As a teenager growing up in the New York City neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, Alicia Keys saw a L’Oréal TV commercial with the tagline “Because I’m worth it” and had an epiphany. “I thought, ‘What a killer line,’” says Keys of the slogan, which inspired her soulful 2001 single “A Woman’s Worth.” It was the first of many anthems celebrating female strength that Keys has written through the years -- from 2007’s “Superwoman” to 2012’s “Girl on Fire,” which she performed at the 2016 Democratic National Convention to introduce Hillary Clinton.
Looking back on her career so far, however, Keys says she created “A Woman’s Worth” because she didn’t feel empowered at all. “I needed to write the song so that I could feel better,” she says. Almost two decades later, the 2019 Impact honoree is focused on helping others find that same confidence -- in both big and small ways. In 2016, she embraced a minimal-makeup look to challenge conventional beauty standards. At Billboard’s 2018 Women in Music event, Keys detailed She Is the Music, a nonprofit she co-founded to increase opportunities for women in the music industry through writing camps, a database of female creators and other initiatives. Lately, Keys -- who will return as host of the Grammy Awards in January -- has also started using Instagram TV to lead deep discussions with her fans, like a recent broadcast in which she talked about her 4-year-old son’s fears about getting bullied over his painted nails. She’ll keep the conversations going on her seventh studio album, ALICIA, due next year. “I’m realizing how much I’ve diminished my own power,” says Keys, 38. “I’m not doing that no more.”