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Alicia Keys Is Ready to ‘Create Memories’ With Her Soulful First Holiday Album ‘Santa Baby’

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When Alicia Keys set out to make her first holiday album, Santa Baby, she wanted to make sure it sounded like a project she would put out at any time of year.

“It has a soulfulness, a rawness, it has that New York energy in it too, but it just feels like something you could play from top to bottom,” Keys tells the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen below) about the Apple Music-exclusive album. “And I recorded it like that; we recorded it very consistently over about seven days, and it all really feels cohesive and great. And so I love it. I think now is the time.

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“And it’s my first release off of my own independent record label, Alicia Keys Records, so it makes it even better.”

“Soulfulness” was the vibe Keys kept returning to for the album, which was released last month, saying, “It really does harness a sound, and that sound is always going to have that soulfulness. Everything that I touch is going to have a soulfulness, it’s gonna have something that feels warm, I want it to feel meaningful, I want the lyrics to be things that you never forget. I want to create memories.”

The album’s lead single, “December Back 2 June,” is the perfect example of an original on the album, which Keys co-wrote with Tayla Parx, that could really fit in on any year-round Keys project. But there is one Yuletide touch from producer Tommy Parker that gives the song some festive flair.

“I was like, ‘Where did he find this Christmas Jackson 5 song that I’ve never heard in all my life?’” Keys recalls thinking when she heard the high-pitched “It’s just Christmastime” line in the production. “And so I talked to him, and I’m like, ‘Is this a sample? What is this?’ And he had actually created that voice and that kind of sample-sounding pitch. And I fell in love with it, because to me it felt like a ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ or one of these songs that are my style, like that kind of ’70s sample, we’ll put a modern approach on it. And so it totally was 100% me, and he said that he created it with that in mind.”

As for the album’s namesake song, Keys has always appreciated the 1953 original for its ahead-of-its-time boldness. “‘Santa Baby’ by Eartha Kitt is like, by far to me, one of the best-written songs of all time,” she says. “I just love that cheekiness, the flirtiness. I love the way that she approached it, especially … as a woman in that time, that she was totally bold, brave, she wasn’t trying to meet anybody else’s standards. She set her own direction and journey and lane, and so … I was very excited to bring that out, in my style.”

But Keys is most thrilled to become part of people’s holiday traditions with her addition to the Christmas catalog. “There’s timeless music that, every year, you’re gonna hear it and you need it and you love it,” she says. “And I really want to be a part of that group of timeless compositions that you can just forever love, forever depend on, and forever create memories with your family and your loved ones.”

Listen to the full interview with Keys above, in which she also names some of her all-time favorite Christmas music, including Boyz II Men’s 1993 album Christmas Interpretations; Vince Guaraldi Trio’s 1965 soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas (she covers “Christmas Time Is Here” on her new album); So So Def’s 12 Soulful Nights of Christmas from 1996 (on which Keys performs “Little Drummer Girl” — the then-teenager’s first album appearance); George Winston’s 1982 project December; 1973’s A Motown Christmas; and, last but not least, James Brown’s holiday albums, including her personal favorite song “Santa, Go Straight to the Ghetto.”

Also on the show, we’ve got chart news on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” returning to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart and producer Metro Boomin scoring his third No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with the chart-topping debut of Heroes & Villains.

The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard‘s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard‘s executive digital director, West Coast, Katie Atkinson and Billboard’s senior director of charts Keith Caulfield every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)  

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