- READ MORE: Kehlani – ‘Blue Water Road’ review: R&B star swaps badass braggadocio for quiet confidence
The singer spoke to us right before taking the stage at New York City’s Pier 17 as part of their In Bloom, Imagined By Kehlani Grey Goose Essences event, where they gave tracks from ‘Blue Water Road’ a live debut. Check out the live performance below.
“I’m really excited to see how it’s received,” the R&B star told NME backstage. “I’m excited to see everyone sing it, and what they resonate with the most. My fans are cute and adorable in a very specific way. They’ll be in the crowd hugging each other, holding hands, and making out with their girlfriends. It’s very gay and sweet. I’m excited to see which songs make them do all that.”
With ‘Blue Water Road’, Kehlani stepped into new sonic territory, parting from the “toxic, very dark, hypersexual pocket of songwriting” that featured on their previous two albums and instead focusing on love and spirituality. According to the singer, fans have been receptive to their shift in sound and mindset.
“What’s cool is they’re excited about being able to tell I’m in a better place just from the music,” she told us. “The comments I’ve received from my core fan base about the album are they’re so happy for me. They’re like, ‘yeah, the music’s fucking awesome, but you’re not depressed, you’re not beefing, and nothing’s toxic!’ That’s the coolest transition of all of this for sure.”
Later this month, Kehlani will kick off their first headlining tour since 2017, playing some of the largest clubs and amphitheatres of their career.
“I just want to figure out how to impact my audience, so they can leave and take something that they grasped, learned, or experienced [at the show] and spread it further,” they said of the upcoming shows. “We’ve always had these therapy-esque talks mid-performance, but I’m trying to implement those intimate moments in smaller venues into these huge stages now.
“We have an amazing set-up with the show we’re about to give that’s completely different. Before, I was just performing and connecting, but now there’s this whole other element to it. I’m trying to weave both together and make sure people leave with something.”
Though the singer has kept a tight relationship with their fanbase during their near decade in the music industry, following the release of ‘Blue Water Road’ she’s found the balance between “protecting the most important things” about themselves while still living authentically.
“I don’t think that because I have a lot of eyes on me, I deserve to have less of a quality of expression in my life,” Kehlani told us. “I don’t want to have to hide on a date, I don’t want to hide at the grocery store. I don’t want to have to hide anywhere. I want to be able to look bummy and go anywhere without feeling like I have to be different in case somebody [sees me].
“I also think everybody across the board, no matter what kind of following they have needs to protect their energy and the things they find most precious,” she added. “I just let people know if they’re speaking to me in a way I don’t like that I’m also a person. I also think for so long, I put out a specific energy that people don’t often come [at me] really crazy. It’s rare.”
The California singer’s upcoming dates will feature Rico Nasty and Destin Conrad as openers, and they’ve previously worked with artists like Calvin Harris and Justin Bieber in the studio. When asked about their dream future collab, however, Kehlani had one artist in mind to share the stage with.
“Beyoncé. I wouldn’t even sing I’d just stand there. I wouldn’t dance, I’d just [sit on the stage and watch her],” Kehlani laughed. “To watch her up close? I’d take my shoes off, sit cross-legged and be like, ‘this is crazy.’ [She’s] an enigma, a phenomenon, and I haven’t seen her live yet, so I feel like I wouldn’t even be able to understand. That would be my dream.”
Kehlani also discussed evolving their sound without aiming for perfection, telling us, “I’m going to think I’m not that tight now in two years.”
She added: “I don’t think I was that tight last year, today. You’re always going to get to that place where you can psychoanalyse yourself, artistically, spiritually, physically, mentally as time has passed. That’s human nature, but [I do what I’m] feeling in that moment, because regardless, being an artist, once the music drops, we don’t like it anymore anyways.
“That’s just how we are. But, I also remember that it’s always new to somebody, so I don’t ever want to yuck anybody else’s yum [when it comes to my music]. I’m always going to be what I’m going to be in that moment, love it or hate it and I’m also going to hate it too in a year, so bear with me.”
Kehlani’s ‘Blue Water Road Trip’ starts on July 30 in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a string of North American tour dates running until October, with a date in Honolulu, Hawaii on October 21. View details and purchase tickets here.