Alicia Keys' decision to arrive at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards in August 2016 barefaced stirred a huge reaction. The singer later clarified she'd decided to forgo makeup as part of a journey towards empowerment for herself. In an essay penned for Lena Dunham's Lenny Letter
, Keys detailed the pressure she felt to look perfect.
"Before I started my new album, I wrote a list of all the things that I was sick of. And one was how much women are brainwashed into feeling like we have to be skinny, or sexy, or desirable, or perfect," she wrote. "All of it is so frustrating and so freakin' impossible."
Keys finally felt liberated when she sat down for a photoshoot straight after a gym session and the photographer immediately began taking pictures of her.
"I was shocked. Instantly, I became a bit nervous and slightly uncomfortable. My face was totally raw. I had on a sweatshirt!" she recalled. "(But) I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt."
This song details her decision to stop wearing makeup. In the morning from the minute that I wake up
What if I don't want to put on all that makeup
Who says I must conceal what I'm made of
Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem.