More Myself: A Journey, by Alicia Keys
It may not be particularly surprising, but in reading this book I was struck by the fact that Alicia Keys was, like many people, a lot more likable when she was trying to please people like me than she is now. This is a book that seeks to frame the author’s turn from accessible and classy R&B music that was popular and that appealed to the interests of a mass audience that included crossover pop and adult contemporary audiences of diverse backgrounds to more strident and woke and leftist political material that has a smaller audience of which I am not a part nor have any wish to be as being a choice for authenticity. Instead, it comes off in many ways like the author buying too much into her own hype and getting caught up in destructive identity myths, such as what appears to be a racialist Egyptology where the author gets called out (but is unable to fully recognize) the nasty consequences of denying her mixed-race heritage as half African-American and half Italian-American. In many ways, as the book makes clear, going woke is a good way to go broke, and the book likely comes as a way for the author to try to drum up support for her failing music career as she has alienated mainstream listeners like myself. It’s not a successful effort, even if it does reveal what the author thinks about her life and career.
This book is about 250 pages and is divided into three sections and nineteen numbered chapters. The book begins with an introductory section where the author discusses herself and her image. After that the first section, “Dreaming,” contains eight chapters that discuss the period from the beginning of her life as being the daughter of a single mother with a largely absent father who wasn’t even in a relationship with her mom except in a sexual sense to the period where she has grown into adulthood, lied about her age and dated a much older man starting from the age of fourteen, and started her recording career and made her first pilgrimage to Egypt and dealt with the death of her grandmother. After that, the second part of the book covers the period from what she views as a shift in her thinking and “Creating” to the creation of the rather dull and cliched “Girl On Fire,” her last major hit as a solo artist. The third part of the book discusses her “Awakening” to matters of politics and identity, and shows herself stridently involved in various matters, believing herself to be authentic when she is really tiresome.
In reading this book, it is clear why it is that so much of Alicia Keys’ music, during her peak popularity, was both boring and good, and that was because Keys was aiming at popularity and making music that was highly influenced by music labels that knew what it is would be popular to a mass audience. If Keys was herself rougher and less polished than her classy piano songs gave off, this was no big problem as long as she was willing to make music that other people wanted to hear. Eventually, with marriage and the birth of her children, and her growing political activism, and a high degree of interest in Egypt, which the author thinks of as some sort of homeland, perhaps because it’s the most obvious part of Africa with a proud and noble history that is respected by all, although not an obvious place for the author herself to be descended from, the author’s career takes an obvious turn into less accessible and less pleasing destinations. And while the author is content with the direction of her career and her decision to be herself, it doesn’t mean that the reader has to be pleased with it.