15-time Grammy Award winning musician and philanthropist, Alicia Keys shut down the iconic New York City landmark of Times Square for an hour and a half to share her music with hundreds of fans. But she didn’t stop there, taking the opportunity to spread a positive message of social awareness that touched upon racism and the Black Lives Matter movement, global warming and the upcoming election.
This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to experience a concert unlike any other. It is not everyday that Times Square, a staple of New York City culture gets shut down for the night- and when I say shut down, I mean shut down. The lines were gated and formed along the sidewalk, eventually getting so big that they went all the way down the street and began snaking up and down the entire sidewalk which was covered with people. The roads were closed with traffic diverted in other directions and the famous red steps were enclosed behind the gates where the stage was set up. The only word I can think to use in order to describe it was insane, and I mean that in the best of ways.
DJ Guru got the crowd warmed up for Mrs. Keys with a DJ set that had the whole crowd moving which included hits like: “Get Your Freak On”, “Party Up”, “Bring ‘Em Out”, “Tambourine” and “Poison” among other heavy-hitting anthems. After that, it was time for the famed New York native to hit the stage and she did just that, being greeted by an excited, screaming crowd.
Keys began her set with one of her new songs, “The Gospel” which has that unmistakeable New York hip-hop sound. I can still feel the energy of the crowd when she was singing the line, “I’m tryna hit the top, ’cause the bottom ain’t where it’s at!” The whole Square was alive; the crowd was definitely feeling those lyrics and every moment.
The songstress then took a moment to address the crowd, thanking all of us for being there- in her backyard for this once-in-a-lifetime performance. Which is true- how often is it that Times Square is shut down? Just thinking about it is crazy.
Up next was her hit, “You Don’t Know My Name” and during the infamous phone call section of the song, she decided to call her friend, Q-Tip to talk about the aforementioned man who doesn’t know her name. And to the surprise of everyone, Q-Tip himself graced the stage. The pair fell into a battle- Keys on the keys and Q-Tip set on the turntables. The duo played off one another and one would play the hook of a song and the other had to come in with the right track.
Still on a hip-hop tip, Keys transitioned effortlessly into another song off her upcoming album HERE called, “She Don’t Really Care” before launching into Nas’ Illmatic classic, “One Love” with the fellow New Yorker joining her on stage for another magical pairing.
The visuals for the performance lit up the main billboards in Times Square which surrounded the stage. Rain drops began to fall on all screens when Keys played the song which made us all stop and listen 15 years ago, “Fallin'”.
She brought the crowd back to the dance party with “In Common” before she fell into fan-favourite, “If I Ain’t Got You.” She then took the time to bring yet another guest onto the stage, John Mayer. The two did a duet mash-up of her hit and his hit “Gravity” to the sheer delight of all concert-goers.
But artistry and music aside- my favourite moments of the concert happened when Alicia Keys wasn’t singing, but speaking about the state of the world we’re living in.
She began with how people seem to care more about what makeup she is or isn’t wearing on her face, as opposed to much more urgent matters such as: systemic racism, police brutality, guns laws that do not work, Black Lives Matter (specifically how people are mad at us when we say that Black lives do indeed matter), the current refugee crisis (there are more displaced people right now then there were at any other point in history), global warming and the lack of urgency to address it.
But it didn’t end there, the New Yorker had to mention the man she describes as an “ignorant, racist, jackass whose name rhymes with, SCUM-pwho has the nerve to talk about grabbing p****?! You know what I say to that?” And the singer mouthed the words, “F*** you” and flipped the Republican nominee the bird. Definitely timely as her performance was held on the same day the second debate between Hillary Clinton and Trump was aired, and she urged everyone to get out and vote.
The singer perfectly articulated what many people have been feeling for quite some time and did not have a care in the world expressing her opinions on any of the above topics; she did not hold back anything. It was refreshing and needed and we in the crowd cheered in agreement with Keys about every thing.
In this day and age, it can be rare to have someone who uses their celebrity so frequently as a vehicle for change. But this is something that Keys does every day. She even helms her own philanthropic efforts such as Keep A Child Alive and the We Are Here Movement.
When Keys got back into the music, it was to the tune of some politically charged anthems. She began by covering Bob Marley’s, “War”, her own single, “We Are Here” and the very powerful track from the upcoming album titled, “Holy War” where the singer croons, “Maybe we can love somebody; maybe we could care a little more. Maybe we could love somebody, instead of polishing the bombs of holy war.”
Keys closed out the show with hits like, “No One” and “Empire State of Mind”with Jay Z surprising fans by joining her on stage for the performance! And since it was John Lennon’s birthday that night, the singer did a cover of “Imagine” on the piano before thanking her band and the crowd for making the evening a remarkable one.
There are no words I have to truly explain what it was to experience something like this. The energy was otherworldly and I am glad I was able to make the trip down from Toronto to Manhattan just to experience this moment. Being surrounded by New York natives while watching one of the city’s most-loved and well-known artists was something that was indescribable; a moment that I won’t ever forget.
The concert will air on BET and online on November 3rd. Be sure to check it out!
By Britany Murphy