During her 20 years as a recording artist, Alicia Keys has managed to maintain a relatively private life while being one of the most notable celebrities in the public eye. Yet in her new docuseries, Noted: Alicia Keys The Untold Stories, currently streaming on YouTube, nearly every aspect of the singer-songwriter’s life is up for exploration, dating back to her childhood years and leading up to the present day as a woman with children of her own. When it comes to choosing to open up so publicly, Keys tells ESSENCE: “To be honest, it’s really the right time.”
Acknowledging that she wasn’t ready to verbalize some of the themes she explores in the series before now, Keys explains the woman she is today is much more comfortable in her skin and totally clear about who she is. “I think a lot of times we hold a lot in. I know I have, for forever. And I think it’s because we feel like we’re supposed to present a certain way or we feel like we’re supposed to appear a certain way so it’s really hard to not fully release all of those things,” she says. “There’s such a power in the release and I feel like releasing moves you on to the next phase so this felt like the right time. I knew what I wanted to say and I was courageous enough to explore it and it feels good.”
One of the more personal aspects of her life Keys uncovers is the start of her very existence through particularly candid conversations with her mother, Terria Joseph, and once-estranged father, Craig Cook. “Interviewing my mother was really powerful because I never asked her these specific questions,” Keys says. “I really wanted to hear her side and what she felt and how she experienced it,” she adds — “it” being raising a child as a single mother in New York City.
Speaking on her candor in the moment, she says, “I don’t think I was in the place [before] that I was ready to have that type of truthful, open conversation and hear him and him hear me.”
Cook and Keys’ repaired their relationship in her adulthood, which is why she shares there was no need to go back and rehash past disappointments in front of the cameras. Yet showing their present-day dynamic was particularly important to Keys to help viewers who might need to find their own path to healing.
“I’m very proud of our relationship because I think a lot of people have experienced that, where they didn’t grow up with their father and maybe there’s not necessarily a strong connection there in childhood and you kind of always hold that feeling with you forever. So I’m proud to show that different relationships can actually evolve and become something fulfilling, even if they weren’t at one time, or even if they hurt at one time. I like that we could see that evolution because it is an option.”
In episode 3, Keys documents her journey with partner Swizz Beatz which is also evolutionary in nature. At the time, the pair are celebrating their 11th anniversary, which Keys notes is our interview “is wild.” Perhaps even wilder — in an increasingly independent culture in which marriage is on the decline — is her sweet and simple declaration to her husband during dinner that she unequivocally loves being married to him. Doubling down on that statement during our conversation, she says, “I really do enjoy it.”
Detailing the aspects of their relationship that make it enjoyable, Keys adds, “We’re non-competitive. And I think that that is a really big, big thing. There’s an equality that’s really, really evident and there’s a deep respect that is very, very, very, very honored and you just feel it,” she says. “I’m his friend, I’m his confidant, he’s mine, he’s my touchstone. He’s the one I toss ideas to. I can trust his opinion, his thought, his instincts. He’s a great father and we just enjoy spending time with each other. “