Girl on Fire (album)

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Girl on Fire
Studio album by Alicia Keys
Released November 22, 2012 (2012-11-22)
Recorded 2011–12; Jungle City Studios, Oven Studios (New York City); Geejam Studis (Jamaica); Metropolis Studios (London); The Record Plant, Chalice Recording Studios (Los Angeles).
Genre R&B
Length 53:08
Label RCA
Producer
Alicia Keys chronology
The Element of Freedom
(2009)
Girl on Fire
(2012)
Singles from Girl on Fire
  1. "Girl on Fire"
    Released: September 4, 2012 (2012-09-04)
  2. "Brand New Me"
    Released: November 18, 2012 (2012-11-18)
  3. "New Day"
    Released: February 21, 2013
  4. "Fire We Make"
    Released: March 28, 2013
  5. "Tears Always Win"
    Released: May 7, 2013

Girl on Fire is the fifth studio album by American recording artist Alicia Keys. The album, which was released on November 22, 2012, is Keys' first release with RCA Records following Sony Music Entertainment's decision to close J Records during a company reshuffle. Girl on Fire was conceived shortly after Keys' marriage to record producer and rapper Swizz Beatz as well as the birth of her first child, Egypt. It is an R&B album with a mixture of conventional genre songs and piano ballads, some of which touch on Keys' marriage and motherhood.

The album sold 159,000 copies in its first week in the United States and became Keys' fifth album to chart at number one on the Billboard 200. The lead single was the title track; it charted at 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached the Top 10 in several countries worldwide. The second single, "Brand New Me", was only released to US urban adult contemporary radio stations. Upon its release, Girl on Fire received generally positive reviews from music critics. The album has since spawned two further singles: The second international single "New Day" and the third US urban adult contemporary single "Fire We Make" (featuring Maxwell). At 56th Grammy Awards the album won in the Best R&B Album category.[1]

Background and development[edit]

Girl on Fire is Keys' fifth studio album, and follow up to 2009's The Element of Freedom. It also serves as the singer's first release under RCA Records, after a re-organization at parent company Sony Music Entertainment led to her previous label J Records roster being absorbed into RCA.[2] After 2009, Keys got married to record producer and rapper Swizz Beatz, became a mother, began co-managing her own career, produced and directed both a Broadway play and short film, in addition to designing a line of trainers for Reebok.[2] Keys had also either appeared on or produced material for several other artists including work on Kanye West, Emeli Sandé and Miguel's albums.[3] Essence reported that Keys began working on the album in February 2011.[4] Speaking on how the events of the last three years inspired her during an interview with Billboard, Keys stated: "These last three years have been the most in every way. The most newest, the most difficult, the most loving, the most dream-filled, the most breaking free . . . an entire crazy dynamic of lessons and emotions to grow into and claim. This whirlwind has definitely forced me to be who I am, to be free enough and brave enough to just not accept anything else-nor try to be anything else."[2]

Speaking on how Girl on Fire was different to The Element of Freedom, Keys said, "I've stepped more into my business and really... taken control for how I want that to be. So every way that I've created now is totally in a new space. It's more in a true space of who I am and what story it is that I'm trying to tell, what it is I'm going through, what the world is going through. And it's really important for me to describe that and say that exactly how I see it, period. So, things are just new. The world is new! Everything feels like brand new to me."[5] Keys even explained that the album title is a slight reference to Katniss Everdeen, the central character in the adventure novel series The Hunger Games, of which she is a fan.[5]

Recording and production[edit]

Recording sessions for the album took place at Jungle City Studios and Oven Studios in New York, Chalice Studios and The Record Plant in Los Angeles, Geejam Studios in Jamaica, and Metropolis Studios in London.[6] Keys worked with a range of producers for Girl on Fire, including husband Swizz Beatz, Babyface, Kerry Brothers, Jr. and Jeff Bhasker among others.[3] When working on the album, Keys said she was not inspired by the current rhythmic trends in pop music. "I was really focused on writing, on the crafting of a song, more so than anything else. I didn't care about a beat. I didn't care about a hot track. I didn't even want to hear those things. I wanted to create a song."[7] During a Keep a Child Alive concert in New York, Keys met bluesy-rock guitarist Gary Clark, Jr.. Keys had initially asked Clark, Jr. if he would play the guitar elements from "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by George Harrison. Seeing potential in Clark, Jr.'s skills, Keys would present him with the song "Fire We Make" and asked him if he could play some guitar on the track.[8] Speaking about the collaboration he said, "I went in and I was like, 'What do you want me to do?' and she was like, 'This is the song. You just do what you do, and we'll see what happens.' It was one of the best studio experiences I've ever had."[8]

