It’s amazing what a good beat can do. Robert Christgau was on target when he said Keys “envisions a hip-hop generation ready for its own Roberta Flack.” I was never a fan of Flack, and I can hear the comparisons Christgau evokes. But the insistent beat of “No One” makes me like it in spite of myself.
If you are like me, the top pop artists tend to blend together in your brain. When I was 12, I knew which British Invasion band I was hearing on the radio. At 57, it’s more the case that I hear a neo-soulish female vocal on the radio and mentally narrow down the possibilities to the artists I can remember at the moment. This holds true even for an artist as big as Keys, or for a song as big as “No One.” It came on the radio as I was driving, and I liked what I heard, and I knew I’d heard it before, but that was about it. I’m a bit ashamed to admit I used my Android phone running SoundHound to identify the song. When I got home, I went to search for it on Rhapsody, only to find it was already sitting on my hard drive. In fact, I had the entire As I Am album, and I rarely get albums anymore (perhaps because I forget I have them).
No matter how hard I try, I find myself losing track of the pop mainstream. This isn’t because I’m a snob who turns away from the popular … I’m losing track of the alternative, as well. And so I figure the whole world knows that Alicia Keys isn’t just some popular singer that got mentioned in a Bob Dylan song, but that Keys is in fact one of the biggest musical stars on the planet. And there I am, using my phone to ID her.
Here is the official video for “No One.” The purpose of the video, as far as I can tell, is to show us that Alicia Keys is beautiful, that she’s a fine singer, and that she plays keyboards. Oh, and Sony gets a nice product placement. (If you want to know just how popular Keys is, use the modern Internet method for ranking popularity … as of this moment, the following video on YouTube has been watched more than 99 million times. Keys is the McDonalds of music.)
Here’s a live version: