Technicolor Natural LocksI’m not suggesting Kelis was the first to rock pink, blue, green or purple hair, but it was the combination of colour and texture that was visually jarring. After sporting a larger-than-life blonde afro in the video for ODB's “Got Your Money,” she turned heads with a unique style choice in her own visuals for “Caught Out There.” The neon pink ends and matching brows were our first glimpse of the candy-colored locks that would be a mainstay of Kaleidoscope-era Kelis. Swapping hot pink for blues, greens, purples and oranges (usually also with matching brows) would become a staple look for the singer.
The “Rihanna” haircut before RihannaTapered styles with full bouncy bangs were commonplace in the early ‘90s, but by the mid-2000s, long, layered and honey-toned styles were the move. Kelis’ short haircut might have harkened back to an earlier time, but it provided the framework for the Bajan superstar-in-waiting who became tied to the style in the same way Jennifer Aniston was associated with the lengthy, layered bob of 1990s whitegirldom. Experimenting with EDM In 2010, urban and electronic music had crossed paths minimally, if at all, on mainstream radio. Fans of deep house have always been used to this exchange of musical energy, but at this point on most pop stations the two just didn’t mix. Kelis’ sound has always played to eclectic sensibilities, veering into several genres with an R&B base. With the album Flesh Tone, however, Kelis dove headfirst into an area that was largely uncharted territory for black artists in North America. Her core fans ate it up, and though urban radio was largely unmoved, the ripple effects in black music were huge. Everyone from Usher to Ne-Yo to Beyoncé began infusing their music with EDM sounds and working with club heavyweights such as David Guetta and Benny Benassi, both of whom produced songs on Flesh Tone.
Speaking Of Flesh Tone...A solid album in terms of music, the accompanying visuals were artistically on par. The first single “Acapella” would introduce looks that, though met with a slightly furrowed brow in 2010, were more than commonplace in 2015. Kelis was the first person I had ever seen dye their hair grey on purpose, while most people scrambled to cover theirs up. The horseshoe septum piercing has always been a mainstay in fringe and goth subcultures, but seeing it on a woman of color struck a brand new chord for many. As with eyebrow and lip rings before it, black people’s receptiveness to facial piercings beyond the ears has been slow; but in 2015 it’s rare to go anywhere without seeing a variety of piercings on girls of all hues. That’s the interesting thing about timing. Sometimes, you can be too early. It’s important to be the first, but sometimes being so ahead of the curve puts you much too at odds with culture at large. Luckily for true lovers of artistic evolution, they’re okay with looking crazy for a while. The moral of the story? Whatever Kelis is doing now, we’ll catch up in 2020.
Sajae is a Toronto-based writer and digital producer who enjoys long walks to wherever the snacks are. Her thoughts can be found on Twitter at @JaeFiasco.