Alicia Keys is on fire. She recently put out 2 singles from her forthcoming album A.L.I.C.I.A., announced that she’ll be taking on hosting duties for a second time at next year’s GRAMMYs and will follow that up with the spring release of her new autobiography More Myself: A Journey. Even with all she has coming in the new year, you could make a case that some of the most impactful work she does in 2020 will be in support of others in her role as co-founder of She is the Music (SITM). On Thursday (Dec.12), Alicia Keys won the American Express Impact Award at Women in Music for her work with SITM, a non-profit that aims to create opportunities for women across the industry.
Ahead of the ceremony, Keys attended the Women in Music Impact Brunch where she sat down with Billboard Executive Director of R&B/Hip-Hop, Gail Mitchell. The American Express sponsored event hosted executive honorees of Billboard’s annual Women in Music Awards who came together at the West Hollywood Edition Hotel to celebrate, snap photos and toast to one another’s accomplishments of the past year. After breakfast was served, Keys and Mitchell dove into a conversation that opened up with Keys talking about artists utilizing their respective platforms to make an impact. “I think artists have to do what they’re comfortable doing,” she said. “I think it’s important, when you’re passionate about what it is you want to share, to speak up and talk through it, share what you know because it reaches a lot of people.”
Keys went on to discuss SITM’s work fostering a growing community of women that aim to diversify music’s boardrooms and studios. “Whether you’re in a position of hiring, or have the ability to mentor young women, to really start to be conscious about who we are working with, who we’re hiring, what opportunities we’re opening the door for and for whom -- for that to be focused on women, it’s really powerful,” she said.
In 2019, conversations around the lack of inclusivity in music’s creative spaces intensified following a study by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. The February study noted that women only comprised 12.3% and 2%, respectively, of songwriters and producers credited on the roughly 700 songs analyzed. Keys spoke on the “deeply disturbing” statistics saying, “We know that there’s an imbalance in all systems. We know that when women are not at the forefront and not at the table, it’s a deep, deep disservice to the planet.”
While Keys didn’t call the lack of opportunities for women in music “intentional,” she stressed that the industry can operate systemically where established professionals opt to work with the same people for prolonged periods of time. In order to break it, Keys encouraged thinking outside of the box and becoming aware of the need for inclusion before playfully adding, “Women get it done!”
Looking to the future, she hopes that SITM continues to effect change, one step at a time. “You can ideate everything you can possibly imagine.” She went on, “Sometimes you see these really big, heavy [problems] going on and it feels so huge but we have the opportunity to, one person at a time, do one thing that changes someone’s life -- and that’s a big deal.”
Keys also teased that her forthcoming album will be a “sonic roller coaster” and a true self-portrait of her. “This is the first time I’ve chosen to name an album after myself, this is the first time I’ve been most fully myself,” said Keys, who kept a tight lip on the album’s featured collaborators. “It has different styles and different perspectives. I love the honesty and the vulnerability and I’m really all about being much more vulnerable… ‘cause it’s too much work to pretend.”
To wrap up the illuminating exchange, Keys offered a beautiful message to the Alicia of 2001, the year she released her debut album Songs in A Minor. “I would tell that 2001 Alicia to get ready for the most incredible ride she has ever had. I would tell her to not be afraid and that she really ultimately is gonna be totally protected and everything is gonna come together. I would tell her there’s definitely some bumps in the road and it’s definitely a lot to learn. If there’s anything I’d want her to know as quick as possible is to trust herself and don’t get too distracted by everyone else’s opinion about what you should do or shouldn’t do or what’s best for you because you know, in there, who you are and hold tight onto her. Just have an amazing time and don’t afraid to be excellent, just be excellent.”
Below, you can check out Alicia Keys’ acceptance speech at Women in Music 2019: