Pop: An Angry Young Woman? ; Kelis, the 22-Year-Old R&B Singer, Shouted Her Way to Success with an Alarmingly Aggressive Debut Single. but, Fiona Sturges Finds, She's Not as Scary as You Might Think
Sturges, Fiona, The Independent (London, England)
When I first meet Kelis Rogers, shock-headed, motor-mouthed pop diva, she's foaming at the mouth. As she opens the door of her hotel room in Covent Garden, west London, a rather large blob of toothpaste dribbles down her chin.
"Hi, I'm Kelis," she says brightly, beckoning me in with her toothbrush. The room is strewn with clothes, bottles and magazines. A large trunk, spilling over with shoes, scarves and some fabulous multicoloured coats, sits on the floor. MTV blasts from the television. It looks as if she's been here some time.
The singer eventually emerges from the bathroom, smothered in face-cream.
"Sorry about the mess," she yells over the music. "It's a wreck, but I haven't been home for months."
Kelis shouts a lot, although that's not entirely surprising. Her debut single, "Caught Out There", a cautionary tale about infidelity, is best known for its thunderous chorus: "I HATE YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW. AAAAAAAARGH!" The song wasn't personal, she says. It arose from listening to the experiences of other people, in particular her sisters. Is she sick of it yet? "For a while I hated it, but now I just think it's my song. When we were recording it, I knew it was pretty intense but I thought, `Well, they'll love it or they'll hate it but at least they won't miss it.'"
It's always been difficult to know where to place Kelis. She has the voice of a classic soul diva, though musically she casts her net a lot wider. On her forthcoming album Wanderland, you can hear traces of R&B ("Scared Money, "Flash Back"), soul ("Shooting Stars"), hip hop ("Daddy"), rock ("Young, Fresh n' New", "Perfect Day") and even a touch of Eighties synth ("Easy Come, Easy Go"). On tour, Kelis travels with a huge live band and has become notorious for her raucous covers of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams". The singer's eclectic impulses are matched by those of her producers, Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams, aka The Neptunes, who recently released their own album under the moniker NERD.
"People have very different perceptions of who I am and who I speak to," she says. "I can only do what I do. When people try to pigeon-hole me, I think, `Surely that's not the point.'"
Kelis the person is even harder to pin down. First impressions bring to mind a young Tina Turner. She has the wild hair, the big laugh and the tough-nut exterior. She's no pampered princess, either. She chooses her own clothes ("I buy this stuff to wear. I wear this out"), does her own make-up and looks after herself like any normal 22-year-old.
She's tremendously energetic. Even in the middle of promoting an album, she's thinking about film scripts, ideas for television, possibly even starring in a musical. When she's at home in New York, she says, she goes to see musicals all the time, sometimes two in a day. Is there any end to her ambitions, I ask.
"Absolutely not!" she cries. "Music is what I get a buzz from right now, but that could change. This is not the end for me; I'll do tons of other things. I want to have stories to tell when I'm old."
Kelis says she's happy with her progress so far, but not at all surprised. She is of the mind that what you work hard for, you generally get. But being a female artist in a male-dominated industry surely comes with its problems.
"Women are more emotional, more naturally passionate about things," she reflects. "But men don't deal with emotional outbursts well. In the workplace you have to succumb to what it is that makes them understand you. That's a successful woman - someone that can make herself businesslike, but in a non-threatening, female kind of way.
"Sure, there's always going to be differences of opinion that arise from gender. Unfortunately, there's no middle gender to decide who's right or wrong. It's going to be an ongoing battle until the end of time. …