I expected what I ultimately saw when Alicia Keys was confirmed as part of the Super Bowl LVIII Halftime Show: A good amount of hate pouring in on social media.
Much of the ostensive criticism was on the quality of Keys’ mezzo-soprano voice, with folks wondering how she would contribute to Usher’s big moment outside of a performance of “My Boo,” one of the most divisive duets ever.
But if we’re keeping it a band, the hate for Keys has very little to do with her actual voice and more with a marriage that’s been dead for a decade and a half.
Keys’ current husband, Swizz Beatz, was first married to singer Mashonda in 2004; together they had two children before splitting in 2009. Their divorce was finalized in 2010, and Swizz married Keys that same year.
In 2009, Keys tweeted, “[In] love, is it better to go [for] the choice that is smart or the choice that has spark?” Setting off one of the then-nascent platform’s first Black Twitter celebrity dramas, Mashonda wrote an open letter in response to Keys’ tweet, accusing her of contributing to her split with Swizz via infidelity.
“My concern with [Alicia Keys] is no longer the fact that she assisted in destroying a family but that she has the audacity to make these selfish comments about love and wanting to be with someone, even after knowing their situation,” Mashonda wrote.
Ever since, Keys has worn the scarlet “homewrecker” letters and has not been able to do right by many who’d previously considered themselves fans.
Generally, Black women lead the vitriolic charge against Keys: They internalized the “Love & Hip-Hop” veteran’s letter and wanted nothing to do with a high-yellow, no makeup-wearing hussy or any of her lil’ songs. But those same women have scarce energy for Swizz for being the one who actually cheated.
Despite the fact that Swizz allegedly impregnated Keys before his divorce and managed to squeeze out a child with a third woman around that time, he’s remained relatively unscathed, shielded by the visible notion that he’s only acting in his “true nature” as a possessor of a penis.
None of this is fair to Keys for several reasons – chief among them is the fact that you can’t keep anyone who doesn’t want to be kept. When one or both parties in a partnership are mentally wrapped, it’s only a matter of time. Infidelity is inexcusable but let us not imagine a Candy Land in which he and Mashonda would still be married if Keys didn’t exist.
Also, let’s not develop convenient amnesia like it was only white people who sent Keys to 16 Grammy wins, as if we weren’t all vibing to “You Don’t Know My Name,” “Diary,” “Fallin’” or several of her other hits. Now, did that very first note of hers on the Super Bowl stage go a touch…left? Sure…but as someone who has seen Keys in concert several times – ranging from her beads-and-microbraids era in 2002 to just last fall – I can’t abide the suggestion that Keys’ higher notes sound like kittens being fed through a wood chipper.
Besides there are a lot of artists y’all adore whose voices would make a vocal coach pinch the bridge of his nose out of frustration. They just didn’t “steal” someone’s man.
The whole issue is related to the line between entertainment and reality that many of you can’t properly navigate. It’s why so many of you were actually, genuinely, for-real serious about Keys’ sultry performance with Usher being “inappropriate” to the point that Swizz actually had to respond.
The Swizz-Mashonda-Keys triangle is now old enough to start driver training. Keys and Swizz have a family that at least appears to be enviable, and now Keys and Mashonda are doing the blended family homies thing. Confounding though that may be to you, that’s their business.
So, let the hatred for Keys go and go get some of your own, yeah?