Alicia Keys Is All Heart (and Soul)

Alicia Keys Is All Heart (and Soul)
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The singer-songwriter and beauty entrepreneur is in an empire state of mind after years of self-doubt

<p><a href="">Erik Carter</a></p>

Alicia Keys knows how to savor the sweet things in life.

It’s 61 degrees and overcast when she emerges onto the patio of a stately home in the hills of La Jolla, California, for her PEOPLE photo shoot, and the Grammy-winning star is clearly battling a chill as she cozies up beside a space heater, rolling clouds blocking the expansive Pacific Ocean that stretches out in front of her.

Even so, she brings her own sunshine in a flowy marigold L’Idée dress. She brought her own snacks too.

“They’re called SmartSweets. Three grams of sugar—and they’re good!” she says, biting into a gummy treat before handing the rest over to a member of her team so she can step back into the camera frame.

That’s the thing about Alicia Keys: She prioritizes self-care but never at the expense of feeling good and enjoying the little things.

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That mentality is how she’s maintained a successful music career in a cutthroat industry for more than 20 years and how she’s thrived in her marriage to producer Swizz Beatz, 45, with whom she shares sons Egypt, 13, and Genesis, 9. It’s also the driving force behind her Keys Soulcare beauty line, an array of offerings that honor the connection between skin and spirit.

“If you’re not connected to your inner [self], then you can’t present your[self] most confidently outwardly,” she says, two outfit changes later, from the warmth of the home. “When I’m really hearing negative talk in my head, I’m trying to shift that to a positive version of it so I don’t get lost in that. So one of my mantras of the century is: ‘I surround myself with things that are good for me.’ And it’s okay letting go of the things that don’t make you happy.”

And Keys, 43, is spreading the gospel of that mantra with Soulcare: The brand’s comforting balm has it printed on the packaging as an affirmation. The idea that consumers could easily start and end their days with skincare that puts them in a positive mindset was one she kept in mind when creating Soulcare with dermatologist Dr. Renée Snyder.

In the years since its 2020 launch, the brand has grown to a full collection of offerings, and Keys has recently partnered with the Amazon Premium Beauty Store to bring its feel-good selections to an even wider audience. Their latest launch is the Deeply Replenishing Squalane Facial Oil, a game-changer for acne prone skin because the non-comedogenic formula nourishes oily complexions without causing breakouts.

“Beauty is a word that we associate with a physical presence, but I think that beauty is actually your spirit,” she says. “It’s what you can’t see that makes you so beautiful. It’s that nurturing energy. It’s that loving attention, that empathy. That, to me, is what beauty is. And the most beautiful people I know are those kinds of people. It’s that spirit essence.”

It took a long time for Keys to come to terms with the fact that beauty isn’t just skin-deep. Born in New York City to single mom Terria, she was raised in the melting pot that is Hell’s Kitchen, an upbringing she’d later use as inspiration for her new Broadway show of the same name (but more on that later).

After getting her start in the industry at just 4 years old (she had a small role on a 1985 episode of The Cosby Show as a pal of Rudy Huxtable), Keys skipped two grades and was accepted at prestigious Columbia University when she was a teen. She dropped out just four weeks later to pursue a music career and in 2001 broke through with Songs in A Minor, her chart-topping debut album.

<p><a href="" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Erik Carter</a></p>

The record, with No. 1 hits like “Fallin,” catapulted Keys to superstardom and earned her the first five of her 16 Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist. But her overnight fame came at a price.

Constant acne breakouts—and embracing a tomboy style in the era of Britney Spears’s bubblegum pop and Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty”-girl antics—sent Keys down a rabbit hole of self-doubt, as she found the entertainment world unforgiving and judgmental.

“I always felt like on top of being a young girl just entering into the music business, exploring, being on television and performing under hot lights and sweating and just [being] in a whole new universe—it was like an alien universe,” she says. “I didn’t feel like myself. I felt like I had to conform to everybody’s expectation of what they thought I was or should be. And it really took quite a lot of discipline and a lot of time before I got to the place where I realized that I didn’t have to be this person, that I didn’t have to fulfill other people’s dreams of me. I could actually just be who I am.”

And identity means everything to Keys.

<p><a href="" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Erik Carter</a></p>

“I'm really proud of being who I am,” she says. “No matter how you meet me—if you meet me at the school picking up my kids, if you meet me in the studio, if you meet me on the couch with my husband, you're going to meet the same person.”

But her journey to self-acceptance hasn’t been without some bumps in the road. In 2016 the star made a declaration that went viral: She was done wearing makeup, inadvertently becoming the bare-faced face of a no-makeup movement. Keys has since reincorporated makeup into her life and has said that she considers the time a “rebellious moment” in which she felt she’d become so obsessed with getting validation from others that she felt compelled to buck societal beauty standards.

“It’s hard to be [yourself]. Who are you? Who actually are you anyway, most of the time? It’s tricky, especially at the very beginning,” she says. “You’re trying to fit in. You want people to like what you’re doing, you want positive feedback. And when you don’t get that, it feels jarring, and it definitely feels uncomfortable.”

Learning to understand herself also meant learning that her relationships with others were just as important—which meant it was time to shed what Keys calls “toxic energy” that she says was no good for her.

Leaving that negativity behind gave the star a new perspective, one that allowed her to live life on her own terms for the first time.

“It was my relationship with beauty in a lot of ways, talking about beauty and how I thought I had to kind of represent myself in a way that made other people happy,” she says. “And I didn’t understand that I needed to check in to myself and say, ‘What makes you happy? What’s going to bring you joy? How can you release the things that don’t serve you?’”

