'Babe, I think something special is happening': Alicia Keys recalls 'Girl on Fire' session

Alicia Keys vividly remembers the moment she knew “Girl on Fire” could be a career-defining piece of work.

“We wrote the hook, you heard that big beat," she tells USA TODAY from Jungle City Studios in New York. "And I was in another room and I heard it banging against the wall.

“I called my husband (Grammy-winning producer Swizz Beatz) and I said, ‘Babe, I think something special is happening right now.’ ”

The song went five-times platinum. And the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Nearly 10 years after the album's release, Keys returns to “Girl on Fire” with a graphic novel that bears the title and builds upon the single. The story centers on 14-year-old Lolo Wright, who discovers she has superpowers.

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Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire" is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

“You definitely get to imagine who this girl on fire is,” Keys says of what she was able to add to the original work with a novel. “But I think really giving (the song more) context, being able to see this girl Lolo’s life … and giving it a beautiful, gorgeous visual to go along with it.”

Brittney Williams illustrated the novel; the story was co-written by Andrew Weiner. Keys says the whole process took at least five years. She was adamant on finding a talented Black illustrator and ensuring she was comfortable with the final product.

The novel is the latest piece of work for the multifaceted Keys, who founded and runs her lifestyle brand Keys Soulcare and released a double album, “Keys,” in 2021. Most recently, she appeared on “City of Gods” with rapper Fivio Foreign and Ye (formerly Kanye West). She also performed the track with them in Miami at Ye’s “Donda 2” event.

Alicia Keys' new graphic novel, "Girl on Fire," co-written by Andrew Weiner and illustrated by Brittney Williams, is inspired by the song.

And on the music front, there’s more to come. “A Beautiful Noise,” a collaboration with Brandi Carlile released to inspire voter turnout for the 2020 presidential election, is up for song of the year at next month’s Grammy Awards. 

"It’s just as powerful now as we continue to see the world around us making us choose to stand up for peace, to stand up for justice, to stand up for the rights that we deserve," she says.

“We wanted to use this song to really be that vehicle to remind people: ‘This is your voice. And we can use it to make a beautiful noise.’ ”

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