Against a shimmering backdrop of New York City, Keys sang a sultry rendition of “LaLa” before transitioning into a candlelit, slow-burning version of her 2009 Jay-Z collaboration “Empire State of Mind.”
After teasing the single earlier this week, Keys premiered the Mike Will Made It-produced track — her first new music since her 2020 album Alicia — on Friday, two days before the VMAs.
Keys’ performance at the event marked her return to the MTV award show’s stage for the first time in nine years; she last performed “Girl on Fire” during the 2012 awards show with Nicki Minaj and gymnast Gabby Douglas. Keys has won four Moon Persons over her career, including 2001’s Best New Artist in a Video for her debut hit “Fallin’.”
Following Alicia, Keys has largely spent 2021 celebrating the 20th anniversary of her 2001 debut album, Songs in a Minor, with the singer dropping a deluxe special edition in June.