Alicia Keys — GLAMOUR UK’s November cover — is a product of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood she grew up in. Consistent exposure to street violence, drugs and prostitution led her to become wary, wear cornrows and hide in baggy clothing to prevent from attracting the attention of the New York men. By the time she signed to J Records — the label under which she released her debut album, Songs in A Minor, she was aware of her identity and had no plans changing it.
“As a new girl – all New York street vibes, with braids, playing the piano in pretty pants or jeans, Timberlands and leather jackets – it was definitely not something that you had seen often, this kind of soul thing mixed with that energy. But I never felt like I wanted to change,” she told GLAMOUR.
Record labels typically have their recommendations about their desired images for an artist and the kind of music they should make to commercialize, but Keys revealed she was “never marketable.” “I just didn’t ever quite fit. I was always a little bit outside. And I love that I’ve been like that” she said.
Keys emerged on the scene with unique braids and the hat in “Fallin'” video and made headlines for her decision to move through the industry without makeup, but her looks have always been a reflection of who she was, what she felt comfortable with and what she stood for at the time.
“The pressure to try to [get me to] wear more dressy things… that just wasn’t who I was and it will never be who I am,” she said. “And even as I grow now, and can truly feel comfortable in multiple ways and styles, I still am who I am.”
Keys never compromised her identity to conform to industry standards. Her braids, particularly the few that braid from back to from rather than front to back, were emulated then and have recently made a resurgence in modern day styles. Her makeup-less look was praised, and even now, her fans are admiring her versatility.
Oftentimes, people in pursuit of money conform only to regret and feel conflicted. Some receive backlash from others who question the change or sense inauthenticity in the actions. Keys, on the contrary, resisted the pressures, ultimately attracting an audience drawn to her authentic self. It’s a testament that you can never lose when you stay true to yourself.