Alicia Keys explains why she's always felt like “an outsider”

Written by Lollie King

She may be one of the most successful artists in modern history, but – just like the rest of us – Alicia Keys still has moments of feeling lost and alone.

It’s estimated that one in six of us suffer from imposter syndrome – the crippling sense of “career fear” that you or your abilities are somehow not enough.

And Alicia Keys, phenomenal woman that she is, counts herself among that number.

The multi-award-winning singer recently revealed that she suffers all the same kind of doubts and insecurities as the rest of us when it comes to her role as an artist; despite having made a name for herself in the industry since the turn of the millennium.

“I have felt like an outsider,” Keys tells the BBC, in a new profile by music reporter Mark Savage. “I think I learned along the way how to fit into multiple circumstances in different places, different spaces, different people. But I always felt like I was from another planet or another time, and I didn’t really belong here.

“Like I was somehow dropped in this era and I was like, ‘Wait, how did I get here?’” she adds. 

Similarly when Keys swept the board with five Grammy wins in 2002, it “felt unbelievable to me,” she says, “even otherworldly”.

“There you are, with all these accolades and all this celebration – and you don’t know exactly what to do with it, or even why was it you,” she says.

“It feels almost like it’s overkill. You think, ‘Spread it around, don’t just give [the awards] to me,’ you know?”

It’s exactly this humility that has made Keys such a relatable figure over the course of her 19-year career. Yes, she has a whopping 15 Grammys under her belt, not a mention a rock-solid (and low-profile) marriage to fellow R’n’B star Swizz Beatz.

And yet, she is happy to be honest about journey, with an enduring sense of humanity which recognises that we are all uniquely flawed and insecure at times; no matter how successful we appear to be on the surface.

Keys’ admission of self-doubt recognises in the same breath that it is not necessarily a bad thing, either. As psychology columnist Oliver Burkeman writes in the Guardian: “The solution to imposter syndrome is to see that you are one.

“Humanity is divided into two,” he says. “On the one hand, those who are improvising their way through life, patching solutions together and putting out fires as they go, but deluding themselves otherwise; and on the other, those doing exactly the same, except that they know it. It’s infinitely better to be the latter.”

Elsewhere, Keys is using her voice to call for change in an age of continued racial injustice. 

Her new single Perfect Way To Die, taken from her seventh album Alicia, was penned before the emergence of Black Lives Matter this year, but nevertheless strikes a powerful chord with the movement. 

It tells the story of a mother whose child was murdered, referencing the deaths of Michael Brown, a Black teenager who was shot dead by police in Missouri in 2014, and Sandra Bland, an African American woman who died in police custody following a traffic stop in Texas in 2015.

The song is undeniably moving and exposes the dark realities of being Black in America. 

“I always knew it would be relevant, unfortunately, the blatant disrespect of Black lives,” Keys says in her autobiography. “So in a sad way I did actually know that whenever [the song] came out, it would be right on time.

“I didn’t know that I would feel so moved to bring it out during this time, as this whole planet is recognising this tremendous injustice, no matter where we’re from.”

Images: Getty

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