We know a thing or two about the happenings of Alicia Keys’ life. We’ve heard her thoughts on a couple of topics. But personally, I can’t say I’ve been entirely clear on who Alicia Keys is. There appear to have been a couple of evolutions over time. So there might be a bit of confusion.
And perhaps, in an attempt to clear that up and assert a manifesto, keys is writing a memoir. In an interview with PEOPLE, Keys discussed the topics she’ll cover in the book, including the fact that for a while, she felt she was living inauthentically.
“I was building my life around this image of perfection, and it was really oppressive. I was clearly a woman who wanted to talk about truth and empowerment and strength, but when I really looked at myself, I realized that my whole life I’ve kind of been putting on a mask.”
Keys, who was born Alicia Augello-Cook, said the mask came in various colors. There was the tough, tomboy persona that helped her cope with the pain of her father being an inconsistent presence in her life.
Her father, Craig Cook, who is Black, had a brief relationship with her mother Teresa Augello who is of Scottish-Italian descent.
“For me, a seed of worthlessness was planted in childhood,” writes Keys. “As well-intentioned as Craig was, and as much as he was dealing with in his own life, his absence impacted me in ways I’m still uncovering. It left a hole in me.”
But Keys had her mother there to help her navigate the potential questions she may have had about her biracial identity.
“Race was never a part of what made me feel guarded. ‘You’re the best of both worlds,’ my mother would often remind me. And she was right. Yet since my mother understood that America would compel me to choose, she raised me with an awareness that’s still intact: I am a Black girl.”
Keys spoke about being an exceptional student but getting into her fair share of trouble as a teenager.
“At any one of the shops on the street around the corner from our apartment a kid could get anything: a fake ID (like the one I used to sneak into a club called Tunnel), a fistful of blunts (I smoked my share), a pack of condoms (which led to the used one that somehow got lost under the couch on the afternoon I lost my virginity). My mother had to be strict as a matter of my survival.”
But things changed in 2001, after her debut album Songs in A Minor. And while it was a good move for her professionally, it marked the beginning of her voice being challenged.
She spoke about a time feeling exploited during her first photo shoot.
“Open up your shirt a little,’ [the photographer] directs while firing off a flurry of snaps. My spirit is screaming that something is wrong, that this feels slimy. ‘Pull the top of your jeans down a bit in the front,’ he urges. I swallow my misgivings, tuck my thumb between the denim and my skin, and obey. On the day of the cover’s debut, I pass a newsstand where the magazine is on display. I almost throw up.’”
After five years in the industry, Keys felt a sense of “emptiness” and was close to an emotional breakdown. She took a year sabbatical and took a trip to Egypt.
By 2010, Keys married Swizz Beatz. The couple have two sons together. But Keys said she still struggled with insecurities.
“There had been one afternoon, as I was preparing to pick up Egypt from school, I threw on some sweatpants and a baseball cap as an internal deliberation arose: ‘What if someone sees me like this and asks to take a photo? And what if that picture gets posted?’ The dialogue wasn’t new. On this day, I caught myself in the middle of the neurosis, and it socked me right in the gut.”
Years later, Keys wrote an open letter about loving herself and the #NoMakeup movement.
In reference to all the masks she’s worn, Keys said, “I wasn’t fake, but I was trying to live up to all these fake ideals. It was like a habit. I had to start to break it. I feel more like an open book. That’s a beautiful thing.”