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20 + 20 Covers Project: Alicia Keys

Having graced a Dazed cover ten years ago, the American singer is back, talking about changes in her career and growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen area

Alicia Keys first appeared on the cover of Dazed a decade ago, alongside the release of her now legendary debut LP, 'Songs in A Minor'. Tens of millions of albums sold and multiple Grammys later, Keys is one of the most successful recording artists of all time.

Dazed & Confused: You first appeared on the cover of Dazed ten years ago. Were you familiar with the magazine at the time?
Alicia Keys: 
I wasn’t actually. I was so young and naïve when I started out, and then all at once I was exposed to all these super cool magazines and forms of media that I had never heard of before. Learning about everything was so much fun. But Dazed has remained one of the coolest magazines out there. I love that they explore artists and musicians from all across the spectrum.

D&C: How have you seen the music industry change since you started your career?
Alicia Keys: 
So much has changed. Now you can record an entire song on a plane ride from New York to LA. Everything feels more mobile, more accessible, and more people have access to what’s out there, and I think that’s a great thing. Creative people need creative outlets. On the other hand, there’s been a breakdown in the industry in terms of being able to show an entire body of work. Everything has become more singles driven, and people are cool with having one song that they like rather than a whole album. But like, I love Songs in the Key of Life. I love the whole Stevie album, and I couldn’t just pick one single that’s my favorite. So I’ve stuck to the old school ideals in that sense. I want to create a body of music that people can listen to from beginning to end.

D&C: Are you still making music for the same reasons you were ten years ago?
Alicia Keys: 
I’ve always made music because I have something to say and it’s the only way I know how to say it. But as I grow I have more to talk about, more of the stories of life to tell, and more people I want to reach. I’m a little bit more calm about it now, and more confident, too. I’ve been blessed to be able to do the thing that I love, and I’ve never made any decisions based on money, which keeps things much simpler. When you start thinking about money, you do things for the wrong reasons.

D&C: You seem to have mastered the art of being sexy, without ever being trashy.
Alicia Keys: 
I grew up on 42nd street in New York, in Hell's Kitchen. If you were in that neighborhood when I was a kid, you’d know it was all pimps, prostitutes and drugs. You’d see women exploited and half dressed, trying to make a dollar in the middle of winter. It had a real heavy effect on me. So coming from a place where women had to dress and act that way for their survival, it never made sense to me why people would want to translating that into an image that is meant to be desirable. Also, I was raised by my mother, who is such a strong woman, and I strive to project that image too.

D&C: What were you like when you were 20? How have you changed since then?
Alicia Keys: 
I think in a lot of ways I’m the same, in regards to my spirit and my heart. I’ve always been kind of silly and liked to have fun, but also really focused on what I do and how I do it. But when I started out I knew nothing about the music business; it was a big brand new world to me. But everyday I still look at the world like it’s a brand new place, because there’s so much out there to learn and so much to do.

D&C: What are your plans for the near future?
Alicia Keys: 
I’m working on my next album, which is coming together great, and I’m producing and writing the music for a Broadway production called Stick Fly. It’s my Broadway debut, which is exciting because my mom opened my eyes to Broadway at a young age and it’s been a love of mine ever since. I also directed my first short film for Lifetime, which is part of a series done by five female directors, including Demi Moore and Jennifer Aniston, and it’s an incredible series about breast cancer and the effects that it has on all walks of life.

D&C: Tell us about your back cover choice, Emeli Sande.
Alicia Keys: 
She’s a magnificent new artist from the UK. I was introduced to her when I was doing some intimate shows of just me on the piano for the 10th anniversary of my first album. I was playing a show in London and we wanted to find a cool artist to open, and I saw Emeli and I instantly fell in love with her style and her flow--she’s super raw. Certain people just have the gift, and she is one of them. We did some writing together for my upcoming record. Go ahead and listen to her song “Breakin’ The Law” on Youtube. If you don’t get chills, you’re not even alive.

Photo Rankin
Styling Yuki James
Hair Serge Normant at Jed Root
Make-up Dotti at Streeters
Manicurist Deana Blackwell
Dress by Emporio Armani; hat by Ellen Christine Millinery; earrings by Finn; cuff by Alexis Bittar.