Alicia Keys doesn’t want people to guard their tongues anymore. In her new video, “So Done,” featuring Khalid, Keys looks to empower those crippled by fear in hopes of living their lives in liberation. After struggling from the same affliction, the R&B powerhouse is now cruising through life without any worries of possible repercussions.
Despite the weighty responsibilities of being a mother, wife, and artist, Keys’ stamina hasn’t wavered during the pandemic. In March, she released her new memoir, More Myself, which candidly illustrated her path from childhood into the music industry. In June, she teamed up with John Legend for a Juneteenth edition of Verzuz, the friendly online live battle series co-founded by her husband Swizz Beatz. Then, last month, she and Swizz rejoiced over their 10th anniversary on Instagram, with endearing messages about their unshakable bond.
Today (Aug. 14), Keys returns to the saddle to release her new record, “So Done,” which finds her partnered with crossover superstar Khalid. Produced by Ludwig Göransson, the R&B tandem soar in unison, creating another gem in Keys’ illustrious highlight reel of a career. Read Keys’ interview with Billboard below as she talks about how “So Done” came together, celebrating ten years with Swizz Beatz and how she stays level-headed as a mother and artist during a pandemic.
How did you and Khalid link up to record “So Done”?
Obviously, we’ve had mutual respect for each other for a minute, and I’ve been just super proud of him, because he’s such an individual. That’s kind of rare to find. Like, finding people who really stand in their own power, their own zone as a writer, producer and creator.
My favorite part about him is that he’s so unafraid to be vulnerable, and to talk about those parts that are maybe not even talked about as much as a young man, as a human and as a person. So I’ve always appreciated that about him, and celebrated him for that. So I knew that if we did something together, it would definitely have a zone and have a vibe. People were asking, “Can you and Khalid do something together?” and it was already on my mind anyway.
We connected, got together — and it’s actually crazy because when I reflect on it, I usually don’t write with people that I don’t know, just because it’s such an intimate space. I haven’t written with him before. And we also collaborated with Ludwig Göransson, who’s Childish Gambino’s main producer. None of us have ever written together before.
But it was super amazing. It was pure energy and pure light. We found ourselves in a conversation about being over fixing yourself and changing yourself for other peoples’ benefits. We happened to have that conversation, and I was talking about my personal circumstances and he was talking about his. This song was born out of that. That’s how it happened.
On the hook, you sing: “I’m so done guarding my tongue. I’m living the way that I want.” At what point in your life did you decide to live in your truth freely and without repercussions?
To be honest, it was more recently than not. I feel like it’s been over the past three, four years. I grew up in this industry — I was 14 when I was first signed and 20 when my first record dropped. So it’s always been a tricky world to navigate, because it just doesn’t make any sense and it’s not natural. From an early age, I kind of learned how to guard myself and protect myself, because I was always in places I wasn’t familiar [with] and I was always the only one in these new environments. I had to do that and put that protection in me. And with the New York in me, it’s natural that you want to protect yourself at all costs. So that was part of how I survived.
I put up this wall so that I couldn’t be touched or hurt. I lived like that for a lot of years, thinking that was the way to be, and it wasn’t until more recently [that I started] coming into my womanhood, and understanding that I’ve adopted a lot of ways that definitely was aggressive. It was making me politically correct, versus factual and honest. It’s not that I wasn’t being honest or holding anything back. I wasn’t, but you always gotta kind of guard your tongue. They use you to try to sell papers, and you gotta guard it.
At some point I realized that I don’t gotta guard it like that. I am my own beautiful woman, and I am in a space whether you like or you don’t like it, it doesn’t really matter to me. I definitely have to live in my truth and in my genuine authentic energy. So that’s been a new discovery and I’ve been really loving getting to know these other sides of myself and that particular side of myself.
I remember in your 73 questions interview with Vogue, you spoke about the importance of pivoting in your role as Grammys host, after the passing of Kobe Bryant the day of the awards. In what ways have you learned how to pivot as a mother and artist during this pandemic?
There’s definitely been a lot of pivoting for a lot of us. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say nobody expected 2020 to be what it is, but you know what? I think that during this pandemic, I definitely have been able to pivot by understanding that I don’t have control of everything, and that’s OK. You might not know everything. You might not know why certain things are happening the way that they are happening. But there’s a faith that I have that’s definitely the reason why I started listening to the calling of what needs to be said and what needs to be done and just do it.
I’m a manifestor, I’m a dreamer, and I can make it happen. But sometimes, you need to just sit down. In a way, we’re all in this place of where we need to sit down, take inventory, do more listening and realize what part we want to contribute in order to do that. That’s how I’ve been pivoting.
You told us last year that working on your new album Alicia along with your autobiography was the best therapy for you. What forms of self care are you using right now to stay the best version of yourself?
One part of the self care [routine] I’m using 1000% is understanding my feelings and emotions, and being able to verbalize them immediately. You know when there’s a thing and it hits you sideways, and you have to take a minute to be like, “Ooh, I didn’t like that or that bothered me.” In the past, I would have rattled off reasons as to why it was all right, and how it wasn’t meant to be or whatever. Now, I’ve gotten much better at identifying, “OK — that was a real emotion I had. What is it, and where did it come from?” Sometimes, it comes from a place where it doesn’t have anything to do with that person that you’re actually dealing with at the time.
Then, being able to verbalize it and say it right away. I find that being able to just honestly express [things] in a way where it’s not lingering, or taking 20 more years because you held it in for so long, has given me truly a beautiful self-care mechanism. That’s one thing. And definitely some time with hubby. That’s a really important self-care moment because the kids are all around every second of every minute — and I love it because I spend so much time away from them — but also just reconnecting with those people that you love, especially your lover or your loved ones, makes you feel so good.
And of course, time for myself with my meditation and my journaling. I can get into my own mind and space without interruptions. Those are some of tools that I use to stay right.
Speaking on your hubby, you guys just celebrated your ten-year anniversary. What does that number mean to you and Swizz?
First of all, we wake up every morning and look at each other in awe. I’m in awe of him, he’s in awe of me and I’m in awe of our love. I’m in awe of this genuine, pure energy that we continue to have with each other. Then, we’d be like, “Wait a minute. It hasn’t been ten years because it feels so quick.”
I think it feels fast because there’s an ease to us. There’s a real beautiful friendship and connection to us that it literally feels like ten months. It’s really because we’re that compatible and we have a deep respect and understanding for each other. We’re so proud. We’re super honored for the love that we’ve received from so many people. Just being able to show how powerful, beautiful and sustainable Black love is and how longstanding it can be means a lot. We’re looking forward to a gang of more years because it’s going great.
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You’ve worked with talented male R&B acts like Usher, Miguel and now Khalid. What intrigues you most about this new generation of R&B male artists, compared to the 2000s and 2010s?
You know what? I think there’s so much individuality. I love the beauty and the voices. One of my other favorite artists is Moses Sumney. I think he’s so incredible. What a voice. What a presence. What a performer. What an individual. Without question, not even thinking about anything but the art. I think there’s so many people that have an incredible energy and vibe. There’s a real beautiful crop of unique individuals and I’m really loving that.
If you can pick one word to title this chapter of your life, what word would that be and why?
Opening. I feel like we’re all opening in way we haven’t before. I think that because of the circumstance, we’re doing it collectively in a way we never would of before. We have a certain recognition of many things that have been going on for so long that are unbalanced. We’re seeing it, we’re aware of it and we want to continue to move forward. I feel like it’s an opening.