Kehlani Isn’t Scared To Get In Her Feels
Kehlani has been through some shit, but upon first listening to her album SweetSexySavage, you would never guess it.
With the dreamy beats and happy-lit vibes, someone who doesn’t know Kehlani’s story might assume she’s just a 21-year-old getting turnt with the occasional heartbreak that she’ll get over after her next tequila shot.
But dig deeper into her history — or lurk 52 weeks back in her Twitter mentions — and you may discover she ended up in the hospital last year and it was rumored that she attempted suicide. You may also discover that her dad died when she was young and she hopped from home to home — with brief homeless periods in between — as her mom fought addiction issues.
You won’t hear any of this on her album. Kehlani’s latest record is largely devoid of any explicit references to past hardships, other than a few mentions in songs such as “Not Used To It.”
Imagine if some male artists did that? If instead of whining for 12 bars to seem like badasses you should also feel sorry for, they said fuck it and focused on the light at the end of the tunnel?
Kehlani just wants her fans who are dealing with similar shit to get in their feels and then get through it, just like she did.
“I think people notice by now that I don’t really have any sad songs or songs that stay in the negative situation,” says Kehlani. “If they are talking about a negative situation, it’s usually like, ‘Well, I’m stronger now,’ or ‘I’m getting better now,’ or ‘I don’t want to feel like that again.'”
Kehlani is down for a sad song if she needs to cry it all out, but she prefers to get herself out of a funk with a happier song, or write herself out of a bad mood.
“It always comes full circle to this positive part, because I write those songs for myself,” she says.
And she’s definitely got a point.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you as you’ve grown in popularity?
I think biggest challenge for me has been learning how to separate my artist life from my personal life. I actually went and got my cards read by a psychic and she told me that was going to be my biggest issue in my career — not knowing how to separate that. So, I think that’s pretty much it. I’m working on it — it’s an everyday process.
Do you think it’s become harder because artists and celebrities are expected to share everything with their fans on social media?
It’s definitely become harder because we don’t have that safety wall between us and fan bases of what’s cool and not cool. We don’t have boundaries anymore. People aren’t afraid to get disrespectful or overstep boundaries because we don’t have that set up. So yeah, I definitely have to deal with crazy things all the time, like 24/7.
Is it difficult to ignore haters online or do you take the energy and turn it into something positive?
I was the most hated [person] online in the world for a second. So, I probably dealt with it for a while and now it’s just like, you can say anything you want to me — I’ve heard it all. I know who I am. People I love know who I am. That’s all that matters.
Why do you think women are targets and hated online so much more than men?
I think women are targets in general more than men in all forms of life. I think we are intimidating. I think our softness is intimidating. I think people want to test us all the time. They think because we’re so soft that it’s easy to break us…you know what I mean? I think they don’t come at men because men don’t often react because I don’t think they know how to handle it. But [women] are so expressive, I think it’s just easy because they know they might get a reaction out of us 75% of the time. So, I don’t know. I think we’re bomb and people just don’t know how to deal with it.
What inspired you to return to social media after taking a hiatus from it?
I don’t know. There were so many [more] people that wanted me to come back than people that wanted me to stay away. There were so many more people that were like, “aww man, I need your Instagram posts and I need your little makeup tips and I need your little good morning, positive messages on Snapchat,” more than haters wanted me to be gone. It was really hard for me to want to [join social media again] and thank God that Instagram had that comment disabler. And that quality filter on Twitter — you know what I’m saying.
Have fans reached out to you saying your story has helped them?
Yeah, it’s really crazy. I read all these crazy letters and stuff they give me at meet and greets, and how they talk to me at meet and greets. And just to be able to look somebody in the eyes and they’re like, “No girl, let me talk to you for a second.” And they’re holding my hand and they’re like, “let me let you know that I get it. I love the music. That’s great, but beyond that… it’s deeper than that.” And just to know that I can go through something and then six months later, across the planet, somebody else is going through the exact same thing and they heard the song and they’re like, “Wow,” and feel it as deeply as I felt it when wrote it.
What advice would you give for readers and fans that are going through a tough time?
