Singer-songwriter Keri Hilson

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Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter discusses her second album and how she’s avoiding the sophomore curse.

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Keri Hilson's passion for music began early. The Georgia native became a songwriter while still in high school, penning chart-topping tracks for several artists as part of a production/songwriting team. She was also featured as a background vocalist on more than a dozen singles by other artists. Hilson's debut album, "In a Perfect World," was released in '09 and spawned several #1 hits. Recently named the new face of Avon's "Imari," she's also promoting her highly anticipated sophomore album, "No Boys Allowed."


Tavis: Keri Hilson has quickly become one of the bright young stars in the music business, following the success of her Grammy-nominated debut CD, “In a Perfect World.” Starting December 21st you can pick up a copy of her much-anticipated new album. It’s called, “No Boys Allowed.” From the project, here now, some of the video for the single, “Pretty Girl Rock.”
Tavis: So we called the record label and we asked for “Pretty Girl Rock” because the video that all the guys voted that we should play is not the one that we could play. You know the video of which I speak.
Keri Hilson: Yes.
Tavis: Yes.
Hilson: Yes. (Laughter)
Tavis: “The Way You Love Me.”
Hilson: Yeah.
Tavis: Yeah, we couldn’t quite play that with “Sesame Street” and “Barney.”
Hilson: Right. Oh, I completely understand.
Tavis: Yeah, on the same network.
Hilson: It’s just not for kids. (Laughter) Not for kids.
Tavis: But anyway, it’s a great video. Good to have you on the program.
Hilson: Thank you, glad to be here.
Tavis: I was saying to Chris, our producer, and I asked him, I said, “Just double-check me on this.” I said, “Are you sure this is only Keri’s second project?” I had him check because it occurred to me that you have been on everybody’s project, you’ve been writing for everybody, so it doesn’t seem like you’re just now getting around to the sophomore project. It seems like you’ve actually been out here for a minute.
Hilson: Yeah. I guess it – I mean, in industry years I’ve had a pretty long span, but yeah, it’s just my second baby. Yeah.
Tavis: What do you make of the second baby, and I ask that because every artist in this business knows that once you put that first one out and you get the Grammy nods and everybody makes you the it girl and the record sells like crazy, it’s that sophomore jinx that takes a lot of people out.
A whole lot of folk who had one record and never quite got around to the third one.
Hilson: Yeah. I really tried not to focus on that. I really wanted to focus on giving my fans the same Keri, sonically. I think the sophomore curse happens when you change every bit of yourself. Though my hair is blonde now, sonically it’s still the same girl; conceptually it’s still the same girl.
I talk about the same issues; I speak about and for women. I wasn’t really preoccupied with that notion, with that fear. You approach it – if people, and people ask me that a lot, and it could have crept in as fear and I could have put out a mediocre project for the sake of being safe. But I didn’t want to do that.
Tavis: The flip side of knowing what your audience wants and trying not to change, as you said, everything about you for the sophomore project, is giving the audience more of the same and, as I’ve read from other artists, feeling stifled that their fan base wouldn’t allow them to grow beyond the first project.
Hilson: Yeah.
Tavis: Does that make sense?
Hilson: Yeah, it does. It does. You definitely want to display growth in some ways, but I just feel in my experience it is best to do that not your entire being, not your entire sound and your entire image and your entire concept – I think that there’s a fine line and you can sort of straddle the fence between who you were and who you are, because yeah, like you said, you do want to grow a bit. You do want to grow and not forsake the fans and the things that they loved you the first time around.
Tavis: As a boy, I’m glad we got to talk to you.
Hilson: As a boy?
Tavis: (Laughs) Yeah. As a boy, I’m glad I got you –
Hilson: You look like a man to me.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah, I’m a man, but I was (laughter) going for a little jokey-joke there.
Hilson: Okay. (Laughs)
Tavis: Go with the bit, Keri.
Hilson: All right.
Tavis: Go with the bit. All right. (Laughter) As a boy, I’m glad I got a chance to talk to you for this project called “No Boys Allowed.”
Hilson: Ah-ha.
Tavis: Tell me about the title and why we get cut out this time.
Hilson: Well, no. First of all, it’s not “we,” because you are a man.
Tavis: Thank you, I’ll accept that.
Hilson: You are all man, Tavis.
Tavis: Y’all heard that? Better recognize. (Laughter)
Hilson: You get the man stamp.
Tavis: You heard? (Laughter)
Hilson: But yeah, it’s not really about excluding men in this project, it was more so about girl power. “No Boys Allowed” is my way of saying, “Go, girl.” It’s my way of saying know what you deserve. If I could say – I know this is PBS, but if I could say no bull-ish allowed, that’s what the album would have been called.
