On Sunday, October 9th, 2016, the multi-Grammy award winning singer, songwriter, producer and philanthropist, Alicia Keys, took over Times Square.
To celebrate the release of her new album HERE, Alicia Keys hosted an impromptu concert at Times Square, and it cost her fans nothing to watch. As to be expected with an Alicia Keys FREE concert, there was limited spacing – people were aching to see the show from the outside perimeter of the performance space, and many were watching from their hotel balconies.
To give you an idea of what a momentous performance this was; I have never heard of Times Square being shut down for any artist to perform, so this gives you a sense of the caliber of singer we are dealing with, and the huge respect and supports she receives from absolutely everybody.
I remember leaving the concert certain that this would be the easiest article I would ever write, because every single song had so much importance and meaning. I have an abundance of material to write about, but I find myself struggling to determine what I should say. How do you put such a meaningful performance into words? I am painfully aware that typed sentences cannot remotely do justice to the profoundness of Alicia Keys’ concert. I have never felt so woefully inadequate to cover an event, but I will do my best to at least give you an essence of the earth-shattering concert Alicia gave.
Before Alicia took to the stage, classic R&B tunes blasted through the speakers, to get the eager audience pumped up. When Alicia walked up, you can imagine the reaction from the crowd – people screamed, people yelled, people showed their adoration in any way they could. As opposed to addressing the crowd, she went straight to the piano, and started playing her new song: “The Gospel.” I must say: her voice is rich, pure, and simply flawless. Emotion drips from every word she sings, and to be in the presence of that is awe-inspiring.
There are few artists that are better live than they are in the recording studio – Adele is one of them, Ed Sheeran is another – Alicia Keys is exemplary of this type of artist. She is truly incredible live. That being said, Alicia’s unbelievable voice was only a fraction of what made her concert so great. After wetting the audience’s appetite with a song, she addressed them, briefly talking about the overall message of her new album, and then she did something that made me jump for joy. She encouraged everybody to put their phones down, and just be present in the moment. As someone who does not think life should be experienced through a screen, I fully endorsed this suggestion.
Alicia Keys is remarkably eloquent. Her new album is called ‘Here’, and fittingly, she went through all of the reasons she was ‘here’ in Times Square: she was here to represent expression, equality, and love. And we, as an audience, were all ‘here’ to live in the moment, hence the no-phone rule.
There were a total of FOUR musical guests during Alicia’s concert, and Q-Tip was the first. During her song, ‘You don’t Know my Name’, Alicia called out Q-Tip, and a Piano v. DJ battle commenced. The music was fresh, improvised, and deliciously unique. This exciting stunt was simply the expression of enjoying and creating new music, just for the sake of art.
Before I continue talking about Alicia Keys, I have to give a shout-out to whoever was responsible for the graphic displays. Eight of the billboards in Times Square were taken over by the concert, and they provided imagery that enhanced Alicia’s music and messages. The coordination of the graphics to the song lyrics was perfection. Understandably, they could not have practiced this timing in Times Square, yet not one single mistake was made, so bravo sirs and ma’ams.
Alicia was performing on her home turf, in New York, and you could tell – she was right at home on that stage. Alicia was comfortable, engaging, and her dancing exhibited so much rhythm. Every single movement she made was an expression of her art. During ‘One Love’, Alicia brought out Nas, the rapper, and they musically jived together.
Perhaps my favorite part of the performance was when Alicia sang her revamped version of ‘Fallin’’. There was an acoustic aspect to this version of her song, and the beat had a subtle remix that added freshness to her voice. In summary, it was blooming fantastic. Then Alicia moved to her song “In Common,” celebrating that what makes us different makes us special, and fresh.
Alicia appears so genuinely happy when performing, and her connection to the audience is visceral. At one point, this connection was so strong, that she said: “I’m feeling you, and you’re feeling me, I know this”.
Here, is so much more than just an album: it’s a message. This fact was extremely evident during the concert. Alicia Keys is one of those performers who uses her platform for all the right reasons. Alicia tackles race, gender, and sexuality – she believes that we have devolved beyond cavemen through our judgments of people. Alicia said this devolution is crazy, and what’s crazier is that there are 65 million displaced people called refugees – and then they are talking about building walls? People don’t need Trump; they need prayers, and collective light, prayers, and message. After this message, Alicia began to sing her song: “Hallelujah,” with images from the Haiti flood on the graphical displays. When she sang the lyrics, “Let me in”, the reference to the refugees was particularly strong, and her message was clear: let those in danger in, give them refuge.
Throughout the concert, Alicia played a mixture of her old and new songs. One of her favorite songs, “If I Ain’t Got You,” she dedicated to the audience to express her love for them. During this song, she called John Mayer to the stage, and the crowd went wild. John took his take on Alicia’s classic song, and then the duo harmonized like beasts. With John’s guitar solo, and Alicia’s piano playing, I had what the experts call an eargasm. The duet was so good, that when the song ended, Alicia and John even high fived.
Alicia then played another new song: “Blended Family.” She referenced the words of her son, who said that ‘family’ is people who love each other, and stick together, no matter what. She then dedicated this song to her family. Shortly after this song, she began talking about another prevalent issue: she explained how systemic racism is at a boiling point – gun laws don’t work, nor does the criminal justice system, and then she sang her new song: “We are Here.”
Fittingly, after the talk of how bleak the world is, Alicia sang “No One,” to highlight that everything is going to be all right. Then, to the delight and surprise of everybody, during “Empire State of Mind” the rapper Jay-Z came out.
As the concert drew to a close, Alicia began to get emotional. To preface her last song, “Holy War,” Alicia expressed how she grew up in this city, her mother is here – and she talks about the disrespect and marginalization of women. She complains that the media cares more about her makeup than the fact that she earns less than her male counterpart. Alicia beautifully argues that without bees there would be no food, but without women, there would be no humans. Things take a political turn, Alicia brings up a despicable man, “whose name rhymes with ‘Scum-p’”. Alicia scorns the lack of respect Trump has for women, and how he talks about grabbing pussy. Then Alicia says something so profound, she said: “You know what I say to that, Trump?” And then she raises her middle finger. Following this, she encourages everybody to vote. This political speech was rather fitting, as the second presidential debate occurred that evening.
Once Alicia had said her piece, she brought things back to the music. She sang “Holy War,” and then ended the concert on a tribute to John Lennon. When Alicia shared the words of “Imagine,” it fittingly concluded the message of the concert. Just imagine how good the world could be if we lived in the here and now.
Alicia’s performance was a sight to behold. It was powerful, informative, and imperative. Her messages were strong and relevant, and her music was incredible.
If you would like to hear her message for yourself, pre-order Here by following this link. I know I will.