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Natalie Pool chats exclusively to Keri Hilson about her new album, Twitter and Timbaland
Keri Hilson, or Miss Keri Baby as she is known to her fans, has been in the music industry for literally half her life. At 14 she got a record deal, by the time she was in college, she’d penned hit tunes for Britney Spears, Ciara, and the Pussycat Dolls, and in 2006, a music producer named Timbaland signed Keri to his label and featured her on a little album called Shock Value.
Boasting sex appeal, charisma and a strong a set of lungs, Keri stole the show on tracks The Way , Are and Scream, becoming instant hot property in the musical real estate biz.
Two years later, she released her own album In a Perfect World, which spawned hits like Knock You Down and Turning Me On. Now she’s back with No Boys Allowed, which continues her fierce female stance.
And what do we know about the singer who plays the reluctant sex kitten in her videos, but is yet to be snapped by the paparazzi who can’t even figure out who she’s dating? Not a whole lot, it turns out.
On her visit to South Africa in 2009, she was accompanied by rumoured boyfriend Errol, a native of the Bahamas (where Keri owns property) and that’s the last evidence we found in the case of Keri’s love life. Desperate to unearth scandal, the gossip sites have linked her to just about every music hottie from Trey Songz, Chris Brown to Kanye West, which she has denied. True, she does ham it up on stage, flirting with her collaborators in outfits that the show off her gorgeous gams, but off stage, Keri remains a mystery.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, she’s the eldest of five and grew up in a middle class family that emphasised the importance of education. Keri studied theatre in college while building a name for herself as part of a songwriting team called The Clutch. Her first paycheck totalled $25 000 (around R178 000) for American Idol winner Ruben Studdard’s debut album and Keri was content to pursue her Plan B. But singing was always her dream and when she met Timbaland through producer Polow Da Don, she was ready to make her mark.
And make her mark she has. We caught up with Keri, 15 minutes before she boarded a flight to New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – a major event on the Yank calendar and stamp of approval for anyone asked to sing on a float. Even rushed and excited, Keri was gracious and sweet as she answered all our questions without selling out.
We love your video for Pretty Girl Rock. Where did the concept of portraying women in music come from?
“Thank you, I’m very pleased with it. I received a lot of treatments from directors for the video – some of them had me being vain and I was like, no – it’s about confidence and how you feel on the inside. So I went with (director) Joseph Kahn. He already had some names and I got to add some of my own like Janet and TLC…”
You got to portray all kinds of women. Has the acting bug bitten you, especially since you studied theatre in college?
“Absolutely. When the time is right. But now I’m focused on my music.” You and Ne-Yo worked on the song together. What’s your working relationship like? “I love him. He does what he does, and leaves and trusts me do my thing.” Who else did you work with ”Rick Ross, Nelly, Kanye West, Chris Brown – all boys.” Are you sick of being romantically linked to every guy you’re seen with? “It doesn’t bother me anymore because people who know me, know I can’t possibly be with so many guys at the same time.”
“I used to invest a lot of time on [odd comments on Twitter] & I used to fire back at haters, but I realised they don’t mean all the negative stuff they say.”
“even before I was ‘Keri Hilson I always let guys down easy, I don’t want to be that girl who makes guys walk away with their tails between their legs.”
How do you keep your personal life private while still being good to your fans?
“I guess I’m very cautious about what I put out there. I’m very protective of my family and friends, who I’ve had since high school. I’m careful about not mentioning them in interviews and on Twitter and stuff like that.”
You have almost 900 000 Twitter followers. Are you ever worried it encourages the crazies and stalkers?
“It does. I wouldn’t call them stalkers, but people say odd things [to me]. I don’t really invest a lot of time in them. In the beginning I used to, and I’d fire back at the haters, but I realised that they don’t mean all the negative stuff they say. They’re just trying to get a reaction and entertain their followers. I’ve noticed that since I’ve tried to be more positive in my tweets, I get it back.”
