Before Kehlani and I can even begin our conversation, a baby coos into the phone and the line goes dead altogether. Adeya, the singer’s one-year-old daughter, accidentally slapped the end button on the call. Kehlani dials me back and apologize. “My baby just woke up from a nap,” she tells me. “I’m reading a book.” Anyone who knows Kehlani knows she has a knack for multitasking—performing entire dance routines while singing live onstage, writing and producing her own songs simultaneously, breastfeeding her daughter while in the studio—so rocking her baby to sleep while giving an interview and reading is just a regular day for the hardworking mom. Today, Kehlani adds another task to her plate, as she fronts Moose Knuckles’ fall/winter 2020 Bring the Heat collection. Ahead, Kehlani talks her new campaign, motherhood, and her journey to growth and acceptance.
How has quarantine been treating you?
Honestly, it’s been fun. I’m able to do a lot of things, like this campaign, that I never really had the time or the patience to do. I never had the patience to sit down and be still, and I learned a lot.
Winters look different on the West Coast. How is the Moose Knuckles campaign a reflection of your own style?
Usually, I’d be on tour right now. I’d be traveling in a lot of cold places, so the collection has a lot of really fun pieces to keep me warm. I like to have a jacket, but if it gets too hot, or in the event that I have to go somewhere that’s actually warm, I can still carry the jacket. I could just slide it off and keep it in the same wardrobe, like the jacket with the inside straps.
The campaign aims to celebrate and highlight individuals who motivate and inspire their audiences. How are you doing that these days?
It’s being transparent that I’m feeling and going through the times just like they are. It’s finding little moments to share words with them or how them I’m doing things from the ground up just the same. I’m constantly reminding my fans to stay grounded and pay attention to what belongs to them and what doesn’t. Being inside has put a focus on social media where we don’t realize we’re picking up thousands and thousands of thoughts and feelings that belong to other people at such a high rate. [I’m] reminding myself and my fans every day to take those moments to focus inward and try to remember what you really think, what you feel, what you view. It takes practice.
What’s inspiring you most right now?
My baby, Adeya. I have a lot more patience than I thought I did. I’ve always been pretty patient, but it takes a whole new level of patience to raise a little toddler who dives head-first off of things and touches things and pulls things off shelves, and any time you find yourself getting irritated, you recognize in that moment she’s just a baby. So it allows you to carry that same level of patience and understanding into other situations with humans you interact with. I have a real opportunity to raise her in this new world in a way that I’m now learning how to navigate. I’m constantly evolving and bettering myself so that she doesn’t have to wait until she’s 25 to learn the things I’m learning now.
You recently posted a message on Instagram about unlearning old habits and learning new things about yourself. How enlightening has that journey been for you?
It’s a daily process. It’s about being able to separate. Even simple things like when you look at yourself and start picking apart things on your face, or you think your nails aren’t done well enough or your feet need to be done, you have to step back like, Whoa, did that belong to me or was that because somebody else is going to walk down the street and point it out? Is somebody else going to point it out in a photo? I’ve been spending a lot of time recognizing when I have those moments, even when I view a situation along with the rest of the world and have to step away like, How do I really view this? Or am I regurgitating a thought that I read from somebody else? It starts with that initial moment of recognition.
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You released It Was Good Until It Wasn’t in May. Where would you say that album falls in your journey?
When I was recording the album, I was learning how to write and be present in the space of darker emotions or feelings on the opposite spectrum of what I used to write about. My old work was focused on me getting over things and just being strong. I skipped straight over singing about my feelings and went straight to working on my strength. With IWGUIW, I finally learned how to write in the present tense, sitting in those moments of being upset and hurt instead of skipping over them.
You honored sex workers in the video for “Can I.” What was the message you were trying to send?
We’re in a time where it’s cool to say you fuck with sex workers, but people don’t follow all the way through and pay, or follow all the way through and educate themselves. It’s easy to say you’ll pay for porn and pay sex workers properly, but do you know what they’re fighting for? It’s about their protection, it’s about their rights. Even the OnlyFans craze going on right now where they’re being pushed out by influencers and artists who already make a bunch of money from what we do, these celebs are de-platforming the people who have literally paved the way for it.
There’s many, many, many fights going into the current fight that sex workers are pushing on all different levels. I wanted to make something that was celebratory to get everyone’s attention and added a message at the end of it to encourage folks: Here’s some information you can take away. Also, everybody in the video is an actual sex worker and the majority of them were trans women of color and Black trans women at that. I wanted it to be super celebratory and help them feel inspired and happy and joyful.
How does 2020 Kehlani differ from 2019 Kehlani?
Twenty twenty Kehlani is completely different. I’m committed to growth in a very serious and very organized way that I never have before. I’ve theorized and idealized a lot of healing work and my practice over the years, and this year I actually got the faith to commit to things I always wanted to commit to. It completely transformed my life. I’m finally growing in a way that’s super healthy, especially in the way that I deal with the industry. I’ve always kind of struggled with existing, having been so publicly sensitive over the years and oversharing a lot.
Do you regret oversharing?
I have no regrets in life. I think I’ve learned to love all those moments. I’m really grateful that those vulnerable moments brought openhearted and gentle people to me. These days, I’m taking everything with a grain of salt and taking every little annoying thing with gratitude and reminding myself how blessed I am. Sometimes I be like, Dang, I wish that I hadn’t had been so public about certain things, but on the flip side it’s why a lot of people feel like they can connect to me. I’m grateful for that.
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