After a seven-year hiatus dedicated to her personal health and well-being, Keri Hilson is back in the spotlight once again. The 35-year-old Georgia native has had an impressive singer/songwriter career.
She began her career writing hit songs like Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” and Ciara’s “Like a Boy,” and has since had several Billboard Hot 100 songs of her own.
Released in 2009, her debut studio album “In a Perfect World…” boasts two of these songs: hit singles “Knock You Down” and “Turnin Me On.” This album also earned Hilson her first two Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. The following year, she released “No Boys Allowed” with the platinum single “Pretty Girl Rock” which has 100 million listens across Spotify and YouTube.
Hilson will perform at the Capital Pride Festival/concert at 5 p.m. on the CAPITOL Concert Stage (3rd & Pennsylvania) as part of the HOT 99.5 event. It’s free. Details here.
Hilson called the Blade from Atlanta where she had just returned from a trip to Mexico. She was leaving for L.A. Pride the following day, her final trip before coming to D.C. for Capital Pride. Her comments have been slightly edited for clarity and length.
WASHINGTON BLADE: You mentioned that you’re doing L.A. Pride as well. Have you done other Pride concerts in the past or is this the first year that you’re doing the circuit?
KERI HILSON: Oh no … we’ve done Atlanta a few times, we’ve done Indianapolis last year. Throughout the years, whenever my schedule allows me to do it, I make sure I come out.
BLADE: What has that experience been like, and why do you like to do Pride concerts?
HILSON: You know what, there’s just a freedom in the air, you know, there’s such a good vibe; the energy is always just perfect. I don’t know, I think it’s just the fun. Ever since the first one I did here in Atlanta, maybe seven or eight years ago or maybe even longer than that … it’s just the energy. Like I said, freedom in the air, everyone is just completely being themselves — just loud and proud — and I just love that. I love that energy.
BLADE: You also supported the It Gets Better campaign. What inspires you to be an LGBT ally?
HILSON: Well, I think it’s important that people understand that everyone is human and everyone is entitled to believe what they believe, live how they wanna live, love who they wanna love. I mean, that just goes with my beliefs in general about humans — whatever their choices are, whatever their fascinations or preferences are, we all are different human beings and we’re all made to be unique. I don’t know why that’s so hard for the world to grasp. … There’s so much scrutiny and it forces the LGBT community …(to) feel afraid and ashamed to be who they are. … There’s no reason we should live in the closet about anything. We should be who we are; we were made to be unique, we were made the way we are. … It saddens me when I hear stories about — especially the youth — who are trying to figure it out and they may be withdrawn from society in a real way. That just makes me really sad. So, I think that’s my main reason, is just we’re all allowed to be who we are; there’s no person who’s better than another person based on anything.
BLADE: What do you have planned for Capital Pride? Any new material?
HILSON: It’s possible, but I’m not sure at this time, so we’ll just have to wait and see. But I will say we’re gonna have a great time, it’s gonna be a very energetic show, I’m gonna be doing the hits for sure. I just look forward to giving my all and just going hard and making everyone feel the love that I’m gonna feel on stage, I already know, I’ve done it a few times, so I’m just excited to give and receive the love, that’s all. And I love D.C. too.
BLADE: Any updates about the upcoming release of “L.I.A.R.,” your next album?
HILSON: Well, no, but I’m handling the business first. It’s really important to me to make great business decisions, and that has afforded me the luxury of taking my time, the luxury of not having to rush. … I’m really grateful that I’ve made great business decisions in the past, so I just have to handle this first, and then I’m ready to go. Once we handle this, I’m pushing the button, so it should not be long. I can’t wait. I know my fans are waiting and I know people are anticipating and I’m here for them, I hear them. I feel the same, I’m ready, it’s just that I pride myself on doing good business, and that’s just the thing that has to happen first.
BLADE: How did you come to share your story on the panel for “Silence the Shame” (an initiative working to fight mental health stigma)?
HILSON: As I’m sitting here listening to you ask questions, I’m realizing how much it relates to the community that we’re talking about. I think that there is a lot of depression in the LGBTQ community, so it’s just now becoming aware to me that they can also relate to what I was going through, though it was not the same exact struggles. So, there is purpose in it. I hope that people will understand that they are not alone; we all have an inner struggle. … Since that panel, which was the first time I had ever spoken about it, I’ve realized how impactful it was and how impactful talking about it can be and should be for others, just from the outpour of support and people that related to it. I didn’t expect any of that; these days you expect ridicule. I’ve had a couple here-and-there of, “Oh that’s fake depression, you’re rich and famous,” and I’m like, “Yeah, yeah you don’t get it.” But for the most part, the purpose is in how many people can relate and how many don’t feel alone, and I think that’s what it was all about for me. You know, God wrote my story and I believe he wanted me to share it and that’s the reason why.
BLADE: How do you plan to continue promoting mental health awareness?
HILSON: I plan on doing it through my foundation. … A big part of my foundation deals with mental health and physical health as well — just health in general — through the arts, through physical health meaning sports, physical education and things like that and we plan on giving donations in schools because I believe that the arts are a very powerful tool for our mental health you know, finding an outlet — it being an outlet of expression. We go through different traumas, people have different life stories, but if you’re unable — you can’t find a way — or you’re not exposed to the importance of expression then you know, that to me is a very sad situation so we want to give education where it’s needed, tools where they’re needed, instruments for the arts, visual and audible arts and things like that. So that’s where I’m attacking that through the foundation from this point forward because it is a big part of my heart; you’ve seen the tearful story, you’ve heard my words and I’m super sincere about helping women find their way — women in particular and children — finding their way through life and through difficulties of life using the arts.