Kelis doesn’t take crap from anyone. Not from closet cases. Not from PETA, which she chewed out recently after they got on her case for wearing fur.
That so much about her – two Grammy nominations, the divorce, the arrest – is at our fingertips makes the recording chameleon feel less like a stranger and more like a friend. And, when it comes to the gay community, you could call her that. She’s performed on the Pride circuit, and her new album – the thumping electro-dance disc “Flesh Tone,” which she’s supporting on the “All Hearts” tour with Swedish pop sensation Robyn – is quite possibly the gayest thing she’s done since her breakout hit “Milkshake.”
Kelis spoke with us about the inspiration behind her latest CD, believing in “live and let live” when it comes to her gay fans, and why she thinks people shouldn’t lie about which way they swing.
For this album, you wanted to make something that reflected the music you were into at the time. What specifically were you listening to?
I wasn’t really listening to a lot of electro and dance; it was more so the fact that I travel a lot and everywhere I went I just felt like – it wasn’t even so much the music as it was the essence behind it that resonated for me. And so that is what propelled me in the direction I ended up going in.
The gay community was all over you before, and now you’ve gone and done an all-dance record. Were you considering your gay following while making this album?
The one thing that’s pretty consistent is the fact that I’ve always had a really great gay community following. It’s never faltered or wavered. I’ve had a really great support system. I don’t really have to cater to anybody. I just sort of do me – and everyone, at least people who already love me, continues to love on.
Allegedly you have a lot of gay friends from what I’ve read. More than Lady Gaga?
(Laughs) I don’t know anything about her, sorry. I have no idea.
You grew up singing in church choirs. If your church knew you were talking to a gay publication right now what would they think?
I don’t know if that’s really a clear question.
Some churches obviously aren’t very accepting of gay people, so I’m wondering if that was a conflict for you.
My honest answer: I’m a born-again Christian, so for me my personal beliefs are my beliefs. You have to live and let live.
So you’re cool with gay people then, because some born-again Christians aren’t?
I hate them! (Laughs) No, I mean, honestly, at the end of the day I have no heaven or hell for anyone. And my personal beliefs are my personal beliefs. I share them with my friends and the people that are close to me, so I generally believe in live and let live. And that goes for pretty much everything; it’s not just about sexual orientation, but about everything else. I live my life a certain way and my friends may not agree with the way I live, but they’re my friends. I don’t ever lie or sugarcoat who I am and they don’t either, so we get along fine.
Last year, you went on a Twitter tirade about gay guys on the downlow. What inspired that rant?
For me, I have no issues with what people are in general; I’m just like, Be clear about it so that I know what and who I’m dealing with, because the kind of person that I am, you know exactly who I am when you meet me. I’m not a big fan of the secret undercover type (laughs). I think it’s bad; I don’t like it. It’s terrible, actually. I think if you don’t know what your sexual orientation is then you need to take time out and figure it out, but I don’t think you should trick people. That’s an issue for me.
You weren’t dating a closeted gay guy, were you?
I hope not! (Laughs) But I will say I’ve had girlfriends before where I’ve been like, “Umm, yeah, he’s totally gay!” I know a gay man when I see one.
Because your gay-dar is so good?
Honestly, they gravitate toward me. I really don’t have to do anything. I’m 5-feet-10, I’m black, I wear mini skirts and great shoes; it’s not brain surgery.
In fact, you’ve been called a drag queen.
All the time. Constantly. They wish! (Laughs)
Tell me what you have in store for those going to see you on the “All Hearts” tour with Robyn.
Honestly, I really don’t know yet. I’m kind of a – I don’t want to say spontaneous, but I’m really a last-minute kind of person. I have an overview, but I don’t exactly know what I’m going to do yet.
It seems like a perfect collaborative tour because both of you recently released dance albums. How familiar are you with each other?
I mean, we know each other. I wouldn’t say we’re like long-last sisters yet, but you never know. I think being on tour is going to be a really great thing. She’s great. I love her music and I love her style. So, we’ve talked … and I like her (laughs).
You never know, maybe we will become long-lost sisters, but as of right now, we’re cool and we’re both artists and we appreciate what we do. It’s exciting to be able to go out there and share that moment with someone.
Other interviews have mentioned that younger artists like Rihanna emulate you.
I’ve never brought that up. People ask me and so my answer is that I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now and the reality is that if someone came into the music business within the last 10 years, and they’re probably a decade younger than me, it’s pretty obvious that there’s going to be some influence there. The reason people ask me is because they obviously see something. I never, ever out of my own volition bring it up, because I don’t even care enough to bring it up.
Whom were you emulating then when you first launched your career?
From my youngest years, my mom was such a lady, so for me now, that’s how I maintain myself. As far as artists go, I was a sponge, and I grew up with just jazz and gospel around me all the time. Then, as I got a little bit older, I started listening to anything from En Vogue to Nirvana.
What’s the most random fact about you that no one else knows?
Everything about me, everyone around me knows it (laughs).