Music and lyrics[edit]

An R&B album,[9] Girl on Fire has a balance of conventional R&B songs and piano ballads.[10] The album's music is typified by Keys' heightened singing, piano playing,[11] and a minimalist production.[12] It also showcases her attempt at different styles, which range from electro soul and hip hop,[11] to rock and reggae flourishes.[13] The songs are mostly midtempo and feature unconventional chords and melodic changes.[13]

The album's lyrics features aphorisms about relationships and God.[11] A portion of the album's songs have their narrator examining and struggling with a stifling relationship, while others touch on Keys' recent personal life, including marriage and motherhood.[14] Pitchfork Media's Stephen M. Deusner views Girl on Fire as an album "about rebirth and renewal", writing that Keys "use[s] romantic tragedy as the engine for transformation."[15] James Reed of The Boston Globe writes that its "emphasis on looking inward recalls the mood of Beyoncé's 4."[12]

The quiet opening track "De Novo Adagio", which translates to adagio again, exhibits Keys' classically trained musicianship.[15] "Listen to Your Heart" is one of the album's uptempo songs, taking a more dancier direction than Keys' previous material.[16] "Brand New Me", a slow-burning declaration of the narrator's independence,[15] was penned with Scottish singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé, as an autobiographical snapshot of Keys' life. Sandé also helped Keys' write the songs "Not Even the King" and "101".[16] On "Brand New Me", Keys sings about finally taking control over a domineering partner.[7] "Not Even the King" is a piano-driven song about "rich love" which is bigger than the entire world, where Keys sings: "They offer the world to have what we got, but I found the world in you."[17][18]

Promotion[edit]

In early September 2012, the audio for the song "Not Even the King" was uploaded to Keys' official VEVO channel.[17][18] On September 24, Keys performed an exclusive set for a MTV event called MTV Crashes Manchester (UK). The set which took place outside the City Cathedral in Manchester included a variety of songs from her discography as well as songs from Girl on Fire.[19] On September 28, she performed several new tracks from the album as well as older hits at the iTunes Festival.[20] On October 16, Keys performed her set at the 'City Advantage Love the Journey Concert' at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.[16] On November 12, Keys was featured on an episode of VH1 Storytellers. She performed multiple songs; old and new. Josh Stillman of Entertainment Weekly praised her appearance on the show as a whole: "She carries herself onstage with cool and confidence – not showy or attention-seeking, merely comfortable – and speaks in a voice so smooth you could drape it over your shoulders."[21] He noted that Keys was backed by a six-piece band for songs such as "No One" and "If I Ain't Got You", but stripped down the mood for the "passionate solo renditions" of "Not Even the King" and "Brand New Me".[21]

On November 18, 2012, Keys performed "Girl on Fire" on The X Factor (UK) Results Show. On November 20, Keys streamed a Google+ Hangout on her official YouTube channel live from her studio, to give fans a "guided tour" of the album.[22] When announcing the session, she stated: "hear all the songs on the record [and] I'll be able to share my creative process and also tell you some of the very special and important meanings behind some of the songs."[22]

In November 2012, following her performance on The X Factor, Keys announced an eight date UK and Ireland arena tour, which will take place in 2013. Keys also said that she will tour with Miguel beginning in March 2013.[23] On January 10, 2013, Keys announced that she will embark on the Set the World on Fire Tour in North America in 2013. Tickets were on sale on January 14.[24]

Singles[edit]

