Saturday, September 14, 2013

W.W.C.I.I.T.M.I. Post 11: Kelis

This is a series dedicated to women who despite success in the U.S. Music Industry, have est. a very complicated image for themselves.

Round 11 of this series goes to criminally underrated [yet fairly known "dairy product endorser"] R&B songbird extraordinaire, Kelis. It's no secret on this blog and at my Twitter account that I appreciate Kelis. I own copies of her albums, Kaleidoscope and Flesh Tone. However, she's kind of been screwed out of a proper career in the U.S. outside of her songs "Milkshake" and "Bossy" ft. Too $hort.

Personal information RE: Kelis is a touch limited since there's no Behind The Music dedicated to her (Yet they dedicate an episode to the likes of Nicole Scherzinger -_-). Interviews on the PBS program, Tavis Smiley, and the U.K. outlets of Later Live...with Jools Holland and BBC Radio One persona Trevor Nelson reveal that Kelis grew up to a jazz musician father and a mother who dabbled more or less in catering [anything I missed, you are more than welcome to add in the comments].
Leaving home at 16 and beginning her career with Virgin Records, she est. a relationship with future production superstars, The Neptunes (One of the things that Pharrell Williams did before getting involved in "Blurred Lines" with the creepy uncle of music known as Robin Thicke.)

Her debut effort, Kaleidoscope, presented Kelis as an avant-garde creation discovered on the "4th Sector" by Pharrell and co. The album would spawn the singles “Caught Out There”, “Good Stuff” and “Get Along With You”. The first being "Caught Out There"; this is the song known for its hook...


It peaked on the Hot 100 at #54 and at #9 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts. Despite a Top 10 R&B song made from it, the chart placement began the troubling fact that Kelis has been doing better abroad then in the U.S. ["Caught Out There" went to #4 in the U.K.]. The next single, "Good Stuff" failed to chart in the U.S. altogether, but gave her another successful U.K. charting at #19. Then, her 3rd and last single from the album, "Get Along With You" fared better in the U.S. but wasn't a major impact in the way "Caught Out There" had been. It peaked at #57 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts and at #19 on the Hot Dance Club Play charts.
Kaleidoscope had garnered critical favors, but found its commercial success in the U.K. where it was certified Gold. In the U.S., the album peaked at #144 on the Billboard 200 and #23 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. In positive lights, Kelis does have versatility as in the span of 3 songs charted on the Hot 100, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and the Hot Dance Club Play charts.

Cut to 2001 and her sophomore effort Wanderland. Continuing with the experimental edge of R&B, Wanderland was intended to build upon Kelis' critical success Kaleidoscope gave her. Like her debut, Pharrell and co. were behind the album's sound. In case any U.S. readers are unfamiliar with the effort, you can partially blame Virgin Records for that. Kelis claims that the label hated the album for U.S. audiences. As a result, the album was slated for only international markets [where sadly, the album floundered].
The one known song from Wanderland was "Young, Fresh n' New". The instrumental of the song took on its own life in about every VH1 "Biggest Feud-a-palooza"* (*Not terribly far off from the titles of the actual programs.*) The song was a minor success in the U.K. but did see the music video light of day [at least in Canada on the MuchMusic circuit]. The songs "Flash Back" and "Popular Thug" did see U.S. exposure as "Flash Back" was re-titled "Flashback" for her 3rd effort and "Popular Thug" had Nas replace Pusha T for The Neptunes' only album, The Neptunes Present:...Clones.

Cut to 2003 and her 3rd effort, Tasty. By then, she had left Virgin Records and had signed with Arista Records [because Pharrell had est. the boutique label Star Trak Entertainment]. Her misgivings with her "experimental"/"edgy" efforts lead to this being her presented as an atypical R&B chanteuse. Her career skyrocketed with the album's lead single, "Milkshake". Instrumental by The Neptunes? Check; Scintillating song title that was the source of endless jokes about what the "Milkshake" refers to? Check; Performances on SNL, The Spike VGA's and even Last Call with Carson Daly? Check.
The point is, Kelis had attained commercial success in the U.S. for the first time when the song peaked at #3 on the Hot 100. However, someone at Star Trak or Arista mismanaged the fuck out of her [or something] and didn't capitalize on her success properly.
OK; supposedly, at the time of the release of the next single, "Trick Me", Arista went under and she was shipped over to Jive Records. Either way, somebody who isn't Kelis screwed her out of a successive Top 5 song in the U.S. "Trick Me" found international success and wasn't even released officially in the U.S. other than an appearance in the video game Saints Row 2 and bubbling under the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs at #107.
The 3rd and 4th singles "Millionaire" ft. Andre 3000 and "In Public" ft. Nas respectively weren't as lucky to bubble under any chart and floundered in the States. Tasty itself peaked at #27.

