So while Steely was doing her thing with Jerry Wonda, Mahogs and I decided to dip into some CMJ madness and start the evening with Alicia Keys here in New York…judging from the time that this post is going up I bet you can tell that it was a loooong night.
In support of her new album, The Element of Freedom, Alicia Keys decided to embark on a “lecture and performance” series beginning at NYU. Conceptually, it’s a great idea: a look into the creative process of an artist and a chance to see them in a non-industry setting and talk to real fans and students of music. The crowd was made up mostly of NYU students and faculty, with a few standard media folks and executives. While taking our seats you could feel the energy that the students had, especially since many of them were music/creative majors who were just amped to see her live.
The setup was taken right out of the Inside the Actor’s Studio handbook, with MTV’s Sway serving as her James Lipton, but after 2 minutes of them going back and forth with obviously rehearsed questions, I would have preferred Mr. Lipton himself. Overall, it was like watching a fluff magazine article live, sprinkled with Alica giving doses of positive affirmations that she says she has learned through the years, ie. “never let anyone tell you no” and remembering her time as a student while she was pursuing music, working with Stevie Wonder, and more. You could tell that Sway wanted to go a little more indepth, and he lightly touched on a few things, but overall it was more of a light-hearted conversation than a true collegiate lecture.
For those in the audience expecting him to go in about her relationship with Swizz Beats, personal dramas, etcâ€”we only learned that she experienced a low period during her 3rd album, As I Am, which resulted in her restaffing her inner circle and rethinking some friendships and relationships. Fair enough, since she has to sell and album, and the night was about her music, not her personal life. Judging my the two freestanding microphones in the crowd, I assumed there was a freestyle Q&A, so I was expecting to learn more about her from the answers that she would give the students as they asked their questions. And this is where it got a little laughable from a jaded-industry perspective. There was no line of nervous kids waiting to speak their piece, but there were two young ladies who moderated hand selected, pre-screened questions from the crowd. Great. A classic PR “we are gonna control the message” move, which in a way, is completely understandable. Still, the music-geek/nosy observer in me just wanted that young and talented journalism major to get her chance to go in with Alicia and inject something unexpected into the evening. My guess is that there’s always Oprah a few years from now.
In the end, the night was saved by a 45-minute performance which reminded us why Alicia is the incredible talent we all love. She opened up with her piece from Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” and then proceeded to take us through her hits and cuts from her new album. A real treat for even the die-hard media folks who were literally “tool cool for school” and declined to stand up and rock out like the rest of us. Overall, Elements sounds and looks like another solid package from Alicia, with a clear sense of experimentation and growth that is refreshing, and the artwork is great, which is always a plus in my eyes. And while I was initially on the “oh this is pure marketing” tip, by the end of the night no one in that room can say that they didn’t feel lucky to be there. We hear that the series is moving on to Morehouse College and then to UCLA, so get your tickets if you can…and get there early.
Now only if I could bribe Wouri (her stylist) into giving me those boots…
Image: Dave Goodson
Another review to check out: ENT
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