Keri Hilson Is Happy With ‘Diva’ Title, Reveals Vocal Issues
Though her talent has never been up for debate, Atlanta singer Keri Hilson has always appeared to be on the verge of something bigger, tantalizingly close to delivering on her considerable promise as a pop-leaning R&B diva, and eclipsing the sizable buzz she has built as a songwriter for Mary J. Blige and Britney Spears, and vocalist on Timbaland’s 2007 smash ‘The Way You Are.’
Powered by a staunch feminist empowerment theme, her 2010 sophomore release, ‘No Boys Allowed,’ may not have produced the career-defining moment critics hoped for, but her refusal to apologize for her controversial, sexed-up ‘The Way You Love Me’ video marked a turning point in Hilson’s journey towards R&B divahood.
As she wraps up her supporting role on Lil Wayne’s I Am Still Music tour, and records her third album, Hilson once again appears poised for the next step, carefully plotting her approach. In a tight-knit crowd of similarly-talented singers vying for the same bouquet, the statuesque blond stands a little taller than the rest. And while her path may not yet be mapped, her direction is clear; this time around, Keri Hilson makes no apology about her diva aspirations.
The title of your first album, ‘In a Perfect World…’ dealt with the idea that no one is perfect. ‘No Boys Allowed’ went a step further into female self-empowerment. Where is your head now, going into this third album?
‘No Boys Allowed,’ for me, was a lot more aggressive. This next record, I have no idea. I have to allow myself to live life, allow myself to be inspired [by] conversations, my own personal love life — normally that’s where the inspiration comes from. If I had to guess, it may be closer to the first. A little more emotional, maybe a little more vulnerable, judging from my life, without saying any more I think that’s the tone.
How far are you into that process?
I’m not far at all [laughs]. I haven’t started the third album. I haven’t started recording it, I haven’t even really started thinking about it. I’m still promoting here in the US. I’m on tour with Lil Wayne to promote ‘No Boys Allowed.’ I’m also promoting overseas because ‘Pretty Girl Rock’ is a brand new record over there. So I’m really excited about that.
Are you a competitive person?
I’m a very competitive person. I grew up playing sports and it’s like a… self-drive. I’m very driven, and extraneous factors don’t affect how hard I work, really. Charts — none of that matters to me. All that matters is that I’m competing within myself to top the last song, top the last performance, whatever it is.
Are there other artists that inspire you to get back into the studio?
I’m inspired by a lot of people, I can’t say anybody — maybe Bruno Mars would be one of the people that lights my fire — Cee Lo Green being another. I’m inspired by a lot of people that make me go in and wanna — not do what they do, I’m influenced by none — but I am inspired to write just incredible music that is heartfelt and true to me. Yeah, a couple people light my fire.
Do you have other interests besides music?
Besides music, I have a real passion for interior design. Probably because my father is a developer, I’ve always noticed my surroundings. Molding and ceilings and floors and textures and colors and art and architecture, vegetation, landscaping, structure, everything about design as it pertains to home design, I love. I love, love, love. I don’t have the time, but I have a passion for interior design that I discovered throughout the years, starting with my college dorm room [laughs]. I’m thinking about having an agency for interior designers, because I could live vicariously through them. I don’t have time to do it myself.
What did your college dorm room look like?
My college dorm room at one point — I changed it quite often — I’m sure my roommates were weirded out by how much I changed my dorm room, but at one point I loved dolphins. Going into college, my room was what I call dolphin blue, dolphin silver-blue, like a denim color. So I made my own denim pillows and my comforter was denim. I was on a budget, I remember I got that from like a dollar store or something [laughs]. Big Lots [store] or something. Blue lights, music, of course, was in the room, and I remember having this guitar lamp and a saxophone lamp… and I also had a dolphin lamp and lots of candles. I remember you could smell my dorm room from around the hall. That’s another thing I’m passionate about, scents! My nose is huge and it’s not for no reason.
How much of that design side of you comes into play for your live show, or your videos, or your aesthetic?
I notice aesthetics when it comes to stage and set design. In videos, on stage, I probably am a little more hands-on than other artists are with that part of their day, or career. So I look around and say, “Why don’t we try this or try that?” Usually, when I read the treatment I’m visualizing what I’d like to see in the room.
Do you feel like other artists are paying attention to what you’re doing, or biting you at all?
No, I’m not concerned with that.
You don’t even notice it?
Well, maybe there is going to be a new wave of artists that’s inspired by me, that’s what I hope would happen. So it would be nothing but flattery if I saw little Keri Hilson spawns one day, but it’s not gonna affect what I do, and what I’ve always heard in my own head. I’m just gonna do me regardless. It would be cool though.
What about television and film? Are those mediums you’re interested in branching into?
I was a theater major in college, and I grew up doing musical theater, so acting is another love of mine. I’ve been reading scripts. I’m just waiting for the perfect introduction into the big screen. I love scary movies, not sure I want to be haunted in real life by the things that I enjoy watching [laughs]. Maybe comedy or romantic comedy. We’ll see, but definitely something outside of myself. I don’t want to play a musician. I mean if the dollar’s right, then maybe.
So tell us about touring with Wayne. Were you excited?
I [was] really excited to be on yet another tour with Lil Wayne. I was on his first ever headlining tour, I Am Music, and now it’s I Am Still Music and he is still music, he’s still very successful. I’m very proud of him. I feel like, being from the south, I’m really proud of him. You know, watching where — one verse on ‘Back That A– Up’ — that Juvenile record, Cash Money situation, no one would have seen [where] that little one verse, ‘Woppity, woppity/ Drop it like it’s hot’ [would go], but his voice and his tone was so amazing. I don’t know, I could go on and on and on. I love watching the underdog win. When someone is just able to create a whole entire world around one little opportunity, I love that. So I champion Lil Wayne and I’m proud that he asked me to come back.
A lot of people know you from your work with Timbaland. Are you recording together in the future?
I miss working with Timbaland. It’s been a minute, to be honest. He’s working on another ‘Shock Value’ album, I think I might have let the cat out the bag, but that’s what he’s doing. I’ve been on the road so much that I haven’t been able to get back in the studio with Tim, but I love it. He’s a huge source of inspiration when I’m working on my own album, so I will get back with him very, very, very soon. I just don’t know when.
He’s working with Missy again.
Yeah, he’s working with Missy. He’s working with a lot of people — a lot of my peers — and I’m jealous.
What’s been the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome in your career?
I had vocal issues and I performed right through them. The world saw this happening, but didn’t know what was happening. You know, there’s so much other stuff that people don’t understand like the scheduling — I’m not complaining, because I love to work, and any opportunity you give me, I jump at the opportunity, even if it’s to my own demise. Certain situations you’re put in are to the detriment of your instrument, and a lot of damage was done. Promo days are 12 to 14 hours of talking. That is very damaging. I have no complaints, I’m over it, but it did affect me. I had to take care of it mostly while I was recording ‘No Boys Allowed.’ It’s been the hardest thing, just to fight for my health, fight for my instrument, my gift. They will abuse it if you let them. And you almost have to let them because they buy you [laughs]. Sorry [laughs].
How do you balance that now?
You have to fight. If the word “diva” comes up around my name, it’s because I’m fighting for my voice. It’s because I’m fighting being abused — abuse is such a strong word — but it kind of is what you’re doing to your vocal chords when you’re living the schedule that I live. I’ve had to fight and if I’m called a diva for fighting for myself like no one else will, then I’ll be a diva.