Alicia Keys, 'Perfect Way To Die': Protest Music In 2020 : We Insist: A Timeline Of Protest Music In 2020 This song, part of our 'We Insist' timeline of 2020's noteworthy protest music, was released June 19.
NPR logo On 'Perfect Way To Die,' Alicia Keys Attempts To Approximate Black Anxiety

On 'Perfect Way To Die,' Alicia Keys Attempts To Approximate Black Anxiety

YouTube

"Of course, there is NO perfect way to die," Alicia Keys said upon releasing the song. "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." This tweet is indicative of the contradictions that burden the song: "Perfect Way to Die" says a lot while saying nothing at all, aiming for somewhere between metaphor and allegory and ultimately landing somewhere around vague fiction. The song alludes to Sandra Bland and Michael Brown, but in a fabricated narrative about an unremarkable day that descends into violence, chaos and grief.

The lyrics, in isolation, technically speak towards the current moment gripping Black America — there are references made to blood in the streets, flashing police lights, a mother's pain and unfulfilled promises — and they are underscored by a solemn piano ballad that has become a signature of Keys. Despite hitting all of the marks, the end result falls flat — aimless, unfocused and untethered to the palpable, defiant energy of the current youth-driven movement. In an uprising, there is no such thing as a perfect martyr, nor is there a perfect approach to unrest, but the art generated during this time should strive to reflect the energy of the moment.