I think my biggest advice is to always learn how to see the bigger picture and always know how to drown the noise out and separate yourself. You have to know that social media is at an all-time cruel high. There’s no boundary at all for what’s okay and what’s not okay to talk about.
They talk about death. They talk about racism. They talk about sexism — you know, transphobia and homophobia, it’s insane. So, you have to know how to check in with yourself and be like, “Cool, I’m a levelheaded person. Are you good, self? Do you think you’re great? Yes. Do you think you look awesome today? Yes. Do you think you’re doing a great job in life? Yes.” And that’s the only opinion you need to pay attention to because all that other stuff that’s got nothing to do with you, it’s never personal.
Someone else’s opinion of you has nothing to do with you at all and that’s the biggest lesson I could have ever learned: to not take things personal because of that. You don’t even know why someone said anything that they said — negatively or positively. Someone can tell me they love me right now and that had nothing to do with me. It’s how they viewed me that made them love me. If they hated me, it’s how they viewed me that made them hate me. So, I don’t know, it’s all about keeping it tapped in, in [your head].
So, you said in another interview that your latest album was inspired by shit you want to listen in the morning when you want to have a good day. What do you listen to in the morning when you want to have a good day?
It’s funny, I have a very particular playlist. It’s very happy. It’s usually easy-going, not too hard to swallow. Like Natasha Bedingfield, Nelly Furtado, India Arie, and Musiq Soulchild. A lot of neo soul or dope, early 2000s happy pop. Just stuff that I feel like, like Corinne Bailey Rae. Her album in the morning is bomb. Just anything that is light and kind of makes you feel warmth and breakfast and cooking in your underwear in a big t-shirt, and what you want to listen to when you’re sweeping and things like that.
Do you find that music has helped you through the bad days as well?
I think music helps through all days — good, bad, happy, depressing, angry. I think you can use it as a tool and not just listening to something to stay in that mood. Like when I’m sad, I’m not just going to listen to more sad music. Unless, I want to get it all out and cry it all out. If I really just want to change my mood, I can just put on something, turn up real quick, you know what I’m saying? Get myself back into a vibe. So, yeah, it’s definitely a healing process.
Did you come up with the name of the album before or after you finished it?
We had so much music, that’s the thing. I don’t even know when the album technically started or when it ever even ended, except for we had like a 30-song playlist and we were like, “Wow, we gotta stop making songs.”
Albums aren’t supposed to be as long as mine was, but we couldn’t decide. There were so many [songs] we were so in love with that told the story of the album title. So, we came up with the title relatively closer to the end when we had more songs. And we were on the beach in Hawaii — we flew out there to do some writing — and we were just talking about how we had all these songs we didn’t know how they went together. We didn’t know how all these sweet songs could also be on the same album, all these sexy songs that can also be on the same album as all these really crazy, savage songs. And then everybody was like, “Wait a minute. That’s clearly a title in there somewhere: sweet, sexy, and savage.” And then we just put it all together.
In the song “Escape” you talk about a relationship where you don’t want to be a guy’s everything. Can you talk to us more about that?
First off, I’m only 21. So, I’m still learning new things about myself every single day. And when I wrote that song I wasn’t at a place of feeling like I was at a good enough place with myself to be someone’s everything, because I wasn’t my own everything yet. It took me a very long time to put myself all the way first and to fully fall in love with myself and to fully step into this person of exactly who I am. And you can’t be someone’s everything when you’re not your own. So, that’s pretty much what that was.
Do you subscribe to the idea that you have to be in love with yourself before you can have someone else?
Yeah, I mean I totally believe you can’t love anybody if you don’t love yourself, you know what I mean? That’s just the case, like you always find something wrong with somebody and I feel like in that moment you’ll always relate it to the other person. And you’ll always be like, “there’s just something that’s not working out and there’s something about you,” and then the relationship is over. And then like weeks or months later, you’re like, “wow, it was totally me. I’m tripping.” You know what I mean? And even in that place, sometimes you find somebody who is down to help you discover the love you have for yourself and that’s a beautiful thing as well.
