Keys graced us with a performance of the aforementioned single as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live the following weekend, as well as a powerful performance of the gospel-inspired “Hallelujah.” And per usual, she slayed. But perhaps what was more delightful than taking in Keys’ new material was seeing her notably au naturale appearance on stage, much like the visual she released in tandem with the song. No glam, no contouring, no lashes and she looked simply radiant. I mean, can we just get into this look?
Sure, there might be some foundation and concealer, but one could speculate that Keys is completely sans makeup. That, paired with her turban and pineappled curls speaks volumes to her level of confidence in her own skin without the glitz and glamour. She’s allowing the world to see her musical and personal evolution, and we are absolutely here for it.
Publically, Keys has long been a visual representation of a celebrity embracing cultural hairstyles and girl-next-door beauty (think cornrows, beads and curly fro’s via her Songs In A Minor and The Diary of phases circa 2001-2005) so it wasn’t a complete surprise to see her this way. But the 35-year-old mother of two revealed last year that a part of her tomboyish style and toned down makeup was really her way of dealing with insecurities she’d had since she was a young girl. In her essay, “A Revelation,” Keys discusses the challenges she experienced in concealing parts of herself for fears of how she was perceived by men and teachers, and once she broke into the industry, even her sexuality came into question:
“Then, because of the way I spoke or carried myself, people started calling me gay and hard and I wasn’t gay, but I was hard and although I felt comfortable there, it made me uncomfortable that people were judging me and so slowly I hid that side of myself. I put on dresses and didn’t braid my whole head up, so people could see more of the “real” me, even though at that point I’m sure I was more confused than ever of what the real me was.”'
She goes on to confess that even as an adult well into her career, she continued to struggle with the urge to hide parts of herself in public. That is, until she finally gave herself permission to be who she really is, whatever that meant for her:
“And just the other day it hit me! OMG! Alicia!!! Why are you choosing to be that person?? That is so old and outdated!! STOP!!
You are allowed to be smart
You are allowed to be beautiful
You are allowed to be radical and have strong thoughts that others might not agree with
You are allowed to be tough
You are allowed to be sexy
You are allowed to be bold
You are allowed to be shapely
You are allowed to be kind
You are allowed to be yourself!!”'
Now with a glimpse into what will be the singer’s sixth studio album, it seems we’re seeing Keys’ evolution as a woman on a deeper level than any memoir, essay or album could convey. Perhaps in a nod to other celebrities who’ve publicly challenged the beauty status quo, Keys is now saying to the world: This is me, bare, and I don’t need anyone’s permission but my own to feel comfortable in who I am. It’s as if she’s stepped into a new level of self-love and acceptance right before our eyes, and is literally showing herself bare in all her innate beauty, flaws and vulnerability included. And in listening to the lyrics of “In Common” (“If you could love somebody like me, you must be messed up too…”) we’re hearing those vulnerabilities too.
This is a more evolved Alicia Keys — the artist whose early image encouraged women of color to rock braids well into adulthood if we wanted to and the woman who at times has had her own troubles with self-acceptance, but who has chosen to finally stop hiding what comes naturally. Watching her performance on SNL was, for me, like watching one of my girlfriends or cousins share the most personal parts of herself with the world in all her #BlackGirlMagic glory, freckles, blemishes, hair tied up and delivering her God-given talents. Even with thousands of miles between us, her performance felt like an intimate moment to collectively pause and bask in the brilliance of what it means to embrace being beautifully flawed and comfortable in your natural essence. That kind of all-encompassing self-love is at the core of what it truly means to be beautiful, anyway.