Over the last decade, Keri Hilson has made a name for herself as a renowned songwriter, penning tracks for the likes of Britney Spears, Usher and the Pussycat Dolls, to name a few. After featuring on Timbaland’s 2007 ‘Shock Value’ LP, the Georgia native went from behind the scenes to becoming the main star. Two years later and her debut studio album, ‘In A Perfect World’, was released to critical acclaim, earning the 28-year-old two Grammy nominations…
In a time where many artists are keen to adapt to the ‘popular’ sound, Hilson follows her own musical path and has become one of R&B music’s front runners, with no signs of slowing down. Not shy to push the creative boundaries and prone to a bit a controversy, the sultry singer’s ‘No Boys Allowed’ demonstrates her musical growth and style evolution.
The talented songstress recently popped into MTV HQ, where she had a candid chat with The Wrap Up’s Vanessa Laker to talk about new music, female empowerment, fashion, men, controversy and much more!
The Wrap Up: Hi Keri! How are finding your stay in London so far?
Keri Hilson: Hi! So far, I’ve only had the preliminaries to my work here. I’ve done a couple of interviews, so we’re really just getting started, but I love London.
TWU: Your sophomore album, ‘No Boys Allowed’, is currently out. How does this record differ from your debut LP, ‘In A Perfect World’?
Keri Hilson: It’s a lot more self assured. It’s a lot more aggressive. I felt that with ‘In A Perfect World’ I was still kind of finding myself – not just as a musician, but also in love and in life. A lot of the songs were written maybe five or six years ago. Now, I know a lot more about what it is I want from relationships. I feel women tolerate way too much. We don’t get half of what we need from men these days and I just wanted to call guys out, let them know we know the difference between a boy and a man.
TWU: The title ‘No Boys Allowed’ can easily be misinterpreted. What’s the exact meaning behind it?
Keri Hilson: It just means real men do real things. I prefer men to boys. To clear it up, it’s not about an older or younger thing. It’s a mindset, not age. There are 18-year-old men out there and there are 40-year-old boys.
TWU: This album has a really sexy, self empowerment feel to it. Is this a reflection of how you’re feeling at this point in your life and career?
Keri Hilson: Absolutely! I don’t have the reason, or will, to do music that paints myself perfect. If that means revealing parts of me, that others might not… You know, I’m just a lot less inhibited and I don’t approach music the way I once did a very long time ago.
TWU: Switching to fashion, you’re always pictured on the red carpet looking very glam. How important is style and fashion to you?
Keri Hilson: I’ll be honest; I’m a student of fashion. I say that because I just wear what I feel. I’m not led by name brands and things like that. You’d much more see me in approachable brands, approachable stores and things like that. I mix the high street with the high end, but I’m not all about designer clothes. We call it a ‘label whore’ or a ‘label freak’, and I’m not all about that.
TWU: And how would you describe your own personal style?
Keri Hilson: My personal style is tomboy sheek!
TWU: Being a female in the public eye, do you feel under pressure to always look your best?
Keri Hilson: Erm, there’s a little pressure, but it really doesn’t get to me because you want to look your best. Even if you’re walking through the airport or going to pick up your mail, if you meet a fan and they have a camera, they will take a picture of you and millions could potentially see that picture – if it’s picked up by a blog or whatever. That potential is what makes me spend a little more time on the things I don’t care about, which is the girly s**t, beauty etc.
TWU: Do you feel this pressure to look good is more intense for females, compared to males?
Keri Hilson: I don’t know. I feel like men put in some effort to look effortless, it’s the one thing I’ve realised because I’m around a lot of stylish, fashionable men. Although they get to be a lot more friggin’ comfortable than we are, they’re into fashion; they just pretend they’re not.
TWU: OK, back to your album. One of my personal favourite songs is ‘One Night Stand’ featuring Chris Brown, as it kind of takes you back to that old skool R&B vibe. Did you guys set out and intend to take R&B back to its grassroots with this song?