In “In My Feelings,” you describe a situation that so many people have gone through. Today, being in your feelings is almost seen as a negative thing. People are like, “Oh no, I’m catching feels.” Why do you think that is and do you agree with it?
I think there’s a negative connotation and a positive connotation. On one hand, I think everybody should feel, because we do — it’s just hidden, you know what I mean? I was having this conversation the other day about how I feel like guys feel just as much as [women] do, if not more, but they’re so structurally forced to hide it based on how we’re all raised… those society roles, and things like that.
So, I think we all should feel everything out. I read a book by Osho called “Emotional Wellness” and it was just about how suppression is bad because you’re like a teapot. You can’t fill yourself back up if you’re not letting things out. So, you have to get it all out to refill yourself. You have to feel it all and you can’t hide anything or else it would keep piling up and piling up, and then you’re left with all these layers of crap that come out in the worst ways some days. So, feel it out — let it out and make room for good energy.
Do you feel a similar process with your music, when you have a certain emotion and you put it into your music to get it out that way?
Definitely. I think people notice by now that I don’t really have any sad songs or songs that stay in the negative situation. If they are talking about a negative situation, it’s usually like, “Well, I’m stronger now,” or “I’m getting better now,” or “I don’t want to feel like that again.” And it always comes full circle to this positive part because I write those songs for myself. When I’m tweeting on Twitter about advice, I’m usually talking to myself. When I write those songs, it’s not even from a place of being at that point yet. It’s me trying to write myself out of it — which is why performing is so fulfilling and being on stage and being able to sing them because I’m at the place I wrote about wanting to be at months and months and months ago — is great. I was doing my show last night and just the connection of some of the core fans that I had…I knew looking at them like, “Aww, we’re good. You’re proud of me. I’m proud of me too.” Like, “We’re here.”
For the album cover you had a short haircut. Was that symbolic?
Yeah, I mean I look like I just got born on the album cover. And to me, that’s what this album did for me, [it] was a rebirth. It was a reclaiming of my life for myself. So, that’s why I was shiny, wet, short haired, and as natural as possible — besides all the glitter, I was covered in glitter. Shout out moms, came out the womb glittery. But yeah, so that’s kind of where we were going with it and I just wanted to be in my wildest form, which is why I was topless and everything.
Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist?
I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I was always that person. My mom used to get on my head because I used to walk around and talk to every single person outside. Walking down the street, every homeless person was my best friend — every store owner, every guy that worked at the laundromat. Every time we would go into somewhere I was like, “This my best friend! Hey!” So, I always knew I was very social and I was good at that. And I was always into everything — I was dancer first, then I was in theater, and then I got into music and then it all came into play because you have to incorporate all of that as a performer.
What do you think you would being doing if you weren’t doing this?
If I wasn’t doing this, I would probably want to be a kindergarten teacher or a first-grade teacher at some point where it’s extremely fundamental to impact kids to make sure they’re good when they’re growing up — not good in like a “good kid” sense, but like make sure they’re good, you know what I mean? I needed those teachers that would pull me aside in middle school and be like, “forget all this school shit, are you good? How’s it going at home? You feeling good today? Did you eat today?” Things like that.
That kind of stuff was fundamental — like, “Are you crying? What’s the actual reason?” Not [a teacher] that made you feel like you were stupid if you didn’t know anything or I’m just coming in seeing this robot everyday standing in front of me reading God knows what, if I even know if it’s the truth or not. So, I probably would do that — or some type of counselor.
Did you have those teachers growing up or did you wish you had those teachers growing up?
I had those teachers growing up. I was very fortunate to go to a charter art school and they just knew that every kid that was there really needed it because it was a charter school, so it was free. And we had skateboarding class and extracurricular classes that were just really dope. And every teacher comes to my shows now and it’s like, “Yo, remember when you were little and we use to blah, blah, blah…” They check on me, they email me, call me, things like that. So, I was very blessed. I had great teachers.
Vintage Todd Oldham outfit | Chanel barrettes | Vintage choker all courtesy of Gabriel Held Vintage
Dior courtesy of Gabriel Held Vintage
Photography | Amber Asaly
Hair | Kahh Spence
Styling | Gabriel Held