"I don't get trends. I don't understand how popular culture really works." says Kelis as we chat about her work over the last 20 years. Preferring to do her own thing, she recorded with The Neptunes before they were huge, hasn't shied away from outspoken lyrics and has taken pride in working with artists ranging from Bjork to Enrique Iglesias. Kelis first appeared on the cover of Dazed and Confused in June 2003.
Dazed & Confused: It's 20 years of Dazed. What were you doing 20 years ago?
Kelis: I think I was probably at the beginning of my very long rebellious era (laughs).
D&C: Have you changed a lot?
Kelis: I went through a growth spurt soon after and my mum always teases that I'm taller and probably louder but I like exactly the same things. You know, anything colourful I can get my hands on. I probably wrote more then though, I used to have a book that I used to carry with me and write all sorts of things. From cursing out my Mom to lyrics. I've always been drawn to the same things really, I'm very consistent but as you get older you know more stuff, you detect and uncover more things.
D&C: Who and what inspires you?
Kelis: I'm kind of like a sponge. Honestly I never have any smart answers for that question! It could be anything. It could be a billboard or a person in a store. For me it's something that triggers a thought and then takes on its own life. It's never like "I'm inspired by a very smart artist". Everything is inspiring! The Weather! and People!
D&C: Do your collaborators, whether it's ODB, The Neptunes or Bjork, inspire you?
Kelis: I know who I am and I think it's fun to work with other people to get their perspective on it. They're people that not only get your sensibilities and how you see the world but also have their own thing to bring to it.
D&C: What is it that draws you to working with someone?
Kelis: Lack of fear. I can sense it in someone. All the people that I work with that I love are ballsy and comfortable in their own skin. I think everyone that I work with has that in common.
D&C: Is that the advice you'd give to someone starting out?
Kelis: Honestly, my advice to a new artist is that if you can do something else you should. What makes an artist great is that they literally can't do anything else. If you think about the people you've loved in the past, musicians or painters or whatever, if they don't get it out it becomes something negative or it becomes something too much and it's overwhelming. If you want to be an artist because you just want to be, you should do something easier.
D&C: And don't try trends?
Kelis: I don't get trends. I don't understand how popular culture really works. I never set out thinking "I've got to be fashionable". I don't get it. Shiny, glittery things just draw my attention! It's not because I'm trying to be special.
D&C: What was the last thing that made you say WOW?
Kelis: I'm a mom so everything my kid does is wow. I constantly think "you're amazing, you're a genius, you're perfect". Watching him grow up is like WOW. It's amazing because it's the most intense thing that can happen to you but at the same time nothing has changed. I am exactly who I was. I have more love, it's made me more human, I just multiplied. It's like more me! It's great.
D&C: If you could go back to yourself and give yourself advice what would it be?
Kelis: If I was smarter I would but I'm content with where I'm at right now. Despite the messed up stuff I did, I'm here right now. I don't think everyone ever became a good, worldy smart person by just having an even keeled existence. It's through trial and tribulation that you show character.
I definitely don't feel like a pop star, I'm an anti pop star. Although I guess it depends who you ask. I don't think I'm that popular, which I get reminded of every now and again! I'm part of this culture and I've left some kind of mark when it's all said and done. My idea of a pop star is far sweeter and nicer.
D&C: You mentioned making your mark. How do you feel when artists sample your work?
Kelis: There's a difference between imitation and homage and as artists it is natural. You'll see something and it's in your brain, then you'll go to do your work and all of a sudden you're regurgitating this… thing. But it should always come out as you. I hope people see it as a respect thing rather than biting everything someone has done. I think people can see when somebody loves and artist rather than it just being someone who has no ideas of their own. It's always nice when someone likes what you've done and makes it a part of their life.
D&C: Who are the people that you would like to be compared to?
Kelis: To me the best artists are the people we believe. That is NOT the popstars, but the ones that are not always perfect. That's the difference between being a popstar and an artist. I say this all the time, but I think the word artist gets thrown around so lightly, like love, but they're not the same. Neither one is right or wrong but I want to be in a group of believers. That's what art is about. It's about finding a connection and seeing yourself in it. I think about my favourite artists and whether it's Nina Simone or Kurt Cobain or Grace Jones or Roberta Flack, these were not the most pristine people they were the ones who couldn't do anything else. I would like to be put in that category.
D&C: What are you looking forward to in the next 20 years?
Kelis: I've started to think about it a bit because people start to ring you and say "Will you do a cover of 20 years of Dazed and Confused" (laughs). Music is something that I can never let go of. I don't know if I'll be so intensely involved but right now this is all I do and where I'm at. I like to express myself from what I wear to my music, to what I eat so it'll be there. And I'll be a mom with more midgets, I like them.
D&C: You went to culinary school, right? Does cooking inspire you?
Kelis: I signed my first deal when I was 17 and I kind of forgot how I started and why I started. It's easy to forget that you're good at other things and that other things bring joy. It took me so long to get off my label but when I did, I didn't have any plan for anything else. So I just decided to go to culinary school and cook! I like doing things with my hands so anything creative and I have a good time. It was another outlet to show how I see the world.
D&C: What's the best thing you can cook?
Kelis: I'm a saucier so anything with sauce. It's funny, I always laugh because I didn't know I was competitive until I got into school. I thought iIwas lackadaisical about everything. I think with music I'm so like "SO WHAT?" because you get rejected so often or booed or get bottles thrown at you. For me there's so such thing as right or wrong in music, it is what it is. With food you're either right or wrong. Once I got a grasp on it I realised I liked being right and became competitive.
In music I don't feel the need to be competitive. I don't want to be in the race, honestly. It is what it is. I really feel like I can't make it any better or worse. When I put an album out it is what it is. I don't understand why we're competing in music. I did that, you did this. That's it.
D&C: How do you block out everything negative?
Kelis: Positive, negative, I block out everything! It's imperative for my sanity. I only know if people come up to me and tell me. I have never read articles about myself. To do what I do, I have to be sensitive. If someone is overly positive I get confused, If someone is overly negative I get confused.
Text Sian Rowe
Styling Katie Shillingford
Make-up Lisa Eldridge at Premier Hair & Make-Up for Lisaeldridge.com
Manicurist Trish Lomax at Premier Hair & Make-Up
Styling Assistants Nell Kalonji, Guilio Ventisei, Eve Shillingford
Make-up Assistant Jessie Richardson
Jacket and jumpsuit by Pam Hogg