Sunday night’s 2020 BET Awards were packed with powerful performances and poignant words as Black lives and Black music took center stage — and no single part of the show captured all of that better than the moment Alicia Keys belted out her heartbreaking new ballad, “Perfect Way to Die.”
With little more than a grand piano and an empty street to support her, Keys raised her voice to highlight loss and grief in the face of systemic racism and police brutality.
“Simple walk to the corner store/ Mama never thought she would be getting a call from the coroner/ Said her son's been gunned down, been gunned down/ ‘Can you come now?’/ Tears in her eyes, ‘Can you calm down?/ Please, ma'am, can you calm down?’” she sang in the darkness.
But as the sad and unfortunately familiar tale in the song came to an end, Keys stepped away from the piano and knelt down in the street as the camera panned out to reveal so much more to the scene — the pavement was covered in the names of dozens of men and women whose lives were cut short.
There’s so much on our minds and in our hearts! My favorite thing about music is how it reminds us that we’re not alone. This performance for the #BETAwards touched me deeply. What did u feel? pic.twitter.com/LXygzQfTgp— Alicia Keys (@aliciakeys) June 29, 2020
“I love the song so much,” Keys told Vogue shortly after releasing the single earlier this month. “I wish it didn’t have to exist. It was written in reflection of (the deaths of) Michael Brown and Sandra Bland and it was written a little while ago, but right now is the time to share it.”
And in an Instagram post Keys shared just a day before that interview, she noted that the title of the track, which will be featured on her upcoming album, “Alicia,” doesn’t make sense because “there is NO perfect way to die.”
“Just like it doesn’t make sense that there are so many innocent lives that should not have been taken from us due to the destructive culture of police violence,” she added. “Sometimes I don’t have the words and music is the only thing that can speak. I hope this speaks to you. I hope one day this song won’t be so relevant. Let’s NEVER stop fighting for justice.”