Keri Hilson on baring her fearless side: 'I can’t concern myself for people’s opinions about me'
Most of what's being said about Keri Hilson's new album, "No Boys Allowed," has had little to do with the music on the songwriter's sophomore disc.
After the 28-year-old debuted the steamy video for the album's third single, "The Way You Love Me," the blogosphere blew up with folks criticizing the lyrics -- none of which are suitable for printing here.
But the Grammy-nominated singer, who has also scribed hits for Mary J. Blige, Ciara, Britney Spears and the Pussycat Dolls, doesn't want fans to think she's all about offering a peepshow -- she's ushering in her own brand of girl power, like it or not.
Pop & Hiss caught up with Hilson to talk about the controversial clip, empowering women and whether or not she cares what anyone thinks about her (spoiler alert: she doesn't one bit).
What’s behind the concept of “No Boys Allowed”?
It's co-executive-produced again by Polow [Da Don] and Timbaland and features Nelly, Chris Brown, Rick Ross, J. Cole, Kanye -- all men, not boys. What else can I say about it? I feel that a lot of people are confusing the title, “No Boys Allowed,” to mean that I’m alienating my guy or male fans, and it's not about that. It’s more so about empowering women and making us feel strong and take ownership and control of our lives, our relationships, our bodies. It’s my way of saying girl power.
Coming off the success of your debut, “In a Perfect World ...,” were you at all nervous approaching your sophomore effort?
Not really. At first, I was kind of stumped in the beginning. I wondered what I should talk about. There were some things I collected along the road that I wanted to talk about. I didn’t worry about having a concept first or anything. I just got everything off of my chest. It kind of took the shape of what “No Boys Allowed” is all about. Saying things a little bit more confidently. The first time around I was very vulnerable, very insecure. Very honest -- as always -- but this one took a little more aggressive tone.
It’s interesting to hear that you felt insecure -- did you have self doubts about yourself as an artist?
I mean conceptually. Songs like “Tell Him the Truth” and “Intuition” [on the first album] showed a more insecure side. I don’t mean I was insecure about myself as an artist. Those are the sides I showed about myself. This time around, I was just thinking, 'What can I show the world that I haven’t shown?' They have seen this more aggressive and self-assured side of me in records like “Turnin’ Me On.” I didn’t mean me as a person. I always feel confident. “In a Perfect World” was just a vulnerable piece of work.
When the video for “The Way You Love Me” leaked featuring very explicit lyrics, did you expect to see all the ballyhoo that was made of it?
I really didn’t. I mean, I don’t know. I didn’t record the video to the dirty version of the record. The explicit version, that was done I guess before it was about to leak. I think that added to the shock value and the controversy. The video itself, I don’t think it's bad. I still feel like people don’t get how it was tying into “No Boys Allowed.” They will understand it once they listen to the album. They aren’t understanding that I’m talking about taking control and about females getting what we want. We can’t be afraid to say that or speak that and make no apologies. It’s about taking control of your sexuality. That’s why I didn’t expect that controversy. But then, you know, anytime an artist feels they’re doing something right we see it one, way because there is a rhyme and reason for it and then the world interprets it many different ways. So I guess in that regard I can understand.
So, do you think if you were a male artist, we’d be having this conversation?
Definitely not. It would have not been the topic of my interviews if I were a man. I mean, it’s happening all the time with men.
With all the controversy around the song, is that why the clean version appears on the album that’s otherwise explicit?
I have no idea, maybe there is a way it can be downloaded at some point. I’ve had friends vent their frustrations about that. I don’t know why the label decided to put the clean version on the album -- on all of the albums actually, no matter where you get it.
You’ve been showing fans a different side of Keri with this project. What’s behind the change?
Oh man, I somehow adopted the mantra of being fearless. When I go into a lot of things now, I’ve been able to approach them with a lot of fearlessness. From recording the songs, to preparing them, even down to wardrobe and trying new haircuts. I can’t concern myself for people’s opinions about me. I don’t do that. I’ve given into fate and my creative opinion. The first time around you want to be liked so much. You want your project to be successful and that success hinges on if people like your music and like you as a person. This time around, I’m less concerned about that. I’m more concerned about being true to myself and being honest -- not that I wasn’t before. There is not that much of a desire for me to be liked, or be accepted.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Keri Hilson. Credit: Interscope Records.