“When I come to New York, I’m home. I know where I am,” Alicia Keys confessed to an intimate group of press who had gathered at a studio overlooking the Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. It’s no wonder then that the Hell's Kitchen-bred, multi-platinum-selling singer who wrote New York’s modern-day theme song would also use her new Reebok Classics shoe line to pay homage to her favorite city-muse, with sneaker designs reminiscent of graffiti on buildings and boasting images of the Manhattan skyline.
That day at the Chelsea studio, in her self-designed black and purple high-top kicks, Alicia was at home with us, joking and laughing and gushing about her producer-husband Swizz Beats and their two-year-old son Egypt. She exuded a newly emancipated energy — a confidence constrained only by absolute serenity — that told the world she was impeccably aware and undeniably comfortable with who she is and where she is in life. To complete the incredible synergy taking place in her life, she’s traded in her signature barreling curls for a sleek bob cut that hangs just below her ears. Struck by the effortless way in which she now moves after eleven years in the industry, I asked her a question whose answer was obvious to anyone with eyes in that room: Do you feel lighter?
She does. Alicia sings about her all-new-everything life in the song “Brand New Me,” (off of her new album, Girl on Fire, to be released in November 2012) which she confesses is her “autobiography,” about “finding your bravery, finding the strength to walk taller, or to not stay under somebody any longer,” and stepping out on her own. And she credits Swizz and Egypt for that:
“Finding my soul-mate, finding the love of my life has been a freeing experience because of the way we identify [with] each other and understand each other. It’s so rare that you feel like you can be your whole self [with someone]. I can be my whole self, he can be his whole self. I don’t have to be half of myself, he doesn’t have to be half of himself. We can just be ourselves and so that alone [is a different feeling]. He’s actually taught me so much… He has that kind of a carefree easy-going spirit that has definitely taught me to be a little bit a little more [easy-going], which is great.
“And then having a baby, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh!’ It makes every — the smallest thing amazing. Like the first time he’s discovering how to say the word ‘light.’ Like ‘light’ is the most exciting thing. (She imitates Egypt) And it’s kind of true! The light is amazing. Like, ‘Look! You turn it off and then you turn it on and it’s beautiful!’ But for (adults) things become so routine, so mundane and for him he’s discovering things for the first time so it makes me see things in a new place. So, I think all of those things together has brought me to a place that’s like just a fresh, new start. And I really like this new start."
Included in this new start is playing a more in-depth role in movie and television production:
“I’ve really been working a lot on producing—producing film, producing television, Broadway—and that’s been a beautiful experience too. We just wrapped a film that I’m producing and I’m also scoring the music for it’s called ‘The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete.’ Jennifer Hudson’s in it, George Tillman directed it, Anthony Mackie, Jeffrey Wright – it’s really dope. I’m really enjoying that side too, to help to bring stories that you probably wouldn’t hear to the forefront, so that’s a lot of fun. But I love filming and I love acting, so I hope more of that comes for me.
And she definitely hasn’t given up on starring in the long-rumored biopic of Lena Horne: “To be Lena Horne would be a great honor for me — like huge — so I really do hope that pans out.” But, she admits, “Movies are tricky. They’re tough and they take a long time to sort out and put together.”
At the end of our chat, Alicia showcases her playful side by dramatically passing out and sliding down her chair when asked about her thoughts on Mitt Romney’s candidacy. Then she turns serious at the drop of a dime. The Barack Obama supporter told us:
“I think that we as women have a really important obligation to utilize our voices to stand up for the man who will honor the things that we need as women. We’ve made so much progress over the years. Obviously, there’s no reason to go back.
And I personally, I’m an Obama supporter and I feel like he really does understand women’s issues. And he was raised by a super-strong woman, he married an incredibly strong woman, he’s raising two incredibly strong women, so he’s personally connected to what is important with women’s issues. And I just think that’s such a big deal for us and we can’t just let (the presidency) go to anyone.We have to be really, really, really, really focused on making sure that every woman that we know is going out to vote for someone who is going to support (us).”
Spoken like a ‘Girl on Fire.’