Keri Hilson isn’t content anymore to be just a pretty face—or a pretty voice—in the background. The 28-year-old Georgia native has penned hits for Britney Spears, Pussycat Dolls and Mary J. Blige. She’s sung background vocals for hip-hop and R&B heavyweights such as Usher, Ludacris and Ciara. And she’s been featured as a guest on songs by Timbaland, T.I. and Kanye West. Now, just as Ke$ha and Nikki Minaj have successfully done, she’s poised to break out of backing-talent obscurity and grab her own bit of the spotlight.
To hear this emerging R&B singer talk, it seems one of Keri’s goals on her second album, No Boys Allowed, was a kind of female empowerment. She told Vibe magazine, “I don’t want women to hear my music and only hear this strong, confident Keri. I want them to understand that I’ve been hurt, too, I’ve been vulnerable, I’ve been insecure. Women need music they can relate to and learn from.”
So what exactly is she relating? And what are ladies learning?
“Breaking Point” admonishes women not to put up with lying and cheating for the sake of a bad relationship. “Now, ladies,” Keri sings, “we really should be mad at ourselves/’Cause, see, some women just tolerate way too d‑‑n much.” Similarly, on “Toy Soldier,” a woman laments too late that she should have guarded her heart better. And “Beautiful Mistake” (crudely) expresses Keri’s regret for having had sex with someone she quickly realized she didn’t love (“I wish we never crossed the line/I wish I never gave you this booty”). The song also questions the wisdom of heedlessly submitting to every romantic impulse (“I follow my heart/But every time I do/It gets me lost and left in the dark”). “All the Boys” praises a current beau for his steady love compared to those who failed Keri before.
Never mind all that, though. Sex is still Keri’s key to musical and personal fulfillment. “The Way That You Love Me” oozes sensuality as she croons, “Ooh, ahh, baby don’t stop/You know how I like it, daddy, when you hit the spot.” The chorus on the cleaned-up album version reads, “Love me, love me, it’s the way you love me/Touch me, touch me, it’s the way you touch me/Thug me, thug me, it’s the way you thug me.” A much raunchier version of the song (initially released as a video) replaces “thug” with the f-word—and also includes a crude reference to the prowess of her genitals.
Four other songs praise sex with equal ardor. Their titles alone tell us virtually all we need to know: “Bahm Bahm (Do It Once Again/I Want You”), “One Night Stand,” “Gimme What I Want,” “Lose Control (Let Me Down).” We hear references to getting undressed, sexual positions and oral sex. Racy liner note photos show Keri and other women wearing very little while posing provocatively on or near urinals in a men’s restroom.
“Buyou” tells off broke guys looking to sponge off Keri’s money. But it also celebrates conspicuous consumption and informs any would-be suitor that supporting her materialistic habit is a relational and sexual prerequisite. “Pretty Girl Rock” glories in superficial narcissism masquerading as self-esteem (“All eyes on me when I walk in/No question that this girl’s a 10/Don’t hate me ’cause I’m beautiful”). Uncensored s-words and uses of “d‑‑n” turn up on a couple of tracks.
When the explicit version of the video for “The Way You Love Me” initially arrived online, it was shocking enough to make even the likes of celebrity blogger Perez Hilton blush. And, tellingly, it was apparently so obscene that it’s now mostly been removed from circulation.
In a lengthy face-to-face interview posted on Hilton’s site, the infamous gossipmonger found himself in the altogether unlikely position of hinting that the f-word invitations throughout the song actually took the theme of female sexual empowerment too far. “You don’t have to use sexuality to feel powerful,” he criticized. Keri responded, “No, you don’t. That’s not my message to children.”
Yet the balance of the interview and the majority of No Boys Allowed both indicate that sex is what Keri’s seized upon to secure fame and personal fulfillment. “My album’s called No Boys Allowed, right? But really, it means now bulls‑‑‑ allowed,” she told Hilton. “In this album, I was screaming in a room … with all my girlfriends, and we were just yelling all the s‑‑‑ we really say. What would you say, what would you yell? One of the things you might yell is, ‘I don’t want to make love tonight, just f‑‑‑ me, please!’ Know what I mean?” She added, “We can’t approach art from a fear perspective. We have to be fearless and stand for what you believe in. You know, I’m a freak. It’s no surprise, I’m a freak. … We should make no apologies.”
And that’s what she thanks God for in her liner notes: “2nd album? This can’t be my life! God, are you sure this package wasn’t meant for Keri Wilson or Keri Hilton? I’m certain the universe wouldn’t be this cooperative if all this wasn’t in your plan. Thank you, God of all creation … you were the first & greatest artist.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.