Artistic integrity and, moreover, cohesion, is a hard thing to find in today’s fickle music biz. With millions riding on riding the right trends, previously innocent pop characters can take on menacing roles, punk-hardened rock groups start penning odes to past lovers and folk tacticians turn alternative strategists in the blink of an eye. While this fast-paced environment means we, as audiences, reap dividends in the form of unprecedented diversity, it can wreak havoc on the personalities of the stars charged with delivering us such a smörgåsbord of entertainment who have to be able to demonstrate all the temerity of foolhardy schizoids in order to sate our desires. It’s exhausting enough promoting yourself and touring on the back of one strange persona, let alone engaging in a game of Spin The Identity Wheel every second record. Ask Kelis, she’d know.
Now Nas’ official ex-wife (following a rather messy divorce), Kelis is a fantastic case-study in reinvention. Since 1999 debut ‘Kaleidoscope’, the singer (unfortunately) known best for 2003 breakthrough hit ‘Milkshake’ has come a long way. The late 90s girl-power movement is a good place to start when charting this evolution. ‘Caught Out There’ – a hit here in Aus and in Europe but apparently more mildly received in the States – is a four-minute Neptune-produced treat of female empowerment. Particularly today, where messages of feminine authority are increasingly diluted to appeal to the masses, Kelis’ first lead single seems almost unpalatable in its caustic brashness. Where some can’t stomach the chorus’ distorted shouting – who knew ‘hate’ was such a strong word? – the track undeniably finds its strength in the potency of its anger. Set alongside TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’, it certainly seems that 1999 was a pretty shocking time to be a man.
Kelis – Caught Out There
By contrast, 2010 sees us with a far more subdued, even melancholy Kelis on our hands. Yes, she’s got a pending divorce under her belt and a Greatest Hits compilation (circa 2008 – hardcore fodder for introspection) to fuel a new approach to things. But I, for one, could never have seen forthcoming ’10 release ‘Fleshtone’ as the type of thing that would me on the books. Following in the footsteps of a host of RnB stalwarts exchanging their soul hats for dance-oriented tunes, Kelis has eschewed not only her Pharrell/Hugo inspired beats (as Harris, Guetta, Diplo and Benassi are recruited) but also her feisty feminist streak – if ‘4th of July’ is anything to go by. The tale Kelis tells is one of regret and longing, starkly at odds with her acerbic 1999 ode. While personality dynamism seems a difficult thing to achieve, Kelis pulls off this change in tone with startling ease. Below, the remix from Harris is typically Calvin, upbeat synths and hilarious low-register vocals. I can’t decide whether the drop is a bit messy for my liking but, in the end, messy might be just what Kelis is looking for.
Kelis – 4th of July (Calvin Harris Remix)
Want more? Kelis found here.