Her just deserts 'Milkshake'
March 19, 2004
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
Until last year, 24-year-old Kelis Rogers was hailed as one of the leading
voices in the neo-soul or natural R&B movement pretty much everywhere in the
world -- except for her native country.
Born in Harlem to an African-American father and a Chinese and Puerto
Rican mother, Kelis debuted in 1999 with a strong album called
"Kaleidoscope." The single, "Caught Out There," was a huge hit in Europe and
Asia but it didn't really connect in the United States, and her second
album, 2001's "Wanderland," wasn't even released here. Then came the first
single from "Tasty," her third album.
BRITNEY SPEARS, KELIS, SKYE SWEETNAM
*Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont
All together now: "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard/And
they're like, 'It's better than yours'/Damn right, it's better than yours .
Thanks to "Milkshake," Kelis has finally arrived on the U.S. pop charts,
and at long last she's getting a measure of the attention she deserves.
The frizzy-haired singer is touring as the opening act for Britney
Spears, including a show that stops at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont
tonight. I caught up with Kelis last week shortly before a show in Seattle.
Q. How is the Britney tour going? It must be odd traveling with such a
huge production after you came up from the trenches.
A. It's going good. It's pretty cool -- we kind of both do our own thing.
I'm traveling with my band, which is pretty big. It's smaller than it used
to be -- there are just six of us this time -- and I usually use a big band,
nine or 10 pieces. But it's cool.
Q. What do you get from playing with a big group like that?
A. You get life. It's hard to re-create something -- I try never to
re-create, I try to create every day when I'm on stage. I hire really great
musicians and then try to give them direction but also give them leeway to
be the musicians that they are. We just have a lot of fun.
Q. There's a difference between your show and Britney's -- everything is
choreographed with her, isn't it?
A. They change it up a bit, but she definitely has like a set show. I was
tossing up the set list every night -- I always have -- but then I found one
that I felt really comfortable with for her audience.
Q. Why has it taken you so long to break through in America? The second
album never even came out here.
A. My most obvious answer is just the fact that people respond to where
you put the work in and where you put the time in. I was with Virgin, and
they don't really have a good idea about how to sell black music. So they
shipped me out to Europe and I was kind of just out there grinding for a
long time, and people just started to pick up on it because I was there.
They heard the music and they saw me, so it kind of connected, whereas here,
I was never here. It was kind of hard for people to make sense of it all, I
Q. You've been included as part of the natural R&B or neosoul movement
along with artists like Macy Gray, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. But radio
seems to be slighting all of these artists in favor of the glitzy, glossy,
overproduced school of R&B.
A. Well, we're America -- it's like, we're the home of Hollywood and
Graceland and everything else. I think there's always room for us, it's just
not going to be easy. I don't want to say that we're the ones that are
strong enough to stand the test of time, but I do think that when you're an
artist and you're compelled to do the music that you do, you kind of just
keep sticking it out there for those that are listening, and if your fan
base gets bigger, that's great, and if it doesn't, you just keep doing it. I
just want to make music, essentially.
Q. You've got this long-term
perspective, but you've finally scored a huge hit with "Milkshake." A lot
of people seem to think that's the first thing you've done.
A. It's just that it's here in America now, you know? I was working a lot
like this when I was in Europe, but to me it's every day is every day --
it's what I do, and it's really exciting, the fact that I'm home and I'm
making it work, but at the end of the day, I just want people to listen and
it really doesn't matter where they're located.
Q. Do you think people are discovering the rest of your work thanks to
A. I don't know; I'm not sure, actually. That would be nice! But I'm not
sure if it's working out that way.
Q. Tell me about working with your long-time producers, the Neptunes, a k
a Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. What is that collaboration like?
A. It's different all the time, and also it's changed a lot over the
years. It used to be Chad did melody and Pharrell did beats and I was
vocalist. As time went on, I was doing a lot of writing -- with the second
album I did most of the writing, actually -- and me and Pharrell worked
really closely together musically, and then Chad would kind of come in and
we'd all collaborate like that. Now, it's sort of different -- I sort of do
things with Chad on my own, and then me and Pharrell do things on our own.
It just changes all the time.
As far as how the songs come about, sometimes I'll be like, "I have an
idea, we've got to do this." Other times, Pharrell will have an idea and I'm
like, "Wow, that's genius, let's do it." It's always different, but the flow
is pretty natural.
Q. Did you know "Milkshake" would connect with people the way it has, or
was it just another track on the album?
A. As soon as I recorded "Milkshake," I was like, "This is my first
single, without a doubt." I just knew. I know me, and I know what I like --
I'm a very clear person, and I'm not very indecisive about the traits I
Q. What was the inspiration for that tune?
A. Just me, I guess. I feel like there are so many -- I got this word
from Dre [from OutKast] -- "bragadocious" records for men, and I felt like
females deserved one. It was just to make fun and be cheeky and not to be
taken too literally or seriously.
Q. What is the next album going to be like?
A. I've been thinking about it and praying about it. I want to get
warmer, to do some more live stuff. I want to do some ballads. I purposely
didn't have any ballads on this album, but the next album, I'd like to do
some real ballady stuff -- just sing a little.