By 2006, she had officially become part of LaFace Records [who was under Jive Records]. Her fourth effort, Kelis Was Here, continued the more "obvious" R&B route she had been pushed in but still intended to sell Kelis' signature style. The lead single is the second biggest hit she's had in the U.S. to date in Hot 100 terms; however, it's a song I cannot personally forgive her for as it does nothing to justify her glorious voice. "Bossy" ft. Too $hort would become one of the most sold ringtone songs in history selling well over 800,000 units. The song itself peaked at #16 on the Hot 100. Her next single from the album "Blindfold Me" ft. Nas would flounder in the U.S. peaking at #91 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts.
International audiences were treated to her best song from the album while the U.S. was screwed with "Bossy" ringtones. "Lil Star" ft. Cee-Lo Green would peak at #1 on the U.K. R&B Singles charts. For all the flaws "Bossy" had (And still has) Kelis Was Here peaked at #10, making it the only album of hers to peak in the Top 10.

Cut to 2010 and her fifth effort, Flesh Tone. By then, everything had changed for her. She was no longer married to Nas, she had given birth to her son Knight, she had left LaFace/Jive and joined Interscope by way of Music Group. Flesh Tone saw a sort of return to form as it was sort of reminiscent of her avant-garde/experimental era with Kaleidoscope. The album's lead single "Acapella", did service her a #1 hit albeit on the Hot Dance Club Songs charts [Technically, "Milkshake" did this as well, but I'm not counting that; why? Because in a sense...FUCK "Milkshake".]
The follow up single and my favorite song in recorded history, "4th of July (Fireworks)" [despite being screwed out of the Top 100] did become the second Top 5 hit Kelis never had in any of her previous works in the U.S....albeit on the Hot Dance Club Songs charts where it peaked at #4.
The 3rd and 4th singles "Scream" and "Brave" failed to make any U.S. charts and even struggled internationally. "Scream" went to #18 in Belgium and #168 in the U.K/ while "Brave" went to #123 in the U.K. Flesh Tone would peak at #48.

In a sense, what makes Kelis one of many W.W.C.I.I.T.M.I. is a case of bad luck/mismanagement by her record labels. She may have attained success through "earworms" such as "Milkshake" and "Bossy" but until Flesh Tone, she wasn't even close to consecutive Top 5 singles on any charts.
However, I'd be remiss not to mention her sense of intuition as to what single comes first from her efforts. In a VEVO “webisode” {portmanteaux of web episode} when briefly describing the lead single to Flesh Tone, “Acapella” she hinted at possessing a knack for what to release for her first single. With “Caught Out There”, “Milkshake”, “Bossy” and “Acapella” itself, it seems Kelis knows the pattern to lead single success. How any of her A&R/management couldn't hone her intuitive skills is just baffling.
It isn't like she's struggled for work outside of her solo efforts. In 2011, she worked with Calvin Harris on the song "Bounce" off of his latest effort, 18 Months. Despite the fact that this was the lead single from the album (And it had a Las Vegas video shoot) it only went to #22 on the U.S. Hot Dance Club Songs charts (It was more successful in the U.K. where it reached the Top 10, but screw U.K. charts at the moment.)

Kelis has also expressed that she has had continuous conversations/discussions over her ethnicity. On Tavis Smiley, she expressed that the industry " so segregated". In a radio interview with OutQ personality Larry Flick, she expressed that she never had a "Hip-Hop" audience. Flick queried whether or not her song "Acapella" would alienate any of her Hip-Hop or R&B fans. *She essentially responded that she never strictly had a Hip-Hop audience, but that it was mainly radio stations that branded her that way. She could sing the same song as any other singer, but due to her being Black [technically she's of Black, Puerto Rican & Chinese lineage] it was labeled Hip-Hop/R&B anyway*
*Please note I am merely paraphrasing what she said in response to Larry Flick. The sound byte of this can be found on YouTube under the SiriusXM channel*
If this much racial issues had any hand in this, then Kelis' place in the music industry as one of many W.W.C.I.I.T.M.I. is based out of a victimized circumstance [for lack of better phrasing].

She is slated to release her upcoming sixth album in November, with the tentative title FOOD. This could be a slight homage to her being a certified chef [Le Cordon Bleu and everything with a specialty as a saucier. (No; her specialty was not milkshakes, you asshole)]. Slight issue comes with distribution/label. Meaning, she is no longer with Interscope, but instead on the label Federal Prism. T_T So, there's a possibility that she could be screwed again. However, that may not be the case as the lead single, "Jerk Ribs" proves that she does have the potential to be big in the U.S. So far, FOOD seems it's going for a 70s vibe of some kind; really groove/ebb and flow centered dance music. Again, this is basing everything from "Jerk Ribs".
However, that would require the U.S. audience to stop by her yard again on the condition that they want Jerk Ribs with their Milkshake on the 4th of July. Movie critic Gene Shalit would have my head with that string of puns. : P
 *RANDOM Fun Fact Time: Kelis has also appeared on Top Chef: Masters as a "Quickfire Challenge" guest judge and has done voiceover work on the weird as hell U.S. redubbing of the weird as hell movie Volcano High and Freaknik:The Musical as "Tyra Banks" and "Oprah".*

Next up; the woman who can use some Motivation to compete with the Queen Bey.

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