The album's title song was unveiled on September 4, 2012 as the album's first single.[25] Recorded as a three part suite, "Girl on Fire" was accompanied by an "Inferno Remix" featuring Trinidadian rapper Nicki Minaj and a "Bluelight Remix" which features Keys' singing the song in a stripped back production. The song was composed by Keys, Jeff Bhasker and Salaam Remi. American rock guitarist Billy Squier is also credited as a writer due to "Girl on Fire" including a music sample of the drum track from his song "The Big Beat" (1980).[26] Keys performed the song for the first time at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards on September 6, 2012. She was joined by Minaj and the 2012 Summer Olympics gymnastics gold medalist Gabby Douglas, who made a special appearance during the performance.[27] In the United States, "Girl on Fire" has peaked at two on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and eleven on the Billboard Hot 100.[28]

On November 19, 2012, "Brand New Me", which was co-written with Scottish singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé, impacted on urban adult contemporary radio in the United States as the album's second single.[29]

"New Day" serves as the album's second single for international markets only. It was sent to radio stations in France on February 21, 2013.[30] It was sent to radio stations in Australia on May 17, 2013[31] and finally to UK radio on May 29, 2013.[32]

"Fire We Make", Keys' duet with Maxwell, was serviced to US Urban adult contemporary radio stations on March 28, 2013 as the third UAC single following "Girl on Fire" and "Brand New Me".[33]

The album's fifth single, "Tears Always Win", was released as a digital download on iTunes on May 7, 2013.[34] Keys performed the song on American Idol on May 9, 2013.[35][36]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars[14]
The Daily Telegraph 4/5 stars[37]
Entertainment Weekly B[9]
The Guardian 3/5 stars[11]
The Independent 3/5 stars[38]
The Observer 2/5 stars[39]
Pitchfork Media 7.1/10[15]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[13]
Slant Magazine 3/5 stars[40]
Spin 7/10[41]

Girl on Fire received generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 69, based on 25 reviews.[42] In his review for Rolling Stone magazine, Jody Rosen praised Keys as a musical "iconoclast" and dubbed it "both her catchiest and subtlest album yet – and one of the best R&B records of 2012."[13] Uncut stated, "Her technical brilliance remains stunning; it's now matched by her maturity and modernity."[43] Will Hodgkinson of The Times wrote that the album "works by combining odd modern touches with a classic songwriting sensibility."[44] Helen Brown of The Daily Telegraph felt that, although "the powerful simplicity of her lyrics" occasionally "tends toward the trite", the album "does at least see her classily smouldering and occasionally ablaze."[37] Andrew Hampp of Billboard felt that it is "low on the filler" of some of Keys' previous albums and dubbed it "arguably [her] most consistent album to date."[45] Melissa Maerz of Entertainment Weekly wrote that "the music feels surprisingly intimate" when Keys plays her piano-based songs rather than the "jazzy smoothfests".[9] Robert Christgau, writing for MSN Music, said that the album is "heartfelt, lively, and sweet—as r&b maturity statements go", and gave it a two-star honorable mention,[46] indicating a "likable effort consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well enjoy."[47]

In a mixed review, Ben Ratliff of The New York Times observed "so many clichés" and critiqued that the songs with Keys' personal "subtext ... quickly grow trite, in words and music."[48] Dave Simpson of The Guardian wrote that, "as a reinvention, the album doesn't go far enough, and there are some underwhelming tunes".[11] Simon Price of The Independent found it to be "dominated by navel-gazing auto-therapy sessions" and asserted, "What it lacks, ironically, is fire."[49] Slant Magazine's Eric Henderson found the album to be "less a portrait of Keys's womanhood at a crossroads as it is another extension of a career spent predominantly navigating straight down the middle of the road."[40] Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune felt that, like her previous albums, Keys still "keeps her guard up and the listener at arm’s length."[50] Kitty Empire of The Observer quipped, "she's supposed to be on fire here, not just warming the piano stool",[39] while Mikael Wood of the Los Angeles Times viewed it as another "collection of handsomely crafted, gorgeously sung ballads interrupted by several overworked anthems about the value of perseverance."[51]

The picture of a Grammy Award, a trophy that features a golden gramophone on a black marbel block.
Alicia won Grammy Award for Best R&B Album in 2014.

