Alicia Keys has undergone a bit of a makeover in recent months. She ditched her weave and cropped her hair into a short, slick nineties ‘do, changed her logo font into an edgy red streak of her initials, and swapped her usual piano prop for some side boobage in an extremely sexy promotional photo. But while her image may have changed, Keys is still singing the same old tune when it comes to her music.
The soul diva premiered her new single “Girl On Fire” yesterday, and just like her R&B contemporaries, she’s taken the more is more approach by releasing three different versions of the song. It’s hard to pick which one I’m actually supposed to review, but I think I’ll go with the Nicki Minaj-assisted “Inferno Version”, as it seems to be the one with the most commercial potential.
Keys treads old ground on “Girl On Fire”, rehashing the same thumping Jeff Bhasker drum beat from “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart”, shout-singing her lyrics like on “No One”, and trying to recreate the anthemic feel from her famous Jay-Z collaboration “Empire State of Mind”. Brandy took a similar approach on her recent single “Wildest Dreams”, but while Brandy’s homage to herself felt all warm and nostalgic, Keys just sounds like she’s run out of ideas.
One of Keys’ biggest strengths has always been her skill as a songwriter, but she must have had a serious case of writers block when it came to cooking up the lazy lyrics for “Girl On Fire”.
“This girl is on fire,” Keys wails. “Looks like a girl, but she’s a flame/ so bright, she can burn your eyes.”
This is the kind of cheesy inspirational slush that belongs on a movie soundtrack, not as the lead single for one of the world’s biggest female artists. Plus, didn’t Alicia get the memo? Self-empowerment is soooo last year.
Even Nicki Minaj –who usually shines as a feature artist– misses the mark, referencing Marilyn Monroe in a cliched rap about haters and struggles. Nicki’s words may have been more effective if she hadn’t already covered similar ground on a track from her Roman Reloaded album named after the late fifties starlet.
Listening to “Girl On Fire”, all I can think of is how far Alicia Keys has fallen. With its heard-it-all-before sound, corny inspirational sentiment, and rent-a-rapper feature, “Girl On Fire” is in the same boat as Mariah Carey’s “Triumphant”, making it one of the worst singles of the year. If that description is too long for you, we can save time and just call “Girl On Fire” the “Doesn’t Mean Anything” of 2012 instead.