Alicia Keys Shares Why Her 20s Were the 'Worst Time Ever'
By Antoinette Bueno
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Billboard
Although Alicia Keys had her breakout hit, "Fallin,'" when she was 20 years old and subsequently rose to worldwide fame and achieved considerable critical success, the 39-year-old singer says she actually very much disliked that time in her life.
"I swear, I wouldn't go back to being 20 if somebody paid me -- it was literally the worst time ever," she tells the publication. "I wanted to fit in so desperately. I was so blind, so dependent on everybody else's opinions, so uncomfortable, so unclear."
Keys grew up in New York's Hell's Kitchen and says she didn't have the confidence then to express her thoughts and feelings. Even when her music career took off, she doubted herself.
"I didn't even know that I was building up an armor," she shares. "And that I was stuck behind it."
"You need to be there and spend the time, because you never get that back," she says of raising her kids, given the absence of her own father for much of her life.
And these days, she says she's able to embrace herself much more than she ever did before.
"I'm coming to the place now where I'm able to live more fully in my skin, my imperfections, my feelings, which are so hard to access," she says. "Because we want to protect our heart, right? That's what we're all doing in some way. And I think my ability to access that place has brought a deeper connection to other people."
Keys later commented on the current events of the world at the time of her interview, including the coronavirus pandemic and the death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man who was fatally shot in Georgia. Arbery was jogging on Feb. 23 when he was confronted by 64-year-old Gregory McMichael and his son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael, who followed him in their truck.
"You know, we do a really good job of judging each other and assuming who people are when we don't even know them," Keys notes. "To me, the most important thing we can do right now is take a second to see and appreciate each other as we are."
"I really believe that we are it -- we are what we're waiting for, what we're looking for," she adds of continuing to have hope amid difficult times. "The way we raise our kids, the way we choose to be with each other, the way we face the world -- that is how things will start to shift."
ET spoke to Keys in April and she talked about her special relationship with Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey was part of Keys' big break in 2001, when the media mogul invited her to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Keys then nailed a memorable performance of Beethoven's Für Elise" and "Fallin.'" Keys' book, More Myself: A Journey, was also the first to be released on Winfrey's imprint, An Oprah Book.