By Michael Atkinson
By Luke Winkie
By Steve Weinstein
By Brian McManus
By Brian McManus
By Dan McQuade
By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
"I get on the Internet, and I read some of these things," says Kirkland. "I feel like I'm a very strong person, and I don't let it get me down because I know who I am."
But she's also quick to dispel the notion that she's a novelty pop artist. " 'Lip Gloss' is a very moody songit's an upbeat, feel-good kind of song," she says. "But I have some other songs that are on my album that are more emotional. Some are hard, and some are really representing where I came from."
Kirkland names Lauryn Hill and Queen Latifah as influences, and she speaks with a great deal of passion and conviction about her often misogynistic peers. (On Lil Wayne: "I feel like he's very vulgar and disrespectful to women, and I don't like that, but certain songs I can really relate to.") She's already chosen the title of her debut album, which she's still recording: Voice of the Young People. On the song "Hate Me," she raps, "I'm still pretty with no makeup/I still shine with no Jacob." Spurning Jacob the Jeweler might not exactly be a revolutionary statement, but it's pretty audacious for someone getting famous for a song about cosmetics.
Kirkland has been rapping since she was 10. She's taken ballet and drama classes. She left high school before recording "Lip Gloss." She's spent a great deal of her life training and preparing to be a star, and somehow, that drive seems to be a product of her own ambitions, not those of overzealous stage parents. "I knew that this was something I wanted to do, and this is something that I went after really hard," Kirkland says. "It's my career. It's something that I love." She wants the world to know that there's more to her than "Lip Gloss." Before she can do that, though, she'll have to make sure everyone hears "Lip Gloss."
Two floors above the conference room where Kirkland's makeup artist applies some finishing touches, the label has set up another small conference room for that afternoon's teen-mag meet and greet. They've decorated the room with pink-and-red balloons and publicity posters, and laid out a few hundred copies of the "Lip Gloss" CD single on the table. They've also rented a cotton candy machine and a chocolate fountain; the smell of sugar inside the closed room is overpowering and borderline oppressive. A flat-screen TV plays the "Lip Gloss" video over and over, loudly, on a continuous loop.
Photograph by Howard Huang; styling by Jill Topol; assistant styling by Cathy Mallebranche; hair and makeup by Shalea Walker for Walker's Apothecary; jacket by Paul Frank; shirt and skirt by Urban Outfitters; shoes by Miss Sixty.
When Kirkland finally walks into the room, she holds the informal press conference together with a casual professionalism. One reporter asks her whether she's signed any endorsement deals with MAC or L'Oréal, the two cosmetics brands she name-checks in "Lip Gloss"; Kirkland says she hasn't finalized any deals, but she also gives a few statements that sound suspiciously like endorsements. "MAC, it just gives you that extra shine," she says. "I use both of those brands." Another reporter asks what it was like to hear her song on the radio for the first time"I was happy" is the earth-shattering reply. Someone asks about Don Imus and the media's most recent crusade against offensive lyrics in rap, and she gives a diplomatic reply: "Just because I rap and I sing and I do all these things, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that all these people are wrong." She plays her next single, "Put It Down," at brain-melting volume, animatedly rapping along the whole time.
Kirkland conducts the group interview with such ease and competence, in fact, that it comes as a minor shock when she finally answers a question the way a normal 17-year-old girl would. One reporter asks her about her first kiss, and Kirkland immediately looks extremely uncomfortable. "Do I really have to answer this question?" she asks. And then: "No, I'm just playing." She divulges a few vague details but doesn't want to name the boy. Later, the same reporter asks if there are any celebrities that Kirkland would like to kiss. ("I'm sorry!" the reporter pleads. "I work for a teen mag!") Kirkland stares at the reporter as if she had three heads, refusing to name anyone even after a couple of other inquisitors egg her on. It's suddenly a weird and uncomfortable spectacle: a room full of adult media professionals asking a teenager about the details of her personal life. If Kirkland is going to become a celebrity herself, she's going to have to get used to moments like this one.
In the meantime, though, she's doing all she can to maintain something like a normal childhood. Kirkland's done a lot of traveling to perform at radio-station concerts, and she seems to enjoy the early stages of the promotional blitz. "Half of these kids [at these shows] are really young like me, like the dancers and the people behind the actual artists," she says. "They're young, and they're fun to be around, so I get to know them."