In recent years Keys has learned what does serve her: reading books, being outside in nature, peace and quiet (for someone who has dedicated her life to making beautiful sounds, Keys is a huge fan of silence) and, of course, her family.

In her 2020 memoir More Myself, Keys revealed the rather unorthodox origins of her union with Beatz, whom she married in 2010. Though they first met as teenagers in New York City in the 1990s, Keys was unimpressed by his ostentatious diamonds and fancy cars. “I wanted nothing to do with that scene or with Swizz,” she writes in the book.

<p><a href="" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Erik Carter</a></p>

But in 2008 they reconnected on a music project, and sparks flew. Two years later they tied the knot beside the Mediterranean Sea and before long had expanded their family. (Beatz is also dad to children Kasseem Jr., Prince Nasir and Nicole from previous relationships.)

He’s remained a pillar of support over the years for Keys and recently praised her duet with Usher during his Super Bowl LVIII halftime show on Feb. 11. “Tonight’s performance was nothing but amazing with 2 amazing Giants!” he wrote on Instagram. “Congrats @usher and my love @aliciakeys that song is a classic.”

“My husband—every second, it’s noise. But that’s him, and I love it,” she says. “He is the best DJ in the universe, and we walk down the street, and it’s a party. It’s amazing.”

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In raising their sons, the couple have prioritized communication, and Keys says it’s important to her that her boys are emotionally intelligent young men who are able to trust their gut when it comes to making decisions.

“I love conversations—we’re big on conversations. We’re big on communication,” she says. “There’s definitely parameters for things, but we have to give them the ability to let them explore and let them figure out what they like. And I really take their lead in a lot of ways. I ask them, ‘What do you think? What do you want? What feels right for you?’ Because I think being in touch with your spirit and your intuition is a big key to life. If you don’t know what you think or what you feel, it’s going to be hard for you. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time not fully understanding or not trusting what I felt, and so I want to teach them to trust their instincts.”

Keys was a teenager when she entered the music industry, and Egypt is nearly the same age as his mom was when she began her career. In 2019 he joined her onstage at the iHeartRadio Music Awards, playing piano as she sang her song “Raise a Man.” Keys revisited the moment in a memorable scene in her YouTube Originals docuseries Noted: Alicia Keys the Untold Stories, crying as she watched it back. As Egypt and Genesis grow and pursue their own passions, Keys says she hopes that intuition will lead them in the right direction.

“We’re doing really good, and they’re really smart. They’re really independent,” she says of her sons. “I really love watching them grow.”

Teaching her boys to be open was made easier by Beatz, in whom Keys has found a confidant, sounding board and partner.

“I spent a lot of relationships not really saying how I actually felt, and they fell apart,” she says. “If you can’t speak your truth, then you can’t be yourself. That’s a key! I don’t worry about speaking to him, even about the hard things, and I think he feels the same. I know that I can tell him what I really feel.”

That’s not to say their bond is all serious talk all the time; Keys says she and Beatz “laugh a lot” together and embrace one another’s silly sides. Then, of course, there’s alone time . . . despite Genesis's best efforts.

“Even though Genesis wants the Keys Soulcare, he does not want us to have it,” she says with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Genesis, you cannot come in the bed every night. You can’t!’ ‘But why?’ He’s cute, though. I had to break it down. I said, ‘Listen, when Mommy and Daddy are happy, whole family happy. Mommy and Daddy not happy, whole family not happy.’ ”

She and Beatz are also collaborators, and their art exhibition Giants opened at the Brooklyn Museum on Feb. 10, through July 7. (Their expansive collection includes works from Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gordon Parks, Kehinde Wiley and others.)

It’s been more than two years since Keys last released an album of original music (2021’s double album Keys), and the star says she’s still enchanted by music’s ability to let her “go into a new dimension and really be able to express where I’m at right now.”

<p><a href="" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Erik Carter</a></p>

But for now her focus remains on Soulcare—and on Hell’s Kitchen, her long-gestating musical set to open on Broadway in April after receiving positive reviews Off-Broadway. A jukebox musical set to Keys’s prolific song catalog, the show centers on a 17-year-old girl named Ali growing up in the same New York City neighborhood as Keys and is inspired by Keys’s life. Keys, of course, created the music, and the show is directed by Michael Greif with a script by Kristoffer Diaz.

“I can’t even believe this. Hell’s Kitchen is something I’ve been working on for the past 13 years,” she says. “To see it come to fruition and to see it really come together. . . . Ultimately it’s a love story between mother and daughter. It’s incredible. My mother left Toledo, Ohio, to come to NYU in New York City. She is the New York story, the one that came from wherever and chased the dream, which is what allowed me to be in New York City and grow up there and find a dream. So that’s really the concept of Hell’s Kitchen. To watch that come to life with my mother . . . is such a dream come true.”

The Broadway musical is just the latest milestone crossed off of Keys’s bucket list. And it certainly won’t be the last.

<p><a href="" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Erik Carter</a></p>

“I started so young in the music business. You have to be a self-starter,” she says. “You have to be able to take the bruises and the bumps and the hard times, and you can’t let it knock you off your feet. I think that all of that energy and all of that ability to keep pushing and keep forging forward and keep believing—”

She interrupts herself. “No one’s going to believe for you. You have to make them believe.”


Photographer Erik Carter

Cinematographer Eric Longden

Hair Tanya “Nena” Melendez

Makeup Ayako

Stylist Jason Bolden


Blue Look Hanifa

Orange and Pink Looks L‘Idée

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