When you’re Alicia Keys, hooking up with one of the most acclaimed singer/songwriters of the day is as easy as picking up the phone.
“I’m a big fan of Frank’s as well,” Keys told MTV News about reclusive singer, and likely Grammy nominee, Frank Ocean. “I love his writing. I love the way that he is so cerebral. There’s something really cool about how that comes together as a song.”
Though she thought it wasn’t really meant to happen, Keys figured out a way to get in a room with Ocean to ostensibly just talk and get to know one another while she was writing her #1 debuting fifth studio album, Girl On Fire . “We were just gonna hang out and talk and next thing we knew I was like, ‘but I have these chords.’”
Next thing they knew, Ocean’s frequent collaborator, James “Malay” Ho, picked up a guitar and started strumming and a “natural, cool vibe” emerged that resulted in the song. “I really love [the song], because it’s this story about this relationship,” she said. “It starts out on the train and by the end of the song you figure out who I got on that train. And how there’s one thing you’re searching for and what happens in that story.”
The slow-burn “One Thing,” is the perfect mind-meld of Ocean’s signature longing, poetic lyrics about love just out of reach, Keys’ feathery vocals and a spare keyboard bed that gives the tune an old-school soul feel. “You went away/ Gave it a try/ To find a place/ That’s your size,” Keys sings in a heartbroken near whisper. “You’re too good to finish life/ Here with me/ I couldn’t get you to say/ Why you wouldn’t let me come?”
In the end, Keys sings, what should be simple, just isn’t and it definitely should hurt as much as it does.
“I really wanted to do true collaborations, where two people from two different worlds mixed and what would happen,” Keys said by way of explaining why she reached out to the Odd Future crooner for songwriting help on the ballad.
Wanting to make more of those true connections, she also tapped everyone from Babyface to UK buzz acts Emeli Sandé and Jamie XX, blues prodigy Gary Clark Jr. and Bruno Mars. “There’s so many cool people that we were able to literally collide,” she said. “And the music, I think, went to a level that it wouldn’t have gone if it was just them or just me.”