Tavis: That’s a whole nother thing now. (Laughs)
Hilson: Well, no, it’s kind of the same thing, because the difference between a boy and a man is all that bull in between – (laughs)
Tavis: I hear you, I hear you, I hear you.
Hilson: – that you get from boys, and I do music from that perspective. Know what you deserve.
Tavis: I’ll take that.
Hilson: Yeah.
Tavis: Why is it, or how did you come to discover – because you seem to be very clear about what your modus operandi is, what your project is, what your style is, what the lane is you want to run in. You want to speak to women, empower women with your lyrics, et cetera, et cetera. How, why did that become the lane you wanted to run in?
Hilson: I guess it was a combination of things. It naturally happened, A, around “Turning Me On” days. I had that concept, and I wanted to say that and these – even “The Way I Are,” that was something I wanted to tell guys. Like, when I wrote that record I had that in my phone, the concept in my phone for, like, a year or so, and just wanted to find the right track because I knew it would be the perfect introduction.
Because really, I’m the type of girl, and I know other girls who are the types of girls who it’s not about the chain, it’s not about the car, not about the house or this, that, and the other that you think are impressing me. It’s really the intellect. It’s really stimulating my mind.
Tavis: In Los Angeles? Where do they live?
Hilson: Oh, well, they’re everywhere. There are good girls out there.
Tavis: I’ll get hate mail for that. That as another joke, just a joke, just a joke.
Hilson: Right. No, but seriously, and then “Turning Me On” was from the same head. It was just like, oh, my gosh, if fellas only knew that they’re turning off real good women because they are treating us all the same – they’re assuming that we all are gold-diggers, they’re assuming that they can approach us all the same way, and it just came from a natural place.
At the same token, women were walking up to me that I know normally wouldn’t have, and I had the approachability factor where they would come up and say, “Girl, I’m so glad you said that. You don’t understand.” Or another song, “Intuition,” or “Telling the Truth.” I wrote from a vulnerable place that women could relate to.
So I just felt like okay, let me tap more into this, because I feel like women have been missing that. The way they approach me and some of the things they’re saying makes me feel like they’ve been missing this kind of powerful music, or empowering, I should say.
Tavis: That kind of affirmation.
Hilson: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: We just met for the first time today – have met for the first time – and I get the sense just following your work as I have and listening to this album that you must really like to write, because you don’t have to, on your sophomore project, put out a 16-track disc. That’s a lot of songs.
Hilson: Yeah.
Tavis: Yeah.
Hilson: We had to fight for that.
Tavis: Oh, yeah?
Hilson: Labels are doing a lot less because of the way the industry is right now.
Tavis: Who does 16 tracks, yeah.
Hilson: Yeah, a lot are doing EPs of eight records, 10 records.
Tavis: Yeah, exactly.
Hilson: We had to fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight for that. (Laughs)
Tavis: To your point about having to fight, why did you want to put out 16 tracks?
Hilson: Because I know as a consumer I want a story. I want a defining – I don’t want just an album full of singles. I want to get to know the artist beyond what everyone else can hear on the radio. I remember that about – I still buy records. I’m still a consumer and I still feel like I know what they want.
Tavis: That’s changed a lot, though. I totally feel you on that point. I was just discussing this the other day.
Hilson: What’s that?
Tavis: The fact that back in the day, you used to buy a record and there was a narrative, there was a storyline from the first track to the end. You wanted to play the whole record.
Hilson: Exactly.
Tavis: The reason why iTunes has blown up is that people want to get that one song or that second song, and that’s it.
Hilson: I want what I want – right, right.
Tavis: But it’s in part because nobody’s giving us a project now that has a storyline, a narrative that goes from beginning to end in a sequence that actually makes sense, so I applaud you for that.
Hilson: Thank you.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. It’s a good thing.
Hilson: Thank you.
Tavis: So the new project from Keri Hilson is called “No Boys Allowed.” That is the sophomore disc, although as I said earlier it feels like she’s given us a lot more, because she has, writing for other artists, performing on their records. But now she’s back with her own CD and I’m sure it will do extremely well, as it’s already taken off.
Hilson: I hope so.
Tavis: Keri, good to have you on.
Hilson: (Laughs) Thanks for having me.
Tavis: Take care of yourself.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm