Alicia Keys had as great a rookie year as Ichiro Suzuki — and she’s only twenty years old. Her blockbuster single, “Fallin’,” is a love ballad that somehow incorporates both Chopin and James Brown. And her triple-platinum debut album, Songs in A Minor, is a delicately constructed wonder; it sounds as if it’s made from crystal clockwork. On the phone from London, Keys reflected on the first year of her brilliant career.
What was the high point of your year?
When my record was released. It was something I had been waiting for for a long time.
So the success of the record was just icing on the cake?
Yeah — but it was pretty big icing.
What’s the best thing anybody told you this year?
That he fell in love to my song.
What’s the most expensive thing you bought this year?
Equipment. It’s always equipment. I updated my whole studio; that makes my life a little easier and more creative. And I bought Pro Tools.
Who was the coolest person you met?
Prince. He invited me to Paisley Park to perform at his birthday party, along with Erykah Badu and Common. I did a full set, including one of his songs, “How Come You Don’t Call Me,” which is on my album. He sat there and watched. And then we talked for about forty-five minutes, and he gave me a tour and showed me all the pianos: There’s a purple piano, a piano engraved with his songs, an automatic-opening piano. There’s clouds painted on the ceiling. He treated us like kings and queens.
What was the best song you heard?
“We Gonna Make It,” by Jadakiss. It reminds me we’re gonna keep going. And “U Got It Bad,” by Usher — every time I hear it, I turn it up loud.
What’s the best book you read?
Assata, the autobiography of Assata Shakur, who was in the Black Panthers. I’m fascinated by the Black Panthers; the idea of an organization of people making things happen and depending on themselves is always intriguing.
What was your favorite movie this year?
I haven’t seen a movie this whole year! There’s a movie coming out that’s going to be my favorite: Ali.
Do you have a New Year’s resolution?
I’m promising to be really good to myself. I need to make sure I don’t run myself into the ground, to find time alone for the spirit and the mind.
Would you like to change anything about pop culture?
I would love to see less focus on the physical. It’s a very physical business, very skin-driven, very body-driven, and I have big fights about that. I may even be in that mood sometimes, but not every minute.
What would you have done differently this year?
Absolutely nothing. Everything has been good this year. Even the things that came out wrong, I learned a lot from, so I would do it again.
Do you have any predictions for 2002?
People tend to forget things quickly and go back to old ways, but I think a lot of people are going to have a different focus now. I think their mind states are going to be a little more broad.
What have you learned this year?
I’ve had some reconfirmations, actually: Nobody knows me better than I do. I have to take the front row. I have to be very strong-minded. I’m still figuring it out as I go.
What do you wish you hadn’t worn out in public?
At the Video Music Awards, I had on these great Roberto Cavalli pants, and then I sat down and they ripped in … the behind area. I was very nervous — my manager was trying to make me believe that I had to go onstage right then. But I put my two hands around my bottom and made a break for the dressing room.