You were in South Africa last year. Any plans to come back?
“Absolutely. I had the best time! I can’t wait to come back to South Africa.”
What was the highlight of your trip?
“Oh, we did so many things. We flew over Cape Town in a helicopter and saw whales, we had lunch at the top of Table Mountain – and we’re all afraid of heights! We went to Robben Island and saw Mandela’s cell and I got to hold the key and unlock his cell. But I think the best thing for me was the fans. I’m so thankful to John Legend for bringing me there. I really didn’t know what to expect or if you even knew my music but the crowd sang all the words to my songs and it was amazing.”
What are your New Year’s resolutions for 2011?
“The same as they were for 2010. First, to eat healthier. I was doing pretty well (last year) and then fell off the wagon a bit around the holidays, but I’m going to get back on. And then to be a more positive person. A more spiritual person. To break down any barriers I’ve built up between friends.”
How do you stay in shape and where do those abs and legs come from?
“I work out regularly – about three or four times a week for an hour. Honestly, the abs are mostly about food. Eating well is about 75% of the work. I do have a trainer and nutritionist in one who keeps me in check. I’m easily tempted by sweets.”
Do you have a stylist?
“Sometimes. If I have a TV appearance or something then I do.”
There are a lot female artists like Lady a battle to outdo each other in the crazy outfit stakes. Are you ever tempted to dress a little wildly?
“I don’t feel pressure to do that. Sometimes I do feel a little bit frisky or I want to be a tomboy, but my image has always been true to me – the girl who had a dream and really just wanted to sing.”
Are guys intimidated by you?
“Sometimes, but I would never know it. There are a lot of guys who aren’t afraid to approach me and say exactly what they think.”
So you get hit on a lot?
“Yes, but I’m always nice. Even before I was “Keri Hilson” I always let them down easy. I don’t want to be that girl who makes guys walk away with their tails between their legs.”
Do you still write songs for other people?
“I’ve been so incredibly focused on my own stuff, but that’s actually another one of my New Year’s resolutions – to start writing again. To step away from the mic and get back to controlling traffic!”
Where did Breaking Point, the first single off your new album come from?
“I was just chilling with Timbaland and we were talking about relationships and he said, ‘We (guys) can only get away with so much’ and I said, ‘We (girls) can only take so much’ and then we were both like That would be such a dope song!’ and Timbaland ran to the booth to start writing…”
What’s your relationship with Timbaland like? Are you still intimidated by him?
“I can’t say I was ever intimidated by him, but I did always want to impress him. I love him a lot and we’ve become very close. We tell each other everything. He’s my brother, my uncle, my dad – just not my boyfriend!” [laughs]
Your songs have always been quite empowering for women and about being a strong woman. Has that been a conscious decision?
“I’m always inspired when girls come up to me and say they can relate to songs like Knock You Down. It wasn’t always my intention, but now I do try to keep it going.”
Follow Keri on Twitter @MissKeriBaby and find CLEO @CLEO_SA
Miss Keri Baby in a nutshell
Keri is also on the cover of US mag Vibe this month and took over their website Vibe.com to give fans the inside scoop on her fashion, facts and fiction. Here’s a little of what we learnt. Turns out the beautiful fishtail dress (middle) that she wore to the Grammys, which put her on best-dressed lists everywhere, was inspired by Spike Lee’s movie School Daze.
The five things she never leaves home without are CO. Bigelow Chapped Hands Remedy, Victoria’s Secret lipgloss, Imari Seduction perfume, Colgate Wisps and of course her new album. In high school, Keri broke her nose during a basketball game and her hidden talent is… juggling! But this doesn’t mean her social life is boring (and is spent tossing oranges in the air). Keri admits to frequenting strip clubs, ’cause the food is good. Sure.
Text by Natalie Pool. Photography by Great Stock/Corbis Outline/Joshua Kogan Corbis. Gallo Images/Getty Images.com. This article was taken from the January 2011 issue of Cleo.
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