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Alicia Keys unveils new album in Dubai

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Dec 11, (AP) — Superstar Alicia Keys on Friday debuted her new album live in front of a packed crowd at the world’s fair in Dubai — a lively pop performance full of soaring vocals and piano solos. “We can live on the air,” she crooned from beneath the vast shimmering dome at Dubai’s Expo, a fortified stage ringed by riveted — and COVID-19 vaccinated — fans bouncing, grooving and nodding to the beat. “Baby, baby, we gonna rock forever.” Keys, 40, sauntered onstage in a glittery gold bodysuit, her hair in a tight bun, and jammed out her eighth studio album along with old classics, radiating confidence. “Tonight I want you to let everything go, let everything go, and come with me on this journey,” she told revelers

Singer Alicia Keys performs at Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Dec. 10. (AP)

. “I never want this night to end.” Her jazzy songs under the dome’s projected starry sky, set to percussive crosscurrents and piano arpeggios created a kind of ceaseless, dreamy rush through the Expo grounds as the warm winter night hung over the Arabian Gulf. Keys twirled, grooved and sometimes sat alone hitting high notes from the piano. The 15-time Grammy Award-winning singer’s sprawling double album, “KEYS,” includes two versions of each song: “Originals,” produced by Keys, and “Unlocked,” produced by Keys and Michael Williams II, who goes by Mike Will Made- It.” Her piano-driven “Originals” consists of emotional, intimate soul tunes oozing with love and longing, while “Unlocked” showcases upbeat, more clubby pop versions of the same tracks. She presented the album’s premise to the crowd as an experiment on Friday night.

“Tell me which version you like better,” she said before performing starkly different versions of the same track, one swooning and one synthesized, asking for the audience’s preferences through their cheers. Her Dubai set also featured hits like “Girl on Fire,” “Empire State of Mind” and “New Day,” booming anthems to which the audience danced and sang along wholeheartedly. Much of the new material maintains her characteristic R&B backbone and themes of soul-searching, desire and devotion. But the “Unlocked” tracks offer a surprisingly distinct and stylized twist. Keys’ previous album “Alicia,” released in the thick of the pandemic last year, focused on more topical and raw themes, with vulnerable confessions and references to virus-battered health workers and ordinary people’s struggles to scrape by. Keys has said she felt the new tracks ushered her into more confidence and clarity, describing the album once as feeling just completely “comfortable in my skin.”

Over the dizzying past two decades of her career, Keys has become a global pop and R&B icon — as well as a bestselling memoir author, actress, activist, entrepreneur, Grammy host, philanthropist and pioneer of a #nomakeup in public trend. She’s also a mother, as she reminded the crowd when she invited her two small sons to the stage to accept fl owers and plant kisses on their heads. Before singing her closing crowd-pleasing classic, “If I Ain’t Got You,” she left the captivated audience with a final uplifting message from the piano bench. “Don’t wait to tell the people … you love that you love them,” she said.

“This is dedicated to you. I love you so much.” In Keys’ latest album, the R&B artist gives us an inside look at the duality of her creative process. With her album titled “KEYS”, the 15-time Grammy- winning artist breaks down her album into two versions giving listeners the chance to take in her classical side with “Original” and the more upbeat songs on “Unlocked” featuring producer Mike Will Made-It. But there’s no need to pick a side. With “KEYS,” the piano-playing singer takes us through the ups and downs of love and her relationship with her husband, record producer Swizz Beatz, who collaborated with her on the album and is featured by her side in the “Best of Me” music video.

The star, who is known as of late for her barefaced and stripped-down image, is now basking in all her greatness on “KEYS” as she shows off her vocals with elegance and grandeur. She stays true to her piano-playing roots throughout the album as she endeavors to make a name for herself among the greats while paying homage to them. In “Best of Me” (Originals), Keys gives a nod to Sade by sampling “Cherish The Day” but adds her own smoothness to the mellow song. “You get the side of me,” she sings. “I would hold back and not reveal.” Keys makes arrangements similar to Etta James or Billie Holiday in “Is it Insane “ — perfect for unwinding by the fire this holiday season. In her ode to “Nat King Cole,” her voice builds into a cinematic crescendo. The song of the same name on the other side of the album featuring Lil Wayne gives it a dynamic contrast. While some of her features on the “Unlocked” side fall short, “Come For Me” featuring Khalid and Lucky Daye is a welcome surprise. Khalid and Keys previously collaborated on her “Alicia” album for “So Done” and their musical chemistry shows on this album. Over the years, Keys has transformed herself while exploring different sides of her talent but in “KEYS” her confidence is apparent.

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