really great memory of how much we loved the writing process and making something special and a song that really helped me through a moment in my life.
“The Diary of Alicia Keys” (2003)
I think one of my favorite songs is “When You Really Love Someone.” I loved the way the song feels, the lyrics in the song. [Sings] “Cause a man just ain't a man if he ain't man enough / To love you when you're right / Love you when you're wrong / Love you when you're weak / Love you when you're strong.” There’s this whole vibe. We were in France and we had to finish the record in like five days. It was the most awful, horrible deadline that has been placed on a human body. It was a 24-hour shift. In the morning from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. [doing promo], then 9 p.m. television, then 10 to 3 a.m. in the studio writing songs. It was hell on earth. But it brought forth songs that I don’t know if we would have had otherwise and one of them was “When You Really Love Someone.”
“As I Am” (2007)
Definitely “I Need You.” Its one of my favorite songs on “As I Am.” I love the drum patterns. Even though it’s different, that drum style, kind of reckless almost, James Brown kind of crazy, the drum [pattern] does remind me of “When It’s All Over” [from “Girl on Fire”]. “I Need You” is one of my favorites because I love the lyrics. I love the way it makes you feel. It makes you want to move. The lyrics are so poetic and beautiful: “The sand loves when the waves come / The sky can't wait for the light of the sun.” I really love that song.
“The Element of Freedom” (2009)
I love “Like the Sea” and how it has that crazy classical piano in it. I love “Love Is Blind” and the way it starts the record and the voices are distorted and intense. It sounds so mean. I love the sonics of “Element of Freedom” so much and how it really gets to another space of pushing sound boundaries.
“Girl on Fire” (2012)
It’s really hard. I love this record a lot. Every song has a different emotion, different vibe, different space. I’m going to go for “Brand New Me.” It really summarizes a true growth that I’m very proud of. I think the song is such a special song the way the music grows and builds and the chorus and the bridge and the personality of the song. I love every single lyric.