In 2003 the world was speculating wildly over what exactly was in Kelis’ milkshake that intoxicated men and hypnotised them into her ‘yard’. Over a decade later the dairy-based euphemism is still a tantalising mystery, and the 38-year-old megastar is as popular as ever. Her other huge hits, ‘Trick Me’, ‘Bossy’ and ‘Millionaire’, still swill around the airwaves and get stuck in our heads, and she’s been busy since that golden musical time capsule filling in her hours with impressive feats like training to be a professional chef, hosting UK choral talent show Pitch Battle, raising sons Shepherd and Knight and releasing her own line of sauces. We chatted to Kelis ahead of her Sydney appearance in the stacked line-up for the R'n'B Fridays Live show at Qudos Bank Arena.
Speaking candidly over the phone from her living room, Kelis reflects on the staying power of her output and that of her tour mates, Craig David, Ne-Yo, Kelly Rowland, En Vogue, Sean Paul, Mario, Christina Milian, Monifah and Fatman Scoop. “I love the fact that I am part of an era where music was great, when it was really fun, and we still have fun,” says Kelis. “The thing I think is even cooler about it is that everyone on tour, for the most part, is still really relevant and still really busy and still really cool. I think it’s a nice moment to be a part of.
The show has some of the key ingredients of the ’00s sound, presented for hungry, nostalgic audiences like a buffet of R’n’B heroes – tickets to the first show sold out in minutes. Kelis herself will be pretty chuffed to be hanging out with some of her idols. “Growing up, En Vogue, for example, was a huge one. I just thought they were so glamorous and beautiful and that they really represented something different than what we had seen before.” She admires the ‘Free Your Mind’ girl group as much as she does Whitney Houston, but when asked about any contemporary women of R’n’B she might align with, she is quick to remind us of a) how deeply un-feminist that question is and b) how her taste in artists needn’t be informed by gender or modernity at all.
“To be totally honest with you I don’t listen to a lot of stuff right now in general. Even music I do listen to now, I don’t listen to it because it is a woman. I don’t ever sit around and think, ‘Oh I’m going to listen to this artist because it’s a woman.’ I’m just like, ‘Oh I love this song.’ Everything else is kind of secondary.”
Kelis has another reason to be excited about the Australian tour: revisiting her favourite restaurants from last time. It’s widely known that during a breather between albums, she trained at Le Cordon Bleu, the famous culinary institute in France. She has released both a cookbook My Life on a Plate and a line of barbecue and jerk sauces under the brand Bounty and Full. The title of her most recent album, Food, from 2014, offers another hint about where her preoccupation lies. She says she feels privileged to get to eat all over the world. “I always do a quick little bit of research to see what’s new and exciting and a must-see in the local food scene. I’m down to try the high-end and then the not high-end. I don’t care. I like finding the good little holes in the wall kind of all over the world.”
Does she get a chance, as a recognisable megastar, to wander the streets and find said holes in the wall? “Yeah I do actually. I remember having some really good Indian food last time I was out there. When I’m back, if I’m around, I’ll walk around and try to find it again. It was something…hills? It has the word hill in it?” Surry Hills in Sydney? “It was an Indian place on a corner, it was Valentine’s Day and I went with a few of my band and we just sort of hung out. I remember the food being really good. You’ve really got some cute little things over there. But, yeah it was Valentine’s Day so, everything was all beefed out and overwhelmingly non-romantic.” Hopefully the ambiguity of this answer is enough to delight all of the Indian Diners in Surry Hills. Look out for Kelis wandering Crown Street looking for a top notch thali soon.
R'n'B Friday’s Live 2017 is at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena on Thu Oct 12 and Fri Oct 13.