Monday, January 24, 2011

Is This My New Favorite Artist?

She just might be -- Ms. Keri Hilson!!!

Also maybe she's my latest celeb crush, too! She's certainly very easy on the eyes, ain't she?

But what I like the most about Keri is that she writes as well as sings and performs. In fact, she's mostly known as a writer in the industry, having written such hits as "Crazy In Love" for Beyonce, "Gimme More" for Britney Spears, and "Like a Boy" for Ciara, to name just a few.

I have much respect for artists who can actually, you know, write their own music. Not that she doesn't get help on her own works from time to time, like from such luminaries in the industry as Ne-Yo and Kanye West. But being able to write--and write hit singles to boot!--shows she has a brain, which is very, very attractive. Don't you agree?

Anyway, Keri Hilson's been behind the scenes for most of the last decade, making other artists shine bright. It's only been recently that she's ventured out on her own, and so far I have to say she's been making quite a mark. And her latest sophomore effort is an album just released last month, titled No Boys Allowed. Right now I'm getting a huge kick out of her song "Pretty Girl Rock," but even more so out of the video of the song that's been getting a lot of airplay recently. Watch it below, if you will, then read my further thoughts after the jump:

This video is simply amazing, as far as I'm concerned. I've watched it like a billion times already! What mesmerizes me is the reverence Hilson pays to so many important female performers from the 1920s up through the decades to the present day. Women who've played an important part in shaping the artist Keri Hilson is today.

It's simply remarkable!

And I love how Keri embodies each of the performers she acknowledges with this indelible innocence and precociousness that is not so much those performers as reflections of Ms. Hilson's own remarkable humanity and humility. You might find that last part hard to believe, given the lyrics of this song. But in actuality, despite what some clueless critics might claim, the song is not about self-conceit, but rather about black women having self confidence and the ability to say "I am beautiful" when the media, society, and even other black women might proclaim otherwise.

In the video, Keri starts off as Josephine Baker in the 1920s. This is one of my favorite personas of hers, as she's simply delightfully goofy the way Miss Baker was herself in her own youth. Yet despite the hijinks here, she still manages to come across gorgeous and breathtaking. Again, just like the real Josephine Baker! Next up is Dorothy Dandridge and, once more, Keri pulls off an uncanny resemblance to that beautiful, immensely talented Hollywood starlet from the 40s and 50s. She's just divine in both grace and makeup, somehow effortlessly evoking the attitude of that era with nary a hitch in her step.

The most iconic homage--and by "iconic" I mean the part of the video which serves as the anchor--comes next as Keri portrays one of the Andrews Sisters, who also had their heyday in the 40s and 50s. I'm guessing from the blond wig and position at the center that she's supposed to be the group's lead vocalist and youngest member, Patty Andrews. I just love Keri's attitude in this scene! Next up are equally iconic portrayals as first Diana Ross (wow -- Keri's really stunning here!) and then Donna Summer.

Of course, Hilson couldn't skip over the 80s without portraying her self-admitted biggest influence on her career--Janet Jackson (seen here in full "Rhythm Nation" regalia). Don't we all miss those years when Janet was just ON FIRE and could not be stopped? I do!

I thought her next choice for the 90s was rather quirky, but also quite appropriate, as T-Boz from the girl group TLC. Check out that wig and those silk pajamas! It's been a long time since I've seen the "Creep" video this pays homage to, but I think Keri nails it!

Lastly, she finishes out the 00s by being none other than . . . herself. This is actually my favorite part of the video, and nicely caps the whole production. Here we see Keri Hilson as down-to-earth and completely, naturally, herself. If I thought she was adorable as Baker, sumptuous as Dandridge, breathtaking as Ross--then it's as Hilson that she really shines through. Because, of course, admired influences from entertainment's past are all well and good for shaping who you are, but it's when an artist acknowledges her own beauty . . . her own VOICE, that she truly becomes "beautiful" as the song suggests.

So, you see, all the haters out there can stop hating already. This song gets so much flak, with Ms. Hilson being deemed "conceited" and "full of herself," that most casual listeners dismiss it outright without being sensitive to the *real* message here. Which is: as a woman, be comfortable as yourself. Know that many other women before you have been put down by men and society at large, but have succeeded despite the hardships. More importantly, know your own self worth--know that you are BEAUTIFUL--and find your own strength to be who you want to be.

I'm not a woman, but even I can appreciate the impact of this powerful message.

