Shelly Bell, Writer
When celebrities start accomplishing goals and completing tasks that are unrelated to their musical careers, they often delude themselves into believing that their various forms of artistic creativity should co-mingle. According to Billboard Magazine, since the last time we’ve heard from soul-pop superstar Alicia Keys, she has begun co-managing her career, produced her first Broadway play, directed her first short film, executive-produced a made-for-TV movie and an upcoming theatrical film, designed her own Reebok shoe line and recently launched an animated storytelling app for children. She explains in the article that now she feels more open and more free. However, after accomplishing many goals what she likely means is that she feels more in control of her career(s). When her new album Girl on Fire drops on November 27th fans will be able to judge whether this new level of control is musically a good thing or a bad thing. The album’s eponymous lead single – an arguably lightweight anthem of women’s empowerment – sadly falls short by comparison to the more lively #1 hits from artists like Rihanna and Katy Perry. Possibly, her gargantuan schedule and numerous accomplishments show an artist who, in straying from what made her initially successful, has gone too far.
Thus far her image has been filled with typical music industry transformations. Emerging as a “cool curvy B-Girl from the block,” morphing into the “thin edgy haircut/color barbie” look. Professionally, the cute, piano-playing female sensation lacking dance moves with the heartfelt Songs in A Minor morphed in many ways. She lost weight, changed her hair, became a mother and a wife and released Unthinkable, plus a career-redefining feature on Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” Her career transformation complete, “Girl On Fire” (The Inferno Version) is not fiery at all when compared to a David Guetta track or any Rihanna song. The definition of “fire” in the music industry has changed from tight long winded melody to fist pump repetitive catchy lyrical structure. Even the rapid fire spitting Nicki Minaj sounds like a suffocating caged monster on this one. She had no choice! How do you blaze a track that sounds more like water than anything remotely related to inferno?
The type of “fire” Keys may have been trying to portray should be closely mirrored to Rihanna’s “Diamond” or Katy Perry’s “Firework” or one of the hit pop singles burning up Billboard charts with topics like living young, living free, or succeeding at life’s challenges. The words to “Girl On Fire” are not inspirational enough to survive in the age where electronic dance/pop music with raging vocals, hard beats, and dancing bodies are turning crowds from adoring on-looking, lighter waving fans to roaring, fist pumping, body flailing followers. If the single “Girl on Fire” is a representation of her new album or her new found freedom then I also predict that the week of November 27th will be a disappointment for our girl on fire who doesn’t appear to be on fire in this single at all.
The hottest things about Alicia Keys right now is not purely her musical talent in the realm of mainstream R&B but more in exactly what she started off as….A WRITER! I look forward to the blazing mother, wife, and vocalist simply returning to the idea of who she already was instead of indulging in what she’s been told she could become. I can imagine that producing Broadway plays and theatrical films makes Alicia Keys feel more free because these are avenues that allow a writer an extreme amount of creative freedom. Her accomplishments are a sign of transition from what she has been doing to what she will realize is what she has always wanted to do. It is very likely that movie goers and Broadway play fanatics will have an appreciation for her art that she won’t see in the music industry alone. This appreciation will be one she can’t ignore. I predict that in the coming year we will see a less Hip-Hop/R&B Alicia Keys and a more of a playwright/songwriting Alicia Keys. It makes no sense to battle the music industry beast when you can ride the beautiful movie industry stallion.
Alicia Keys has fallen short in basking in the largess of soul’s life in the fervor of electro house. Possibly staying the course as a writer and waiting for her artistic lane as one of the most bankable stars in 21st century pop to clear is a better idea. The girl’s on fire, alright. But the timeless soft glow of warm embers against the neon extremes of the moment? There’s no comparison, leaving November 27th’s album a great idea in theory, but flawed in execution. Keys, though, is clearly still a brightly burning and impassioned creative artist worthy of success. The lesson here? Too much can go too far.