Alicia Keys was ‘freaking out’ before her Grammys tribute to Kobe Bryant

Alicia Keys
Host Alicia Keys delivers a moving tribute to Kobe Bryant at the 2020 Grammy Awards.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Onstage at Sunday’s Grammy Awards, host Alicia Keys appeared calm and collected while delivering a moving tribute to Kobe Bryant hours after his sudden death. Backstage, it was a different story.

“We were all freaking out because, obviously, hearing the news about Kobe and his daughter was so tragic, and none of us can still believe it right now to this day,” Keys revealed on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” Wednesday. “It was definitely a crazy feeling because, literally minutes before, we were going to do something else, and we had to really figure out, how could we properly honor him in his house, on this night.”

Keys began the ceremony at Staples Center on a somber note, addressing recent reports that the Lakers legend, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others had died that morning in a Calabasas helicopter crash.

After offering some words of comfort, the veteran emcee proceeded to put her and the city’s heavy feelings into song, joined onstage by Boyz II Men for an intimate rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”

“I was literally backstage. I put on my meditation music. I was thinking,” Keys told DeGeneres of her preparation process. “I called some of my closest people that helped me really find the truth in the moment, and it just so happened Boyz II Men was there already that night, and we wanted to do something special — create something that felt like it was the right thing. And we pulled it together, and it was beautiful. It was like that magic that happens when it’s necessary.”


Grammys host Alicia Keys’ opening monologue at Sunday’s ceremony included a solemn tribute to Kobe Bryant. Read the full transcript of Keys’ remarks.

Bryant’s posthumous presence set the tone for Sunday’s event, prompting several other spoken and visual tributes from performers including Lizzo, Run-D.M.C., Lil Nas X and more.

Throughout the interview, DeGeneres commended Keys’ ability to handle, with grace, the unanticipated task of patching a global wound so deep and fresh.

“It was so much, but I was very honored to be able to share that moment with all of us — with the entire world,” Keys continued. “That we, together, could go through something that hurt so bad, together. And I feel really honored to have been able to be there with you in that time.”

Later in the interview, Keys discussed the inspiration for her forthcoming album, “Alicia,” and her journey to self-actualization.

“I’ve realized that I’ve never been more fully myself, and I’ve never been [more] fully Alicia than I am in this moment,” the singer-songwriter said. “I’m really enjoying getting to know myself in a way that I haven’t been brave enough to before or haven’t understood the nuances of what makes us all who we are.”

“Alicia” will be released March 20.