12
May 09

The Trouble With Pop: Keri Hilson

FT3 comments • 841 views

Miss Keri bay-bee!Keri Hilson – In A Perfect World

It’s near impossible to hear or see Keri Hilson without Timbaland lurking somewhere on the sidelines. You almost want to distract him with a tin of biscuits or something to see what Keri would be like if left to her own devices. But does she have any devices?

The short answer is a qualified ‘yes’: Keri has a obvious knack for writing clear chirruping melodies and lyrics that fit those melodies well. However her talents as a performer seem underdeveloped, perhaps even subdued. She’s obviously no Jazmine Sullivan or Mariah Carey in technical terms, but Keri doesn’t even have the icy nasality of Rihanna or the terrifying foghorn of Beyonce. There’s no character in her voice, nothing to distinguish her from a sea of backing singers and X Factor hopefuls. It’s as if Keri is (perhaps subconsciously?) dampening down her personality to allow her songwriting to shine through (which it undoubtedly does). Or maybe she always sings like this?

Hilson’s visual presence is similarly neutral: no robot gloves or Gaga-arrogance here. Her stylised-sexuality in the video to ‘Return The Favour’ isn’t exactly coffee-table but she still fails to impress an image on the memory. I just don’t think she’s that great at being a popstar yet. So maybe Timbaland really is needed here? He definitely raises Keri’s game in ‘Return the Favour’ and ‘How Does It Feel’ (both songs requiring a strong foil to be flirtatious/angry with); his heavy shuffle-beats bring Keri’s flighty choruses down to earth; and of course, Tim gives Keri much-needed press release material. “Meet Keri Hilson – Timbaland’s talented protégé whom you would never have heard of if it hadn’t been for him!

However one thing Timbaland isn’t responsible for is just how coherent this album is. It’s been ages since I listened to an album with such a clear narrative (perhaps B-Day was the last?) throughout. This collection of songs has been carefully and cleverly selected – by executive producer K. Hilson. Let’s have a brief rundown of the story, track-by-track:

Intro, Turnin’ Me On: Hello! Check me out, aren’t I awesome and desirable to menfolk
Get Your Money Up: Out on the town with the girls, we’re independent but still keeping an eye out for rich dudes just in case, like
Return The Favor, Knock You Down: Flirting with dudes but it turns out they’re all a bit ‘whatevs’
Slow Dance: I have finally found an awesome dude!
Make Love: And now I am noisily sh4gging him!
Intuition: And now I am immensely paranoid because of this rumour I’ve heard, but I don’t want to seem like a bunny boiler
How Does It Feel, Alienated: MASSIVE jealous bunny-boiling argument, probably with no grounds in reality; subsequent aftermath
Tell Him The Truth I have messed it up good and proper and have a massive guilty conscience
Change Me: We’re not going to stop being arses to each other, so it’s never going to work out, is it?
Energy, Where Did He Go: Argh I miss him but I need to move on for the good of my health.

I can tell you straight away that the sexxing track is a really uncomfortable piece of voyeurism. Keri’s orgasmic vocal line is spilling out all over the place – I hope her sheets are machine washable. I am surprised that her neighbours aren’t knocking on the wall with a broom handle. Interestingly, Keri doesn’t have a writing credit on this one. Perhaps her mum reads the liner notes?

Moving swiftly on, …Perfect World’s high points are definitely the early section (strutting around, going out clubbing) and the beginning of the second half (paranoid arguments). On ‘Get Your Money Up’, Keri manages to rhyme ‘money up’ with ‘armoured truck’ which is just astounding. Trina and Keysha Cole link arms with her and march around the playground, chanting nonsense and sticking their tongues out at the boys.

‘Intuition’ features some queasy strings that perfectly capture that agonising stomach-churning feeling you get when there is Relationship Trauma going on and there’s nothing you can do about it right this second except clutch your head in your heads and listen to your thoughts go round and round in circles along with the melody. It’s astonishingly empathetic – the voices in Keri’s head are confused and upset and worried all at the same time: “I trusted my heart, put down my guard… I worked so hard, I hope it ain’t true…

Finally on ‘How Does It Feel’ our heroine pulls herself together and confronts her chap about his misdemeanours and completely goes off on one. “So what you gonna do when I don’t give you that last chance? And how you gonna act, when you see me in the back with a new man?” Er two wrongs don’t make a right Keri. Except when it comes to churning awesome r(gument)’n’b.

The album’s production isn’t exactly ground-breaking in terms of genre experimentation (c.f. Britney’s dubstep venture; Santogold’s marriage of punk and dubby beats) but Timbaland and Danja’s efforts are high quality and are varied enough to make each track stand out from the next. Then the guest spots come thick and fast: Akon’s primal screaming is a surprising enough departure from his usual goosing to warrant another listen; Kanye doesn’t seem to know whose studio he’s in but throws out plenty of WTF; Lil’ Wayne is as cheeky and snide as ever – by the time he’s finished you’ve almost forgotten that this isn’t actually his album.

In fact, Keri’s debut seems determined to distract the listener from her lack of personality and neutral voice (save for the Leona-wobbles on the sexxing song, urrrgh). But despite its flaws, I keep getting drawn back into her world. Nobody’s perfect, right?

Comments

  1. 1
    koganbot on 12 May 2009 #

    I’d never even noticed the narrative arc. Thanks for directing my attention to it. You apparently are taking account of lyrics.

    I would love it if you would write about The-Dream’s Love Vs Money, which has a circular and tense narrative: Sexmush —> Relationship Blows To Pieces —> Return To Sexmush, But With All The Tensions And Payoffs Heightened.

  2. 2
    Kat but logged out innit on 12 May 2009 #

    Re: lyrics – I know! This is how I know that an album is worthy of 1x essay.

  3. 3
    Ryan Surtherland on 21 Jul 2009 #

    can keri hilson handle it without timbaland we since there are good friends and since keri hilson did help out timbaland with his album “shock value” then you could say that timbland was “returning the favour” ;-)

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