“People get ready/There’s a train a coming,” Alicia Keys sang a few years ago in a haunting cover of the gospel-inspired, Curtis Mayfield classic. Now she’s 31, the mother of a young boy named Egypt, married to music producer Swizz Beatz (a.k.a. Kaseem Dean), executive producer of a forthcoming feature film and a collaborator on a new line of Reebok sneakers. And who else would attempt a cover of the “Gummi Bears” theme song on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” no less pull it off?
Did we mention that she has a new Album, “Girl on Fire,” coming out tomorrow, although CDs were spotted on at least one Starbucks counter over the weekend. Keys performed at the Starbucks Global Leadership conference in Houston last month. She is scheduled to appear on “The X Factor” this week, according to The DeadBolt’s Nadya Vlassoff, and will be on SiriusXM's "Town Hall" this afternoon.
The title track of the new album, “Girl on Fire,” “came from a feeling,” Keys told Cynthia McFadden on “Nightline” last week after McFadden confessed that the tune has “become my new hairbrush song.”
“This feeling of, kind of finding my own space and my own place to be myself, my own full self,” Keys says. “Love it or hate it, whatever the case, here I am and here's me. I'm more excited about this album than I've ever been for any record ever."
Keys’ line of sneakers for the Reebok Classics collection launched earlier this fall. The Reebok Freestyle Hi shoes include models with the New York skyline, piano keys and one with tribal patterns, according to Rap-Up.com. Although it probably doesn’t hurt that Swizz Beatz is creative director of Reebok Classics, the good fortune apparently flows both ways.
"Sometimes brands get involved with singers who have a diva style and the products they're pushing to ordinary consumers aren't things you could actually imagine them wearing," Todd Krinsky, who heads the Classics business unit for Reebok, tells the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher John Farley. "There are many sides to Alicia. You may see her dressed up on stage, but then you see her in a cool, everyday funky outfit when the paparazzi catch her with Egypt in SoHo."
The confluence of all these elements in Keys’ personal life apparently fits the strategy of Reeboks Classics like, well, a shoe that fits. “Classics targets consumers who want to be ‘fit for the street’ and value trend-right products that fit their mobile lifestyle,” according to a strategy statement on the Adidas Group website.
"Being a mom, having a new marriage, having a new album with a new outlook on life, and really feeling empowered -- this whole message Alicia's created with her new music is where we are as a brand," Krinsky says. Besides the current collection, to which Keys added some “personal touches,” Krinsky tells Farley that she “is helping to create ‘fashion forward’ sneakers from scratch.”
"They probably hate me," Keys jokes. "I was like, 'I don't like it, let's try this, let's try that. Let's fix these colors; can we take that away?' There's a lot of back and forth."
Not all of the early reviews of Keys’ new album are positive.
“Emancipation narratives are all-pervasive in female pop,” writes Kitty Empire in The Guardian. “Often, though, a lot of hot air about ‘breaking free’ or ‘finding oneself as a woman’ doesn't mean the singer, after years of smiley servitude, has emasculated her handlers with pinking shears, torched the recording studio and hit the road with all the cash in the kitty and her tutu aflame. It just tends to signal a new stylist.”
Empire gives the album two stars out of five.
“It's always a bad sign when performers start including gurgling babies on their albums, like some aural equivalent of Facebook family snaps,” writes Andy Gill in The Independent.
In a “Person to Person” interview on CBS News Friday, Lara Logan asks, “You don't need approval because you know what matters...?” Keys responds, “Yes, and that is the most incredible feeling in the world. ... And being OK with, ‘I think this.’ That's it. That's what I think.”
"I think a lot of my life I did live ahead of myself," Keys tells “Nightline”’s McFadden. "That's not a bad thing, you know, to have visions and dreams for yourself…that was all I had, was the chance to show and prove that I was good at it. I was going to do that to every degree possible."
Never mind a few bad reviews here and there, Keys’ train has evidently has arrived at the station.