Commercial performance[edit]

In the United States, Girl on Fire debuted atop the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 159,000 units. Although this secured Keys' her fifth number-one album on the chart, it also marked her lowest opening sales for an album.[52] It was a considerable drop from her previous effort, The Element of Freedom (2009), which opened to sales of 417,000 units.[52] As of March 27, 2013, Girl on Fire has sold 635,800 copies in the United States.[53] It debuted at number fifteen on the UK Albums Chart and number two on the UK R&B Albums Chart,[54] selling 31,675 copies in its first week.[55] In Australia, it debuted at number twelve on the ARIA Albums Chart and number two on the ARIA Urban Albums Chart.[56][57]

Upon the release of Girl on Fire in South Korea, the entire album charted on the Gaon International Singles Chart. "Tears Always Win" debuted at number one, "Not Even the King" at number twenty-four, "Girl on Fire" (Inferno Version, featuring Nicki Minaj) at number forty-six, "That When I Knew" and "Brand New Me" at number fifty and fifty-one respectively, "One Thing" at fifty-six, "Fire We Make" (with Maxwell) at number sixty-four, "New Day" at number sixty-six, "Listen to Your Heart" at number sixty-eight, "When Its All Over" at number seventy-two, "Limitedless" at number eighty-two, "De Novo Adagio (Intro)" at number eighty-four and "101" at number eighty-seven.[58]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "De Novo Adagio (Intro)"       1:19
2. "Brand New Me"   Alicia Keys, Emeli Sandé Keys 3:53
3. "When It's All Over"   Keys, John Stephens, Stacy Barthe Keys, Jamie Smith 4:34
4. "Listen to Your Heart"   Keys, Stephens Keys, Darkchild 3:46
5. "New Day"   Keys, Kasseem Dean, Trevor Lawrence Jr., Andre Brissett, Amber "Sevyn" Streeter, Dr. Dre Dr. Dre, Swizz Beatz 4:02
6. "Girl on Fire (Inferno Version)" (featuring Nicki Minaj) Keys, Salaam Remi, Jeff Bhasker, Onika Maraj, Billy Squier Keys, Bhasker, Remi 4:30
7. "Fire We Make" (duet with Maxwell) Keys, Andrew Wansel, Warren Felder, Gary Clark, Jr. Keys, Wansel, Felder 5:21
8. "Tears Always Win"   Keys, Bhasker, Bruno Mars, Phillip Lawrence Keys, Bhasker 3:59
9. "Not Even the King"   Keys, Sandé Keys 3:07
10. "That's When I Knew"   Keys, Kenny Edmonds. Antonio Dixon Babyface, Dixon 4:05
11. "Limitedless"   Keys, Felder, Wansel, Streeter, Barthe Keys, Wansel, Felder 3:57
12. "One Thing"   Keys, Frank Ocean, James Ho Malay 4:08
13. "101" (includes hidden outro which begins at 4:29) Keys, Sandé Keys 6:29
Total length:
53:08
Japanese edition bonus tracks[59]
No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
14. "Girl on Fire (Main Version)"   Keys, Remi, Bhasker, Squier Keys, Remi, Bhasker 3:44
15. "Girl on Fire (Bluelight version)"   Keys, Remi, Bhasker Keys, Remi, Bhasker 4:22
Notes
  • "Girl on Fire" samples the drum track from Billy Squier's 1980 song "The Big Beat", earning Squier a writing credit.[26]

Personnel[edit]

Credits for Girl on Fire adapted from album liner notes.[6]

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Australia (ARIA)[104] Gold 35,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[105] Gold 40,000^
France (SNEP)[106] Gold 50,000*
Germany (BVMI)[107] Gold 100,000^
Mexico (AMPROFON)[108] Platinum 60,000^
Philippines (PARI)[109] Gold 7,500
Poland (ZPAV)[110] Gold 10,000*
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[111] Gold 15,000x
United Kingdom (BPI)[112] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[113] Gold 500,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
xunspecified figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

Region Date Label Format(s)
Netherlands[114] November 22, 2012 Sony Music CD, digital download
Australia[115] November 23, 2012
Germany[116]
France[117] November 26, 2012 Jive Epic
United Kingdom[118] RCA Records CD, LP, digital download
United States[119] November 27, 2012 CD, digital download
Italy[120] Sony Music
Japan[59] November 28, 2012
Sweden[121]
France[122] December 14, 2012 Jive Epic LP
Germany[116] Sony Music
Netherlands[123] December 17, 2012
Sweden[124] December 19, 2012
United States[125] December 25, 2012 RCA Records

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]