We naturally hold the actions of artists higher than we do the people that we know in “real life”. As a music journalist I must speak to kids of around 20 years old, several times a week, but because I listen to their music and see them hopping around the world on Instagram, it never really crosses my mind that they’re as young as my girlfriend’s little brother. If anything I expect them to be more switched on, worldly and together than myself – after all they’re famous right?
Talking to Kehlani it’s very easy to forget her age. At only 21, the Oakland songstress has an unimaginable load on her shoulders. Until last year the furthest she’d ventured outside of her hometown had been Toronto, and one mixtape, You Should Be Here, suddenly had her Grammy-nominated and in the spotlight as she travelled the world, a positive role model for young people across the globe.
While I chatted to her back in January, for our Clash 100 feature, Kehlani talked about her close relationship with her fans, who she has genuine conversations with via social media, and who look up to her despite being a similar age. She also touched on the pressures of being held accountable for her actions while she navigates being a young woman with her own insecurities. She wears her vulnerability, as in her music, on her sleeve, unashamed to be real and remind us that we’re all human, and it’s okay not to be okay sometimes.
Of course, this was reinforced when in March I happened to notice that she was a trending topic on Twitter. Scrolling through the feed was harrowing, with photos of her in a hospital bed having attempted suicide, plus an abundance of comments, blog posts and articles from people forming scathing opinions about a rumoured personal situation that they weren’t qualified to speak on. In a since deleted Instagram post, she explained to her fans that she “wanted to leave this Earth.”
Since then, it seems that she’s been taking the time to recover. Instagram updates – less regular than before, but still keeping her fans up to date – have shown her taking some time out for herself in Hawaii and Jamaica, and she released a statement in the way she knows best, through song, with ‘24/7’ a couple of months ago. For the first time, we’re publishing our full interview with Kehlani from January, which captures just how inspiring she is, as she speaks on her love of UK music, relationship with her fans, social media, travelling, success and more.
We wish Kehlani all the best with her ongoing recovery.
I saw an Instagram where a fan had brought an exam paper to you, they’d scored 98% on it and said they’d been inspired by you. How does it feel to have such a positive effect on people?
It’s beautiful to know that that’s what they’re choosing to show me. It could be something crazy like a mug shot! I’m glad that I can do that for people. She said she wanted to be a doctor and go to medical school because of it. I called her out on stage and said “If you’re not a doctor by the time I come back to London, we’re going to have problems!”
What do you think it is in your music that inspires that positivity?
It’s positive music. I’m not too crazy and if it is kind of a flexy song it always ends up being motivational. My song ‘Did I’ is a very flexed-out, kind of arrogant song on the low key. But it’s more of like “Did I hurt your feelings when I hustled like that”, it’s not like “Did I hurt your feelings when I pulled up in my shiny car, or when I made this amount of money.” It’s like did I hurt your feelings when I hustled to greatness. So I think even when it’s a little on the crazy side, it’s still influencing in a positive way.
You have such a strong relationship with your fans, where does that come from and how do you maintain it?
I talk to them, I have regular conversations. My DM’s are filled with conversations with regular conversations with my fans. Just girl-to-girl, girl-to-guy, regular human-to-human connections. And I think it’s because I’m very open as well, they’ve known when I’m sad, when I’m happy, when I’ve gone through a break up, when I’ve made a cool accomplishment. They know every little thing, just because I’m still 20 and they’re so young – they’re around my age group or slightly younger or slightly older – so I think they just feel connected to me because they know I’m not like an adult telling them something they don’t want to hear. It’s like, they know I’m going through the same things they’re going through, so it’s relatable, it’s believable.