Review: Alicia Keys – ‘Perfect Way To Die’

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Powerful

Potent, heartbreaking and a demonstration of the power of music, Alicia Keys simply leaves you speechless with her newest single.

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After the disappointing release of ‘Good Job, Alicia Keys’ is back with her latest single ‘Perfect Way To Die’. A sheer demonstration of her musical talent as well as bringing to the forefront the current world’s inequality and in particular, the black lives lost to police brutality, ‘Perfect Way To Die’ is incredible. First showcasing the official video at the BET Awards 2020, Keys’ “political” song is rife with heartbreak and irony, and is undoubtedly a song that represents oppression and racism. However, Keys’ song isn’t only carried by its symbolic lyricism but by a perfect piano backing that helps guide the song through its meaning without ever trying to upstage or sell itself as something that it’s not.

The song starts with an arrangement on the piano that evokes the feeling of a lullaby, conjuring up a sense of liminal states between waking and sleeping, and in affect, waking and dying. It’s a haunting start that only empowers the approaching lyrics. The songs first verse evokes the story of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African American who was shot outside a convenience store after being reported to police as a “suspicious” individual by the local community watch. Keys skirts his story with lyrical conciseness while the piano tickles over the notes in accompaniment, but her focus centres on the heartbreak of his mother who is called by the coroner after Martin’s death. Expertly, Keys confounds a sense of disbelief with the repetitive “been gunned down” while establishing the generic and unempathetic response of the coroner when she sings “Tears in her eyes “can you calm down? Please, ma’am, can you calm down?”. However, in a death that should have been avoidable, Keys points out how there’s a “river of blood in the streets” before leading on to how his death is “just another one gone” and establishes antipathic response to the gunning down and unlawful killing of African-Americans that happens at the hands of the police.

This is all backed by Keys amazing craftmanship over the piano which may lack the prowess or the ability to appeal to wider audiences like that of Beyoncé‘s ‘Black Parade‘ but nonetheless holds it as a worthy equal. It’s a song about not forgetting those who have suffered at the hands of inequality, and while Trayvon Martin is Keys’ first focus, she also recalls the deaths of Michael Brown and Sandra Bland in later verses with equal potency. As the piano moves along with the lyrics, it enforces this idea that these are the lives we should not forget because of what they represent.

In a similar fashion, the sheer power of the song can also be seen in its chorus. While knowing who the individuals that Keys alludes to are is useful, it’s not entirely necessary to understand the drive of the song. Anyone who knows anything about America’s deeply institutionalised racism, with the current Black Lives Matter (BLM) that erupted after the murder of George Floyd, will be able to understand what the song is about. Even without this knowledge, Keys’ lyrics work in making what she sings about as clear-cut as possible. She revolves around the deeply ironic saying the ‘perfect way to die’, and juxtaposes it against the tragedy and loss of these Black Americans. It creates an odd moment of beauty as preserved youth but contrasts it against the violence of racism based while pondering if there truly is a ‘perfect way to die’. It works because if there is this perfect death, dying at the hands of inequality is undoubtedly its opposite and enforces the hardships of being anything other than white in a time where “equality” is meant to flourish.

Keys’ song is undeniably accomplished and she packs in so much that one review for it isn’t enough. It’s a song that’s poignant while at the same time anger-inducing for the struggles that Black individuals have faced across the world and, in particular, America. However, the song isn’t excellent just for its powerful lyrics, but for its perfect accompaniment and moving sentiments that make will surely make this another defining moment in Keys’ long career.

‘Perfect Way to Die’ is available to listen to now via RCA Records.

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News Editor 20-21. A second-year English student with a passion for absolutely everything (but especially literature and drama) apart from his degree.

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