Why Alicia Keys isn't wearing makeup on 'The Voice'

Those of you who tuned in to NBC's “The Voice” on Sunday night may have noticed something a little unusual: a celebrity, on network television, sans makeup.

Alicia Keys, one of Season 11's judges/coaches, no longer wears makeup, a decision she described publicly in May: “I don't want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing.”

Keys's bare, freckled face has garnered some attention before Sunday's one-hour preview of “The Voice,” Season 11. She was photographed on the red carpet of the BET Awards in June, when about 7 million viewers tuned into the show, which also featured Keys performing.

But now an even bigger audience will regularly see Keys' makeup-free face on the NBC series, which drew just over 13 million viewers last season. Perhaps it's fitting that Keys will be on a show premised on celebrity coaches choosing singers blindly so the decisions “are based solely on voice and not on looks.”

The process that led Keys to alter her public image came after years of fame and feeling insecure, as she wrote in Lena Dunham's “Lenny Letter”:

“I was finally uncovering just how much I censored myself, and it scared me. Who was I anyway? Did I even know HOW to be brutally honest anymore? Who I wanted to be?

“I didn't know the answers exactly, but I desperately wanted to.

“In one song I wrote, called “When a Girl Can't Be Herself,” it says,

“In the morning from the minute that I wake up / What if I don't want to put on all that makeup / Who says I must conceal what I'm made of / Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem

“No disrespect to Maybelline, the word just worked after the maybe. But the truth is … I was really starting to feel like that - that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see.

“This started manifesting on many levels, and it was not healthy.

“Every time I left the house, I would be worried if I didn't put on makeup: What if someone wanted a picture?? What if they POSTED it??? These were the insecure, superficial, but honest thoughts I was thinking. And all of it, one way or another, was based too much on what other people thought of me.

“I found my way to meditation, and I started focusing on clarity and a deeper knowing of myself. I focused on cultivating strength and conviction and put a practice in place to learn more about the real me.”

But the moment that led to her no-makeup revelation came when she arrived at a photo shoot for her new single, “In Common.” She had just come from the gym and her face was “totally raw,” Keys wrote. “As far as I was concerned, this was my quick run-to-the-shoot-so-I-can-get-ready look, not the actual photo-shoot look.”

The photographer told her “I have to shoot you right now, like this! The music is raw and real, and these photos have to be too!” Keys wrote.

At first unsure, the singer eventually relented. “I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt,” she wrote about the experience and resulting images. Later, she appeared on the cover of Fault magazine, freckles and all.

For us noncelebrity women, not wearing makeup can result in more than just criticism - it could affect a person's salary, too. There's considerable research showing that attractive people tend to earn more, but a recent paper by University of Chicago and University of California at Irvine sociologists suggests that nearly all of the salary differences between women of varying attractiveness is because of grooming, such as wearing makeup and/or styling hair.

For very famous women, who face intense scrutiny over their looks, going without makeup has been heralded by some as an act of bravery. But not everyone thinks the definition of courage is to walk around with a natural face. For instance, as Callie Beusman wrote on Jezebel:

“'Not wearing makeup: is it feminism, laziness or the rise of cosmetic normcore?' wonders Slate. Huh. Good question: having a face and not smearing cosmetics upon it: is it a political statement, sloth, or, uh, some kind of weird fashion thing? Or could be it be some strange, unheard-of fourth option … such as being a human in possession of a face who doesn't feel the need to apply products to it, and it is really just not a big deal?”

Alicia Keys performs during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July. courtesy of Daniel Acker, Bloomberg

Still, there have been female artists who have used makeup to make some sort of social or political statement. Take singer Andra Day, who has taken to removing makeup mid-show as a part of her act.

“I always felt more comfortable with a full face of makeup,” she said during a March show in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times. She continued wiping away her makeup, saying “as my face got cleaner, my relationships got cleaner.” Then she launched into a cover of Kendrick Lamar's “No Make-Up (Her Vice).”

Mila Kunis appeared on the back cover of Glamour's August issue without makeup, telling the magazine she felt fine about appearing that way.

“I don't wear makeup. I don't wash my hair every day. It's not something that I associate with myself,” she said. “I commend women who wake up 30, 40 minutes early to put on eyeliner. I think it's beautiful. I'm just not that person. So to go to a shoot and have my makeup artist put on face cream and send me off to do a photo, I was like, 'Well, this makes life easy.' And you're still protected. Nobody's there to make you look bad.”

Interest in seeing what a famous person looks like below the layers of foundation, powder and concealer has been considerable for some time. There's a whole subgenre of online photogalleries keeping track of makeup free celebrity pictures, from candid shots to selfies.

Every now and then, we'll see a celebrity post a #nomakeup selfie to social media, and not necessarily connected to any kind of particular message. Even the ever-made up Kim Kardashian does it from time to time.

Few famous women, though, have staked out such a definitive stance as Keys. In the trailer ahead of “The Voice” season preview, Keys says, “You're able to hear someone, true, for who they are. And that's what music is.”

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.