Conceived after her marriage to producer Swizz Beats and the birth of her son, Egypt, Alicia Keys has claimed that her fifth studio album, Girl On Fire, shows how she now sees the world with new eyes. But despite its constant girl power motifs, the follow-up to 2009’s The Element Of Freedom is far from a one-woman show, with a who’s who of contemporary R&B from Frank Ocean to Bruno Mars and John Legend in tow to help create what is by far the most ambitious record of her career. Here’s a look at five examples of Keys and her star-studded behind-the-scenes team’s most impressive way with words:

When It’s All Over

Keys often treads that fine line between hopeless romantic and connoisseur of schmaltz, but she just about avoids straying into the latter with this slightly funereal sentiment about how the love for her man will be at the top of her achievements when she arrives at the Gates of Heaven. By contrast, The xx beatmaker Jamie Smith’s unusually cluttered production is more suited to a carnival than a wake, staking a claim for “When It’s All Over” as Keys’ most inventive offering to date: [LISTEN]

I’m not worried about tomorrow, tomorrow
All I know, all the time we have is borrowed, I feel no sorrow
When they lay me down, put my soul to rest,
When they ask me how I spent my life
At least I got to love you

Girl On Fire

Following in the footsteps of Jay-Z, Dizzee Rascal and Run-D.M.C., Keys is the latest urban star to use 80s arena-rock guitarist Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat” as an unlikely template for this female empowerment anthem which in a similar celebratory manner to Beyonce, suggests that girls do indeed run the world. However the unnecessary guest appearance from Nicki Minaj, who rambles on about being tortured by the spirit of Marilyn Monroe for no apparent reason, sounds like the Barbie obsessive gate-crashed the studio when everyone was out: [LISTEN]

Everybody stands, as she goes by
Cause they can see the flame that’s in her eyes
Watch her when she’s lighting up the night
Nobody knows that she’s a lonely girl
And it’s a lonely world
But she gon’ let it burn, baby, burn, baby

One Thing

Frank Ocean hasn’t garnered a reputation as the saviour of modern R&B for nothing. Echoing the subtle storytelling and theme of longing that characterised his modern classic, Channel Orange, “One Thing” sees Keys question the state of a disintegrated relationship that she once thought was rock solid amidst a fittingly understated blend of melancholic acoustic blues, subtle piano chords and muted neo-soul beats. Proof that heartbreak and despair doesn’t always need to be surrounded by bombast: [LISTEN]

Square face and puppy eyes
Found out they never lie
Your old man in the sky left you a house with a yard
But you went away, a different try, found a place that’s your size
Too good to finish life here with me


The kind of hauntingly emotive ballad we know Emeli Sande is capable of but for some reason or other chooses to eschew for inoffensive MOR, Britain’s most ubiquitous soul singer’s third co-write is a far cry from her other two safer contributions. Keys plays the willing doormat to perfection as she tries to convince herself that she will be the lucky first out of 101 girls to tame her ‘playa’ boyfriend, whilst simultaneously resigning herself to the fact that he will never love her the way that she loves him: [LISTEN]

Know you’ve got the sound of a heart that’s breaking
I know it don’t phase you anymore
You’re the kings of the game that you played
I know you played it a hundred times before
You fill your bedroom up with trophies
Then you get a kick out of closing the door

Tears Always Win

Bruno Mars has penned some tosh in his time – “The Lazy Song” arguably the biggest culprit – but you have to give him some credit for the way he can constantly mine the theme of heartbreak in such a dramatic soap opera fashion. Channelling the tear-soaked output of Motown’s girl groups, Keys has something of a Bridget Jones moment as she cries herself to sleep whilst vainly trying to get over the loneliness that comes with a break-up. Corny it may be but in amongst the more quietly reserved moments of pain, it’s the track most likely to lodge itself inside your brain: [LISTEN]

These candles
Light up my room at night
But they can’t light the room they way you did
When you walked inside, oh baby

If these walls could sing

About everything they’ve witnessed
Oh it’d be a sad sad song