Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile surprised viewers of a voter turnout special Thursday night with a duet performance of a new song, “A Beautiful Noise,” which they immediately released as a single following the premiere on “Every Vote Counts: A Celebration of Democracy.”
Keys co-hosted the CBS special along with Kerry Washington and America Ferrera. When Carlile was added as a guest artist in recent days and tweeted that she was “doing a very special performance with someone I’ve wanted to collaborate with for a really long time,” there wasn’t much doubt a duet with Keys was in store (notwithstanding Carlile’s possible lifelong desire to harmonize with Offset or Dan + Shay). But the existence of a new song was still a surprise… though not as surprising as the songwriting credits for the new tune.
“A Beautiful Noise,” which is being released as a single by Keys’ label, RCA, lists eight women as songwriters — besides Keys and Carlile, its other credited writers are Brandy Clark, Linda Perry, Lori McKenna, Ruby Amanfu, Hailey Whitters and Hillary Lindsey. Clearly there’s a backstory there, and Variety spoke with Ali Harnell of Live Nation, who was instrumental in making the song happen, about how it came to be.
The song wasn’t always earmarked for the nonpartisan “Every Vote Counts” special, which was produced by Live Nation and Global Citizen, and its origins pre-date Carlile and Keys coming on to sing and co-write. “Beautiful Noise” was really the end result of a nearly year-long plan on the part of Harnell — a Live Nation veteran who was recently named president of a new Live Nation Women division — to celebrate women’s suffrage in advance of the 2020 election.
“This year is the 100-year anniversary of the 19th amendment and the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” points out Harnell. The origins of the new song “started back in April after COVID hit. Live Nation Women had been working toward doing this multi-city, one-day event to commemorate and celebrate women’s rights to vote. It was going to be August 16 and it was going to be at the Forum in L.A., Barclays in Brooklyn, the Ryman in Nashville and clubs and theaters across the country, telling the story of suffrage, how far women have come, how far we have to go, and spotlighting as many women from as many different sectors as we could broadcast in a livestream. It was all systems go, and then COVID hit and so we went, ‘Let’s wait a minute. We’ll be able to do shows by August! We’ll just push the announce.’ Eventually it was like, all right, what’s Plan B to amplify the voices of women this year?”
Ideas for an alternative campaign led to thinking that “great things happen with a great song, so I started to reach out to some songwriters. The first was Brandy Clark, one of Nashville’s greatest singer-songwriters. We started the conversation with her, and then just kept adding. With Lori McKenna and Hillary Lindsey alone, you’re among royalty. But we knew that diversity was important and wanted this to be a song that represented a lot of different views and voices and perspectives, so we just kept adding and ended up with this powerful song that has so much spirit and energy in it. Alicia and Brandi had the opportunity to perform the song during this kind of civic joy event that’s happening tonight, and it was kind of the perfect storm.”
Harnell can’t delineate exactly who did what among eight credited writers, and allows that with that many contributions there might be longer versions of the song than the roughly three-minute one that appeared Thursday night (saying “I don’t want to speak for the artists” when asking whether longer or alternative versions might get released). But the song “kind of bounced around” from woman to woman as one might expect in this situation, with the process beginning some time around late June, in her recollection, before it really began to gel in August and ended in a finished composition about six weeks ago. “We had the bones of the song and then they would send it out, and somebody else would add a verse and send it back around, and everybody would freak out — it was a really beautiful collaborative process.” Harnell adds that “we knew it would find its right home where it would have its moment, but we didn’t know what that was as we were creating it,” until the TV special began to come together a few weeks ago.
It’s getting it under the wire, less than a week before the election. “We’re coming in hot in the last minute,” Harnell laughs, “but I do feel like it’s a now-or-never, in that if there’s anything you can do to inspire and encourage one more woman to vote, there’s power in that. I feel like these are the most important days, because it takes a lot of lanes to get to that final place we’re trying to get them.”
“The evolution of ‘A Beautiful Noise’ represents a group of incredible women from all different walks of life coming together with a universal message of hope and empowerment,” Carlile said in a statement. “It is an important reminder that we all have a voice and that our voices count. It was an absolute dream and honor to join the incomparable Alicia Keys to deliver this beautiful message through song. Alicia lives this song. This is how she walks through the world. I am forever inspired. Please vote.”
Said Keys, “This song has that special energy that we really need to feel right now,” Keys said. “Everyone has the power to make beautiful noise and to lift others up with their voice. And now more than ever, we need to let those voices be heard by voting. I’m so grateful to have joined my sister Brandi Carlile, a beautiful spirit, inspiring artist and incredible person, for this moment.”
The parties involved are asking viewers and fans to a “challenge,” using the hashtag #ABeautifulNoise, to encourage each other to vote and share motivations and stories. Partner organizations are putting up voter resource information at TheUnitedStateOfWomen.org/vote.