Alicia Keys’ new song In Common is groundbreaking, mostly because of the photo on its cover. The photo shows the artist without makeup, her hair tied up in a scarf, skin freckled, and glowing. While this is a rarity for most figures at the forefront of the media, she appeared a few days later with a gorgeous and high profile musical performance on Saturday Night Live - makeup free with her hair tied up, once again. We know Alicia Keys to be down-to-earth with her cool curly hair, kind eyes, smooth voice and maybe a bit of a “tom-boy” aesthetic, but to see a woman who is in the spotlight with zero trace of mascara or foundation is groundbreaking and inspiring.
We often feel these same, quotidian masks of makeup guarding and burdening us, but it is less often that we do something about it. However, Keys was forced to crack her mask in a photoshoot. She shared that she waltzed into her shoot for her new album, coming straight from the gym: hair tied up in a scarf, no makeup, sweatshirt, expecting to be made up and glamour-ized per usual, but the photographer was inspired. She decided to take the photos right then and there.
It’s been four years since the iconic Alicia Keys released her album Girl On Fire, and since then, fans have been desperately waiting for a new album. Her new single discusses love, faults, challenge, and connection. The In Common single has deep lyrics that speak to all of us, “If you could love somebody like me / You must be messed up too.” These words discuss the aspect of any intimate relationship in which we must work to accept our partner’s flaws as we work to accept or overcome our own, and her sound reflects the the naked authenticity that we see on the cover.
Keys wrote in late May about a sort of revolution she has undergone in relation to her own set of challenges; maybe those referred to in In Common. Keys shares, “Before I started my new album, I wrote a list of all the things that I was sick of… One of the many things I was tired of was the constant judgment of women.” She then relayed these frustrations through her art (it is self-expression, after all): “I realized that during this process, I wrote a lot of songs about masks filled with metaphors about hiding. I needed these songs because I was really feeling those insecurities.”
On the makeupless photoshoot, Keys says, “I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt. I felt powerful because my initial intentions realized themselves. My desire to listen to myself, to tear down the walls I built over all those years, to be full of purpose, and to be myself!”
Keys was liberated and, from her mask of insecurities, was empowered deeply through that. As she is now more authentically herself, she can be an inspiration to all of us “masked women.” The media creates a world in which women must put on a mask to feel beautiful or hide weakness, but Alicia Keys is breaking that mold. In Common is a wonderful piece of music, but the picture we see as we listen to our beloved artist looking so raw and genuine makes the music so much sweeter as it empowers women to crack their mask, and feel honestly beautiful too.