For every moment there is a song and for this moment, Alicia Keys has given us a moving anthem of grief and love that tells the tale of heartbreak too many mothers and fathers know all too well. “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?”/ Tears in her eyes, “Can you calm down?/ Please, ma’am, can you calm down?,” begins the hushed piano ballad “Perfect Way to Die,” which dropped on Friday (June 19).
The story of a mother’s unimaginable grief at the loss of her son — the latest in a long line of young black and brown men and women who’ve died at the hands of police — unfolds as Keys sings about a hopeful life snuffed out and the marchers that fill the streets demanding justice, only to have their pleas fall on deaf ears.
“Sometimes I don’t have the words and music is the only thing that can speak. I hope this speaks to you. I hope one day this song won’t be so relevant. Let’s NEVER stop fighting for justice,” the singer tweeted after the song’s release. And though the elegant track’s chorus muses on the unimaginable grief of a mother 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” — the singer said even she doesn’t understand what that means.
“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.” Earlier this week, Keys told Trevor Noah that “Perfect Way to Die” was inspired by the killings of Mike Brown and Sandra bland, respectively, by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, and of hanging in her jail cell in Texas in 2015 after police stopped her for a minor traffic violation.
“You hear these stories, and you hear their stories in these lyrics and the devastating thing is that it’s never not going to be relevant,” Keys told the Daily Show host. “And where we are right now, in the world and in this country, in American particularly, we are in a real, a real place that we can all see that this is the most major pandemic of all. This deeply rooted racism, this police brutality, this treatment of black people that is just completely unacceptable. To the point where daily daily we are seeing lives lost, people murdered for… nothing, nothing. For being black.”
Keys is gearing up for her Verzuz battle with John Legend, in which she and friend Legend will pull up to their pianos and throw down in a celebration of Friday’s Juneteenth holiday.
See Keys’ tweets and listen to “Perfect Way to Die” below.