Keri Hilson: Yeah, that was intentional. That’s the error that I love. I love everything from the 70s, 80s and 90s. I love everything that I grew up on. Well, I didn’t come from the 70s, but my parents made me have an appreciation for that music and the early 80s. So yeah, it was definitely intentional. When Chris Brown and I get together, it’s always a moment in time and I just remember having fun. That’s what it’s all about.
TWU: A lot of contemporary R&B has a European dance sound to it now, but are you a fan of the two sounds mixing?
Keri Hilson: Yes, it has happened and I feel like I’ve watched it happen, because I travel here and you can hear the sound slowly creeping into American music. Now, though, it’s full on and it’s not even just singers, but rappers as well – everyone! I think it’s a really cool sound. I think it was long overdue that the music pierced a gap over the seas. It took a lot of seriousness out of what hip-hop used to be. You had things like gangsta rap and now it’s more party mode. I think it’s a good thing. I mean, I could do with a little more of a conscious rap, I just don’t want us to lose our way, but at the same time, it’s a sign of the times and our economy. During these times, people just want to be entertained, they wanna have fun and music is a reflection of the era.
TWU: Your recent video for ‘The Way You Love Me’ made quite a few headlines and caused a bit of controversy. Were you surprised by the reaction that video received?
Keri Hilson: Erm, I’ll be honest, nothing surprises me anymore. It was what it was, or it is what it is. It was a moment in time. It was (dancer and choreographer) Laurieann Gibson’s directorial debut and we just wanted to have fun with the record. I mean, how many ways are you gonna take a sexual record? But I was surprised – as everybody else was surprised – because when I’m in the studio, I don’t really censor myself, but at the same time, after, as an after thought, you do censor your record. You do go back and change the f-words to other things. I do that all the time. But while I’m creating, I don’t think about the consumer, I don’t think about kids, I don’t think about anything, other than my feelings in that moment. But after I’d switched out all of the bad words, the bad words showed up synced to my video on World Star Hip-Hop. So yeah, I didn’t expect that.
TWU: So you were pretty surprised when you saw the video then?
Keri Hilson: Oh yes, I was surprised. I was just as surprised as the fans were when I was watching it. I was like, ‘OK, now this does change things a bit.’ The language did change certain things, but I’m not ashamed of it, I mean, I recorded it, I did it, you know? All I can say is that it was a moment in time.
TWU: Now your next UK single is ‘Pretty Girl Rock’ and the video for that song is very cool and creative and sees you pay homage to a lot of female singers. Tell us a bit about the video…
Keri Hilson: Thanks! It’s actually one of my favourite videos I’ve ever shot. I got to be multiple personalities that day. It was a really cool video shoot for me. It was directed by Joseph Kahn and the only direction I gave him was that I didn’t want the video to be about me. The song was so much about me, to the surface listeners. What I wanted people to understand is that I‘m just one of many examples of a confident woman. I want to display other women who felt the way I felt and they were great. Yes, they happened to be physically beautiful, but it was about much more than that. It’s about the way they carry themselves, it’s about the way they were groundbreaking – and that they were women. I think as women, we shy away from adversity. Everyone I chose was scrutinised for their craft, for their creativity. From Josephine Baker in the 1920s, being an African American and dancing and dressing the way she did, it was unacceptable in a lot of pockets of society, all the way through to Janet Jackson and TLC. No-one’s success comes without controversy, in the same way no average or non-industry person’s success comes without adversity. That‘s what I really wanted the video to say. I think more women need to have that tenacity, persistence, drive and confidence.
TWU: Music aside, when you’re not working, what do you like to do to relax?
Keri Hilson: When am I not working? That’s the question (laughs). I love the water, I love to swim. I like watching movies and I love seeing my family – that keeps me grounded and gives me some moments of reality. Other than that, when I’m not working, I like to sleep!
Kerri Hilson’s new single, ‘Pretty Girl Rock’, is out on July 4. ‘No Boys Allowed’ is out now.
This interview was conducted for MTV: The Wrap Up!
Words: Vanessa Laker (@VanessaLaker)