For a musician who named her second album “The Diary of Alicia Keys,” Alicia Keys’ memoir came off as more of a book report.
Keys, a 15-time Grammy Award-winning singer, released an autobiography March 31, titled “More Myself: A Journey.” Most of it is in her own words, with some writing assistance from New York Times best-selling collaborative author Michelle Burford. The book also includes quotes from loved ones and others who impacted Keys throughout her life.
Although I was able to read the thoughts and emotions of an adolescent Keys, born Alicia Augello-Cook, her lack of depth in recounting events in her adulthood left me with the notion that once someone becomes famous, most of their issues evaporate.
Most people probably know of Keys from her R&B music alone. Some might know of her marriage to producer Kasseem Dean, otherwise known as “Swizz Beatz,” and their two children, Genesis Ali Dean and Egypt Daoud Dean. The majority of people likely assume she was simply born with the talent she has. Few know of the classical piano training, ballet and gymnastics classes and small acting roles that she says kept her from succumbing to the violence, drugs and prostitution in her New York City neighborhood.
Keys says in the book that she often felt she could not confidently claim herself as a black woman in America; she had to pick sides between her mother’s Italian, English and Scottish heritage and her father’s Jamaican descent. She writes that she wore baggy clothes as a teenager to avoid the gaze of men on the street and chose to sign a hasty record deal in return for a baby grand piano. These details brought me closer to the artist.
As the book outlines her growth as an artist, it becomes less vulnerable. Keys speaks less about her goals of improving her artistry and relationships with her mother, estranged father and first serious boyfriend — who was 24 at the time, when she was 14. She does not clearly define her thoughts and feelings toward them consistently throughout the book.
The book has little resolution, jumping from one thrill to the next rather than continuing to offer an intimate look at her life. It fixates on the dates and events Keys has attended and the people she has met.
The final section of the book gets political, reflecting on campaigns and movements in which she participated, such as #ICantBreathe — which was introduced in honor of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner, who was choked to death by police in New York — and #NoMakeup, a campaign she started three years ago to encourage women to show off their natural beauty.
Hard moments in Keys’ life become footnotes to make room for excessive details about her success and celebrities she has met, such as Prince, for whom she auditioned so she could sample one of his songs on her album; Oprah, on whose talk show she promoted her first album; and former President Barack Obama.
Despite the flash, the book, in general, earns points for authenticity and poetic style. It is authentic because it is not only Keys’ voice. At the beginning of each chapter, there are direct quotes and comments from her husband, mother, and mentor and record executive Clive Davis, among others. These statements balance Keys’ perspective and provide a more complete picture of her pivotal moments. They accurately illustrate Keys’ tone of voice, facial expressions, words and body language during important moments of her life, such as before she has gone on stage to accept various awards.
Contrasting her star-studded escapades, Keys details a sabbatical she took to Egypt in 2006, when she got to take a break and remove herself from the stress of her career.
It is in these personal moments that the writing is layered with metaphors and imagery. Instances of this poetic description appear in the third chapter, where the book reads, “Growth requires movement. And often, the only way forward is through an exit door,” and “Fame comes in many colors. One is electric purple, the shade of vibrant euphoria that fell over me when ‘Songs in A Minor’ reverberated.”
Despite giving every vivid detail of her tough early years, the book fails to provide emotional depth, especially as it relays Keys’ professional career and life after marriage. The lack of vulnerability in her adult life makes for an autobiography that, aside from the section about her childhood, is heavy on public knowledge and lacks personal insight.