So, to answer my own question in the title heading of this entry: Yes! Yes, I do believe Keri Hilson is my new favorite breakout artist of this year. Is she yours? Well, I can't answer that. But I hope this puts her on your radar, if she's not already. Because I think Keri Hilson is smart enough, talented enough, and "beautiful" enough to become quite the force in the biz. I get the feeling that 2011 is going to be her year.

Now, if you'll excuse me . . . I'm off to listen to No Boys Allowed some more. And, no, the irony of the album title is not lost on me. (hee, hee)


  1. Artists talk about "their sound". They want to stand out because of their unique sound (or at least they did). I've heard Keri Hilson as a featured artist on several tracks, and she has a very distinctive and powerful voice.

    My issue with this song is that her voice is, unfortunately, NOT showcased here. In actually paying attention to the lyrics (I listened to the song before watching the video), I can see the point of what she was saying. But she sounds like a carbon copy of most pop music out there. I know she has a better voice than that, I've heard it, but it undermines her message of appreciating oneself & having self confidence that she doesn't give her own flavor to this track.

    I haven't heard the rest of her album, so I can't speak to that, but this track was a bit underwhelming for me.

  2. I disagree. To me her voice is actually rather unique here. On this album, this is one of the songs that stands her apart from sounding like just another Rihanna or Ciara. And not just her voice, but the beat and sound as well.

    It is meant to be a hit single, though, and in that case perhaps it is the commerciality of this track's sound that you are picking up on? But I'd hardly fault Ms. Hilson for wanting to have a hit track on her hands and, you know, actually make some money.

    I never said this was my favorite song off the album. Just that it has my favorite video as of this moment. The purpose of this entry was to focus more on the latter, which I feel visually hits home the song's underlying message better than the song itself does.

    My hat's off to the video's director, Joseph Kahn, for that. Bravo!

  3. It is possible that it's the commercial nature of the track that is hindering it, but I don't believe so. Timbaland's "The Way I Are" and Kardinall Official's "Numba 1" were both meant to be commercial tracks and yet in both, Ms. Hilson stands out as a shining example of songstress vocal power.

    Yes, this song stands her apart from sounding like Rihanna or Ciara, but makes her sound like a second class Beyonce or Nicole Scherzinger. She sounded more original on her single, "Energy", for example.

    I do agree that the video does focus the message of the song a lot better than the song does, but that's a function of the video director, not the artist. Based solely on the video, I'm not sure Ms. Hilson's efforts are worth the praise you lavish on her in the post.

  4. In this post, the praise I lavish on her is relegated mostly to her acting performance vis-à-vis personifying the various singers/actresses she emulates in each era of Americana on display -- not the strength of her vocals (which I still think are great, tho). So in this regard, her efforts are worthy of exultation.

    Also, in interviews she has stated what she herself intended the message to be, and that the video was a collaboration on expressing that intended meaning.

    She had more to do with the video than just stand there and take direction.

  5. She's a beauty - and talented too !!!

  6. Excellent breakdown of the video and message of the song David! I posted the video on fb back when it first debuted and commented pretty much the same as you did above, albeit less eloquently. The video was outstanding. I was nearly in awe the first time I watched it. And knowing Ms. Hilson's contributions to her chosen field it was obvious the video was HER vision not just the director's. The song tells you if you listen beyond the surface and between the lines of the pop influences of the track. OF COURSE it's very pop and deceptively generic, that's what gets spins and airplay. And Ms. Hilson very obviously wanted the message that women, especially Black women (the group to which she belongs that has a history of being specifically oppressed), ARE beautiful and should celebrate that beauty and hold it close to their hearts and high for the world to see.

    At Rodney, as David quite clearly stated, the point of the post was the video and how well executed it was. As well as how well she translated the message of her song to the visual realm of video. Also, the 'commercial nature' of the song, as you put it, does not hinder it but allows the message to be carried far and wide when otherwise it wouldn't, as many other positive female empowerment songs, especially ones for Black females, have been. The pop simplicity is deceptive.

    Now, Do The Pretty Girl Rock!!!

  7. Wow, awesome reply Tarrell! There are other tracks on this album where she really does sound like Rihanna and Beyonce, but that's kind of inevitable in today's R&B. But "Pretty Girl Rock" is so indelibly Keri! I would never ever mistake that this is someone else's song.

    Specifically regarding her vocals, I think her sound on this track is fresh and clean. Very soothing and not over-powering. This was never meant to be her "diva" track, so I wouldn't have expected her to come in with these strong reaching vocals. The song is meant to be celebratory of the feminine, not about breakups or cheating men, or like the thousand of other songs sung by women which deal with men and their trifling ways.

    Do the Pretty Girl Rock, indeed! :)


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