Why Kehlani Was So Covered Up For The Grammys Red Carpet
One particularly sunny Los Angeles afternoon in February, I sat down for a pre-Grammys chat with Kehlani, the 20-year-old Oakland native whose mixtape, You Should Be Here, was nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album, up against the likes of Miguel, The Weeknd, and The Internet.
It was announced just a few minutes ago that The Weeknd won, and Kehlani Instagrammed her congratulations toe him. But either way, Kehlani is about to have the biggest night ever. So we caught up with her a few weeks ago to talk about her Grammy preparations, expectations, and why she’s all covered up for the big night.
Kehlani is only 20 years old, but she sings, writes, and carries herself like a seasoned vet of the industry, while maintaining the easygoing, approachable demeanor of someone her age. Kehlani has gone through a lot in life already; her father died soon after she was born, and her mother suffered from drug addiction, so Lani grew up with her aunt, first aspiring to professional ballet dancing, then deciding upon her path in music while still in high school.
Sweatpants, hair tied, chilling with no makeup on, she sits cross-legged in a chair outside our office with me, legs huddled up against her chest, and I ask her the burning Grammy question:
“What are you going to wear?”
“I’m wearing a dress. Everybody’s expecting me to wear a suit, because I’m like a little boy,” she laughed, a sound I hadn’t heard yet from signature raspy voice, one that I immediately liked. “But I’m going to wear a dress. I don’t know the name of any designers or anything, but it has long sleeves, because my tattoos aren’t finished and I don’t want to show them until they’re all finished. I have all these outlines, but I have to get these cover-ups actually filled in.”
She rolls up her sleeves, exposing black inked outlines layered upon a slew of colored tattoos.
“This a phoenix, which is covering up some of these tattoos I got in high school,” she tells me. “The phoenix is supposed to symbolize rebirth, so I figured it’d be a good symbol to use.”
But back to my Grammy questions: has she planned a speech?
“I’m not gonna plan for it,” she says, “Because I don’t want to get my expectations up. I’m just so happy to be nominated, you know? I’m not expecting to win. I didn’t expect to be nominated at all — I thought my mixtape would maybe have one or two songs that got recognized, but I never thought my entire mixtape would be nominated.”
A member of her entourage ambles over, smiling. I invite him to sit with us, but he declines. I ask what kind of music she listened to while writing her mixtape.
“I was listening to a lot of rap,” she said. “I think Drake’s project had just come out? It’s hard to listen to other singers when you’re singing, because you end up picking up a lot of the melodies, or similar elements of the songs, so I’ll usually listen to something completely different from my own work.”
Now, Kehlani’s working to gain a better understanding of the balance between artist and business woman. She says she’s been talking to all the best songwriters she knows, trying to gain a better understanding of the way pop music functions as an enterprise.
“Having made two mixtapes, and a Grammy-nominated one at that, I’ve already proved I could write, you know? Now it’s time for me to be more of a student,” she said.
“For sure,” I nod. “And what musicians are you working with these days?
“I have my producer, John, he plays the shit out of the piano. I live with him actually. I live with him, my photographer, my assistant, my little sister, my little brother—”
She must have registered the shock on my face, because she laughs.
“Yeah, I’m kind of Mother Theresa. We live in a house, and everybody takes a couch and shit. The cool part is that everybody gets shit done. I’m used to being surrounded by a lot of people, so I’m happy to be living with all of them. And just because I’m nominated for a Grammy doesn’t mean I’m not going to live with my family, you know?”
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