Alicia Keys Talks Fighting the "Deep and Disturbing Gap" for Women in Music

Gail Mitchell and Alicia Keys - Getty - H 2019
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Billboard's Impact Award honoree was celebrated at its 2019 Women in Music Impact Brunch on Thursday.

Alicia Keys is opening up struggles for women in the music industry, and how she is doing her part to "shift the numbers."

Keys, Billboard's Impact Award honoree, was celebrated at its 2019 Women in Music Impact Brunch, sponsored by American Express, in Los Angeles on Thursday, highlighting her work with organization She Is the Music. Founded along with Jody Gerson, Sam Kirby Yoh and Ann Mincieli, the group leads female writing camps and mentorship programs, and has developed the largest database for hiring women in the music industry. 

"If I want to find a female lighting designer, how can I find that person? If I want to find a female sound engineer, how can I find that? If I want to find a female business manager or female lawyer," Keys told Billboard's Gail Mitchell, who sat down with her at the West Hollywood Edition hotel brunch, of the database. "I think what happens is people get used to working with who they're used to working with, and then you go and ask for a recommendation and they've been used to working with John for 100 years, so John gets recommended. It's not that Lucy or Terry shouldn't be recommended, but we get into this systemic style of how we operate. We just get used to it, as opposed to starting to break it and think out of the box and be conscious about the choices that we're making." 

Keys is so hands-on in the organization that when she hosted The Late Late Show with James Corden on Monday, she brought women from the database to shadow the stage manager, associate music producer and head writers of the CBS show. "It's happening, it's a real thing, because women get it done," she said. 

Inspiration for the cause came from Dr. Stacy Smith of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative's findings that in 2019, women made up just 17 percent of artists in the Billboard Top 100, and 12.3 percent of songwriters. Keys said that the "deep and disturbing gap" was shocking in how poor the statistics really are, and "it's really about all of us recognizing that when things are unbalanced they have to be rectified and corrected."  

Of where she hopes to see the industry go, the star says she wants a time when hiring women is just part of standard operations, not something people have to consciously think about, so that "it's not so unusual that, 'Wow, there's two women on the board! And one of them is black!' It's bullshit." 

Keys also briefly talked about her upcoming album A.L.I.C.I.A, which she said is her first self-titled project because "I feel this is the first time I've been most fully myself."