Perfect Way To Die

Songfacts®:

  • Alicia Keys wrote this emotional piano ballad from the perspective of a grieving mother who has lost her son to a violent act. She starts off the moving anthem by singing:

    Simple walk to the corner store
    Mama never thought she would be gettin' a call from the coroner
    Said her son's been gunned down, been gunned down
    Can you come now?


    It may be that Keys is recalling the death of Trayvon Martin. An unarmed 17-year-old African American, Martin was returning to his fiancée's house from a nearby convenience store in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012 when he was confronted by a mixed-race neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman. The confrontation ended with Zimmerman fatally shooting Martin. Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and of manslaughter by the jury.
  • During the chorus, Keys reflects on the heartbroken mom saying her final goodbye.

    'Cause this could be our final time
    And you know I'm horrible at saying goodbye
    I'll think of all you coulda done
    At least you'll stay forever young
    I guess you picked the perfect way to die


    Keys wrote on Instagram after the song's release that she's unable to comprehend such deaths. "Of course, there is NO perfect way to die," she wrote. "That phrase doesn't even make sense. Just like it doesn't make sense that there are so many innocent lives that should not have been taken from us due to the destructive culture of police violence."
  • Keys wrote the song in 2019. She released it on Juneteenth (June 19), 2020, an African American celebration dating back to June 19, 1865 when slaves in Texas were told that they were free and that the Civil War had ended. The release came weeks after the police killing of George Floyd, which sparked protests against police brutality around the world. Keys told Vogue that the lyrics were inspired by the deaths of two other African Americans at the hands of the police:

    18-year-old Mike Brown, who was fatally shot by white police officer Darren Wilson in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

    Sandra Bland, who was found hanging in a Texas cell on July 13, 2015, just days after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation.

    "It was written a little while ago, but right now is the time to share it," Keys said. "I keep saying, 'I really hope there's a time we won't need to share it,' but it keeps remaining relevant. This is a musical expression of what we're seeing every day, this police brutality that is completely out of hand."
  • Keys explained that music is her tool to understand the institutionalized racism and police violence that has long plagued the African American community. "I have felt called by music like I have never felt before," she said. "I have been following its lead. It has led me to the song A Perfect Way to Die. The song title is so powerful and heartbreaking because WE are heartbroken by so many who have died unjustly."
  • Alicia Keys performed the song on a grand piano in the middle of an empty city street for the 2020 BET Awards on June 28, 2020. At the end of her rendition, Keys took a knee in protest as the camera panned back to reveal the names written chalk on the pavement of black men and women whose lives were cut short.

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