A classically-trained pianist with a keen ear for pop melodies, Alicia Keys has been a big deal since the release of her debut album, 2001's Songs in A Minor, released when she was only 20 years old. Brimming with personality and endless, soulful hooks, Keys' earned five Grammy Awards for her first effort, including Best New Artist, Song of the Year, Best R&B Album and Best R&B Song.
Two decades into her incredible career, we're looking back at five of Keys' most popular tracks.
Though Keys' soared to the top of the pop charts with "Fallin'," her story began much earlier; at 15, she'd signed a deal with Columbia Records that never panned out. Working with legendary record man Clive Davis' J Records label, Songs in A Minor featured powerful tunes that seemed like they could've been written by someone with more life experience. But it was Alicia's truth, all her own. "It is about the ins and outs of a relationship," she told Billboard of "Fallin'." "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."
"You Don't Know My Name" (2003)
Keys continued her growth on second album The Diary of Alicia Keys, trading in some of her more formal classical and R&B influences for to-the-moment hip-hop collaborations. One such example: "You Don't Know My Name," produced by an up-and-coming Chicago producer named Kanye West. Bolstered by a sample of The Main Ingredient's "Let Me Prove My Love to You," "Name" checked off all the boxes and earned her another Top 10 hit.
"If I Ain't Got You" (2004)
Inspired by the loss of R&B singer Aaliyah, who was only two years Keys' senior when she passed away in 2001, Keys almost gave this delicate piano melody to Christina Aguilera before keeping it for herself. She did let one other voice on a rare version of this Top 10 hit: her close friend Usher, who later recruited her for the chart-topping "My Boo."
"No One" (2007)
She'd recorded songs of heartbreak with the best of them, but "No One," a beautiful love song with a hip-hop beat, remains among Keys' most sunny songs. The tune returned her to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for five straight weeks and added two more Grammy Awards to her shelf, for Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. (In 2019 and 2020, with a total of 15 trophies to her name, she started hosting the ceremony.)
"Empire State of Mind" (Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys, 2009)
Rapper Jay-Z enjoyed coming out of retirement in 2006 after only a few years away from the rap game. But it was 2009's The Blueprint 3 that gave him a new milestone: this hard-hitting tribute to New York City, featuring a soaring chorus from Keys, became his first and only No. 1 single as a lead artist. And it almost didn't happen: his first choice was singer Mary J. Blige, until he realized the Manhattan-born, multiracial Keys would represent the song's message. "Jay [said]: 'I feel like I have this record that's going to be the anthem of New York...The piano, the way the style [is], the whole flow, and it couldn't be the anthem of New York without you,'" she recalled to MTV.
Read More: Here's the 411: Mary J. Blige's Biggest Hits
"Girl on Fire" (2011)
As a new mother at the time her fifth album, Girl on Fire, was released, Alicia was looking to salute the power of women. She did so mightily on the album's title track, featuring a booming backbeat and a knockout chorus. The album became her fourth to top the U.S. charts, and the song remains one of her biggest international hits, reaching No. 5 in England and the Top 10 around the world.