“It feels like a skating song to me,” says Alicia Keys, of her new track “Time Machine.” “Like after you’ve gone around a few times, and you finally get your legs and you’re free and you’re just able to completely be yourself…not worried about Am I gonna fall? Am I gonna trip? Is someone going to bump into me?”
That explains why we are currently seated in the arcade of World on Wheels, Los Angeles’s famed roller rink, where the singer-songwriter is on the set of her new single’s music video. A few minutes earlier, she was shooting a scene from behind the rentals booth. As the lights shifted from hot pink to royal blue, Keys — dressed in a Notorious B.I.G. t-shirt styled as a crop top, her hair tied up in a high side pony — danced and worked her angles, ever so slightly adjusting her arms and face to give co-directors Art Johnson and Cole Cook (Keys’ brother) a few options in post.
Gearing up for the release of her as-yet-untitled seventh studio album, the recently announced 2020 Grammys host says she wants her upcoming record to express all the sides to who she is. It all starts with “Time Machine,” which takes her in a direction that, per Keys, has “a little Michael Jackson… a little Biggie…a little P-Funk.” The sound is a departure from the piano-heavy ballads she’s known for, but that’s the risk Keys wants to take now that she’s feeling more comfortable in her own skin. “It’s definitely unexpected,” she says, of the album’s direction. “I want people to know that there’s all these sides to all of us, and me too.”
Later, Keys heads down to the rink floor to shoot a scene that has her toying with a state-of-the-art keyboard. She steps out in bright pink athleisure wear before being greeted by her music producer husband Swizz Beatz. Celebrity stylist Jason Bolden, of Netflix’s Styling Hollywood, is also on set, offering Keys two jacket options. She chooses one with a multicolored, geometric print. Once the cameras start to roll, Keys again gets creative with her movement, miming like she’s adjusting levels and playing chords, and later twirling around on her skates to display how aerodynamic her garment is. As the track reaches its end point, the musician snaps around the long sleek braid that’s been added to her hair, shortly before her stylist steps in to reconfigure it for the next take.
Having to whip a braid over and over again may feel a little ridiculous after a while, but Keys tells EW, “When I listen to this song, it makes me feel easier to [do] that because [‘Time Machine’] is such a zone — it’s such a vibration and frequency that you can’t help but just feel good.” Ever the professional, Keys isn’t too worried about what the crowd here thinks of her freestyle dancing. “If it looks stupid, it looks stupid. If it looks good, it looks good.”
While she cops to being more known for story-based visuals like the ones for “If I Ain’t Got You” and “Like You’ll Never See Me Again,” Keys now asks questions like “How can it feel emotional without necessarily having a story attached to it, so people can create their own?” before planning her next music video projects. “Colors have been a big deal for me lately too,” the artist adds after citing “Girl on Fire” as another one of her videos she still finds inspiration in.
Later, Keys casually mentions Tierra Whack as a new artist she admires. The experimental rapper from Philadelphia eventually shows up for a guest role in the video, skating hand in hand with the singer as silver tinsel hangs from the rink’s ceiling. The video eventually ends with Whack waking Keys up from a nap; her roller rink dance party was all just a dream. As Keys explains, “I’ve always wanted to dream really fantastical, crazy dreams where you wake up and you’re like ‘I just saw this and this. I feel like in some way I’m manifesting the dream state more in my awake state.”
You can check out the full video, along with a behind-the-scenes clip from the shoot, above.