In September, Expo 2020 kicked off in Dubai, and over the last three months, 192 countries have brought in top music and theater names to perform, as well as science and engineering experts to sit on panels and give speeches.
Initially supposed to take place Oct. 20, 2020, to April 10, 2021, Expo 2020 was postponed due to the pandemic; it now runs through March 31, 2022, and has drawn 5.6 million visitors to date. On Friday, Dec. 10, Alicia Keys was the latest performer to arrive at Expo 2020, unveiling her new double album Keys, before heading home to the U.S. to perform songs from the new album on the Today show and the finale of NBC’s The Voice.
Of her appearance on the latter, Keys tells THR, “The Voice is one of my favorite shows because as a songwriter, contestants really love singing my songs. And my new songs are like a new copyright of what I believe people are going to start performing on the show.”
From the Arabian desert, Keys performed from the heart of Dubai’s Al Wasl Plaza in her global live-streamed show under a 360-degree projection dome, which made for a dynamic viewing experience for those watching around the world. The album features collaborations with rappers Lil Wayne and Pusha T. Others who appear on the album include Swae Lee, Lucky Daye and Khalid.
Side A of Keys, titled “Originals,” puts more of a spotlight on Keys’ beloved piano sounds, while side B, “Unlocked,” features a more intense, upbeat sound.
“The Keys albums is about a homecoming, bringing it back to the beginning for me,” Keys tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It signifies owning my personal power. Plus, as a true New Yorker, it’s a double album. We sampled ‘Originals’ to create ‘Unlocked,’ me and Mike WiLL. I just love the ingenuity and the innovation of this. People have done double albums, and they’re made up of all different music; or people have done deluxe albums and have put out different versions of the music; or people have done remix albums, and later they have put out a vibe of it. But nobody has this where at the same time, it was meant to create a world of different perspectives. I like to call it like a Saturday and a Sunday, being how these weekend days have totally different vibes.”
One of the themes of her new music is opportunity, and the new album puts a focus on uplifting messages.
“The album is penetrating people in a genuine way, and this is the point, and for this, I’m really grateful,” Keys says. “People get it, and they’re comparing it to bodies of work that have been done, like to a Stevie Wonder or a Marvin Gaye — I believe that was in The Telegraph — that is one of the most unbelievable quotes I have ever read. And this takes me to a whole new universe.”
“Keys has emotion to it,” she continues. “You’re drawn to it, the lyrics are often something that reflects something that you’re going through. A lot of people tell me, ‘I needed a song like this.’ If anything, fans are excited to hear new music and what an artist is up to. It gives us more of a conversation. We have this conversation that we’ve been having for a long time, and they just fall in love with all of it.”
At her Expo 2020 concert, the 20-year veteran of the music business performed new arrangements from the albums along with some of her hits like “Empire State of Mind” and “Girl On Fire.”
On why she thinks her fans enjoy her older songs, Keys says, “Because they’re so fun. For my songs, what I’m so grateful for is that they are top quality, they have parts you can sing along to, and they have memorable parts or chants — and they’re easy to share.” (Upcoming Expo 2020 concerts include Academy Award-winner A.R. Rahman on Dec. 22 and Lea Salonga, voice star of Aladdin and Mulan, performing on Christmas Day.)
Keys also tells THR that she finds it freeing to be performing in person again. “It’s really powerful to be back in person connected with audiences. And now it’s the holidays, and I’m feeling grateful to be able to share moments with other artists. For me, letting people hear my beautiful new songs is like an old memory. With these two shows, it feels like I’m able to just reach people and share with them where they are in the world.”