This opens with a bit of classical music by Chopin, who Keys called "my dawg." She studied artists like Chopin, Beethoven, and Mozart when she played the piano growing up (she was born Alicia Augello-Cook, but took the stage name Keys because of the piano imagery).
Unlike modern samples, classical music is fair game for reinterpretation, and can be used without paying for it. Since it is hundreds of years old, there is no one who can claim rights to the music and collect publishing/songwriting royalties.
This was the first single from Keys, who was 20 years old when it was released, but had started writing the song three years earlier. A prodigy who signed with Columbia records when she was 16, Keys wrote the song while she was at the label. Her Columbia album never materialized, as she never clicked with their vision. When she was 18, she left for J Records, a new label founded by Clive Davis. Under Davis, she was given more creative freedom, which worked out very well. "Fallin'" was a huge hit and validated Davis' strategy.
This song is about the emotions that occur when you care very deeply for a person. Keys was going through a turbulent relationship when she wrote it, which inspired the song. It was a case of young love being vivid, as it was a new experience. "Your first one affects you even more so because you don't have the experience to know how to play it," Keys said. "You're tripping your way through it, and those hardships and good times and just growing is how 'Fallin'' developed."
Keys says that writing the song helped her work things out in the relationship.
The video shows Keys visiting her boyfriend... in jail.
The scenes showing Key visiting her incarcerated boyfriend complimented the song's ruminations on the pain of love. They were inspired by the case of Santra Rucker, who was sentenced to 13 consecutive life sentences for conspiracy to sell drugs because her boyfriend was a dealer. The story struck home with Keys, who became a pen pal with the imprisoned Rucker. The singer told The Guardian: "I wanted to show the realism behind love.... I know people who've gone to jail. It don't mean you stop loving them. It could be me in there."
Keys wanted to play the convict in the video, but her record company didn't want her showing up in prison garb in her first clip. It was a rare instance of Keys being overruled in a creative decision, but it was probably the right call, as the video showcased her striking beauty in a number of backdrops.
The music video was directed by Chris Robinson, who helmed clips for many R&B/hip-hop acts including Usher ("The Color of Love"), Erykah Badu ("Love of My Life") and Boyz II Men ("The Color of Love").
The success of this song led to great anticipation for the album, which debuted at #1 and stayed there for three weeks, even beating out P. Diddy's album.
On the strength of this single, the album Songs In A minor sold over 11 million copies worldwide. It was a good time for album sales, as digital distribution (legal and otherwise) encouraged single song downloads over the next few years.
Clive Davis had Keys perform this at his Grammy party, which was attended by lots of industry bigwigs. This led to an appearance on Jay Leno, which got her a great deal of publicity.
Keys got a big break when she performed this on Oprah before the album was released. Clive Davis wrote Oprah a personal letter to help get her on show.
According to Keys, her mother, who raised her on her own (her dad split when she was two years old), helped inspire this song. Her mom could drive Alicia crazy at times, but her love for her was unwavering.
This won the 2001 MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist In A Video. Keys performed this on the show, opening with a piano piece by Beethoven.
Despite the backing of Clive Davis, it was feared that this song wouldn't get playlisted. However, it went on to become one of the best-selling singles of 2001. Keys later reflected to Entertainment Weekly: ''There were so many people who didn't believe in it, because it went so much against the state of radio at the time. And just the journey of writing it - about how when you love someone but you're in and out, the struggle... When I sing it, I remember the years and years it took to get to a place where people would hear it, and I'm just so grateful."
Keys performed this on the 2001 season premiere of Saturday Night Live.
This won the 2001 Grammys for Song of the Year, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Best R&B Song. Keys performed this on the show and also won awards for Best New Artist and Best R&B Album.
Keys performed a version of this with Elmo on Sesame Street called "Dancin'."
In 2003, after the second season of American Idol
, judge Simon Cowell banned this song from the show because contestants kept singing it and the judges couldn't take it any more. It wasn't the only song to get the Idol
ax; others to share this honor include "Candle In The Wind
" and "I Will Always Love You
Keys told Billboard
in 2001: "I wanted to write a song for someone who was 10 or 12 years old - like a young Michael Jackson. Even though he was young, he was singing some deep stuff back then. [The song] is about the ins and outs of a relationship. Sometimes, you're completely head-over-heels in love with someone, and sometimes you can't stand that person. You fall in and out, sometimes it goes back and forth, and that's just what relationships are about."
Bertrand - Paris, France
On the 2002 Friends episode "The One With The Birthing Video," this plays as Chandler comes home and is about to discover a graphic video of a woman giving birth. It was also included on Friends: The Ultimate Soundtrack (2005).