Alicia Keys held “The Element of Freedom Lecture & Performance Series” yesterday (Oct. 21) at New York University’s Skirball Center. During the event, she gave NYU students — most of which were aspiring songwriters — an exclusive debut performance of her new single, “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart,” from her upcoming album “The Element of Freedom.” The album will be released on Dec. 1 on J Records.
“I wanna find a way to make it without you tonight / I’m gonna try to find a way to make it without you / I’m gonna hold on to the time we had tonight without you,” Keys sings during the chorus over smashing cymbals and extended organ-like piano strokes.
Keys, backed by a four-piece band and two back-up singers — including up-and-coming musician Jermaine Paul (who opened up the performance portion of the event) — also performed “You Don’t Know My Name,” “Falling,” parts of Jay-Z‘s “Empire State Of Mind,” on which she is featured, “No One” and the first single off her upcoming album, “Doesn’t Mean A Thing,” which is currently No. 15 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
At the top of the evening, Keys sat with MTV host Sway Calloway for an interview segment, during which she shared her discoveries while recording her fourth studio album.
“When I first started going to the studio, it was like I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was doing it till the point of exhaustion — submersing myself till the point of possibly drowning,” Keys said. “But, for the first time in my recording career, I feel I finally found the key, and that is to allow yourself to be free. With this album I found such a balance and I took things in that inspire me, which can come from anywhere. It just helped me enjoy the process first and foremost.”
Keys also revealed the struggles she faced while a college student at New York’s Columbia University and how she managed being a student and trying to become an artist. “When you’re trying to juggle and put everything in motion, no one’s going to hold your hand. You have to figure out how to juggle getting your work done while still pursuing other things,” she said. “Everything has its place and no one is getting short changed but you if you don’t get around it. You have to make choices and either you’re going to shine or not.”
One of the most revealing moments of the evening was when Keys talked about reaching her lowest point. “I felt my lowest during my last record. I started to understand that I was dealing with people who I thought were my friends but in reality had other intentions,” she said. “So, things had to change. Sometimes you have to get rid of people in your life that don’t work with you. You have to stay in your path and when people are pulling you down, you have to cut ties.”
She also said that during that time period, she felt overworked and was watching her grandmother die. “I was very confused,” she said.
Additionally, Keys gave tips on how to write songs. “I think part of songwriting is going on a journey and tapping into your feelings and emotions,” she said, before claiming songwriter/musician Linda Perry (“Sometimes I put on a mask, but I learned through her to just be myself,” she said) and Stevie Wonder (“He taught me how to experiment”) as two of her inspirations.
In closing, Keys gave the crowd final words of encouragement, stating: “You are shinning so bright and I feel you. There’s nothing that’s going to stop you from doing what you want. You are a powerful human being with endless possibilities and everyday is a new day to get closer to where you want to go.”