Why Alicia Keys Embraces Her Inner Underdog: 'I Was Supposed to End Up a Prostitute or Addicted to Drugs'

Alicia Keys opened up about the meaning of her song "Underdog"

Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys. Photo: Rich Fury/Getty

Alicia Keys is opening up about the meaning behind some of the songs on her latest album, ALICIA.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Keys, 39, reflected on the single “Underdog,” which is featured on her album that was initially scheduled for a spring 2020 release but got delayed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The song, co-written by Ed Sheeran, begins, “She was walking in the street, looked up and noticed/ He was nameless, he was homeless/ She asked him his name and told him what hers was/ He gave her a story 'bout a life/ With a glint in his eye and a corner of a smile/ One conversation, a single moment/ The things that change us if we notice/ When we look up, sometimes.”

Keys continues into the chorus, “They said I would never make it/ But I was built to break the mold/ The only dream that I've been chasing is my own/ So I sing a song for the hustlers trading at the bus stop/ Single mothers waiting on a check to come/ Young teachers, student doctors/ Sons on the frontline knowing they don't get to run/ This goes out to the underdog/ Keep on keeping at what you love/ You'll find that someday soon enough/ You will rise up, rise up, yeah.”

The mom of two told The Guardian that she considers herself to be one of the underdogs referenced in the song. “I am that person,” Keys said. “The one that wasn’t supposed to make it out of Hell’s Kitchen, who was supposed to end up being a prostitute, a young mother at 16 years old, or addicted to drugs.”

Keys added, “I am the one who was supposed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got injured or killed. And what the f--- is a dream? A dream is a luxury, if you have to pay all these bills and put food on the table for your kids. That is why I understand so much about what it means to have the strength to follow your own path. All the songs I’ve ever written that have been considered empowering or uplifting, I’ve written them at my lowest point. Because I needed to remind myself: don’t forget that.”

Keys also opened up about another track from ALICIA, “Gramercy Park,” which is about a romantic relationship in which “you find yourself doing everything you think the person you love wants you to do,” she said.

“You find yourself changing because you’re trying to anticipate their needs, and then you realize that the person that they fell in love with is not even you,” Keys said, adding that her relationship with husband Swizz Beatz is not like that.

“We’re so connected and honest with each other we’re able to be completely ourselves. But that’s a new experience,” she said.

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