Today we celebrate the birthday of the legendary Alicia Keys!
The powerful pop star has churned out impactful hits for over a decade; and at this point, her vast discography might be overwhelming for the newly initiated.
It’s hard to list out how many hits she’s had over the years, but for those (somehow) new to her music, here are 8 essential listens to help newbies dip their toes in as we wish the prodigy a happy 40th birthday.
Put It In A Love Song
A powerful track from an even more powerful duo, “Put It in A Love Song” is exactly as epic as one would expect from an Alicia Keys and Beyonce collab. Some smart production choices stop “Put It in A Love Song” from being another heart-wrenching ballad, as the track’s pulsating drums and unifying claps turn it into a clubby call-to-arms. Beyonce, of course, only adds to this intensity by just being present.
Sampling the idiosyncratic Dirty Ol’ Bastard, “Girlfriend” finds Keys traversing Hip-Hop with a veteran level of swagger. She takes the “Brooklyn Zoo’s” coarse instrumental and turns it into a candid and relatable R&B anthem via her soaring vocals. “I think I’m jealous of your girlfriend,” Keys admits, “though she’s just a girl that is your friend.” The track is an unfortunately jealous sentiment we all can relate to.
Girl on Fire
It seems impossible to read the song’s title without belting it. One of her definitive tracks, “Girl on Fire” is one of Keys’s most empowering anthems and was written after she married her husband Swizz Beatz and gave birth to her baby son – a time when she truly was on fire and crushing it. As of now, the song has sold over 4 million paid downloads and has been streamed countless times.
Teenage Love Affair
On this funky ode to young love, Keys reworks the infamous melody of The Temprees’ “(Girl) I Love You” and somehow makes it brighter and even more opulent. The track itself is transporting and harkens us all back to the first big love we ever had as teens. The video continues to toy with nostalgia, as it’s based on Spike Lee’s 1998 film School Daze. Driven by a chorus that’s gleeful and infectious as hell, Key’s soulful crooning will make anyone yearn for those middle school days.
Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart
“Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart” is a fantastic digression into ’80s synth-pop that fits Keys like a glove. Many critics compared the track to a Prince song, but it’s Keys’s passionate howls to “hold on” that help any heartbroken soul dry their tears and carry on.
When Usher and Alicia Keys teamed up for “My Boo,” there was no hotter pair in contemporary music. The duo had already struck lightning with their remix of Keys’s “If I Ain’t Got You,” and Usher had just made a name for himself after his insanely successful Confessions album. While both stars shine, it’s Keys’s candid writing and beautiful voice on the track’s hook that make “My Boo” a timeless classic.
If I Ain’t Got You
A classic track that earned Keys a Grammy award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, “If I Ain’t Got You” remains perhaps one of the greatest songs of all time. Her vocal range is on full display here, and the track’s chorus is a total earworm. “The song idea came together right after Aaliyah passed away,” Keys said to Complex. “It just made everything crystal clear to me – what matters, and what doesn’t.”
Her most impactful song on mainstream audiences, “No One” was a force to be reckoned with when it came out in 2007. It’s true that “Fallin” was the track that turned everyone on to Alicia’s power as a songwriter, but “No One” demonstrated Keys’s superstar power and showed that she was an unmatched talent in R&B and pop music. Her vocals soared, her technical musicianship, unlike anything that had come before. While her career is no doubt impressive, “No One” remains her finest moment.