Summer Guide: Kelis Tries For A Rebound

With her new album Flesh Tone, the "Milkshake" singer tries on some club-pop

On her upcoming Flesh Tone, Kelis ditches the punky r&b for which she has become known over the last decade—if you don't remember "Caught Out There," you definitely recall "Milkshake"—and embraces the sleek club-pop sound recently popularized by the Black Eyed Peas in hits like "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling." Due out July 6 on BEP frontman will.i.am's Interscope imprint, Flesh Tone feels like a record with a dress code: something tight and black, perhaps, with Space Age jewelry and dangerously high heels.

Funny, then, that Kelis made most of it while sitting on her couch wearing flip-flops and a tank top. "I was pregnant and just not in the mood to deal with people," admits the 30-year-old New York native over the phone from Paris, where she's making the promotional rounds for the new album. "And because I wasn't signed, I didn't have a budget to be in a studio anyway. So I just put a studio in my house, where I could be comfortable and happy, and I could cook and have a really relaxed vibe."

Given the recent tumult in both her personal and professional lives, you can understand Kelis's desire for calm. Last year, shortly before the singer gave birth to her son, Knight, she and rapper Nas filed for divorce; some of the unsavory details of their settlement found their way into the tabloids. And after 2006's Kelis Was Here failed to meet the commercial expectations set by "Milkshake," Jive Records dropped Kelis—thus her budget-less living-room recording gig. "Producers started to hear that I was working again, and they started sending stuff," she says. "Everything was really organic—no business or politics."

When she was nearing completion of the album—which includes collaborations with Boys Noize, Benny Benassi, and "I Gotta Feeling" producer David Guetta—Kelis played the music for will.i.am, who'd helmed several tracks on Kelis Was Here. A mutual friend had suggested that the principal Pea might be interested in signing her to his Will.i.am Music Group. The mutual friend was right.

"Kelis isn't just another girl," says will.i.am. "She's a woman with perspective. Whatever she does is art—like a female Basquiat. She's the cool people's best-kept secret, and I wanna introduce her to the world." So far, that introduction is proceeding apace: "Acapella," Flesh Tone's pulsating lead single, recently hit the top spot on Billboard's dance chart, while a pre-release performance last month at Santos' Party House suggested that her core fans approve of this latest stylistic adventure. ("New York makes you feel at home," Kelis Tweeted following the show.) According to will.i.am, "We're already doing bigger than we anticipated coming out of the gate."

For her part, Kelis sounds guardedly optimistic about the album's commercial potential; her experiences surrounding Kelis Was Here, she says, left her feeling "kind of over the industry and all the nonsense that comes with it." (As a palate-cleanser, so to speak, the lifelong foodie spent a portion of her hiatus from music training as a chef at Le Cordon Bleu.) Whatever happens on her way up this time, at least she'll have some company along for the ride; as Mommy talks to the Voice, Knight can be heard adding his two cents in the background. "Now I've got this glorious little creature I get to travel with, which makes all the dratty cities fun," Kelis says. "The routine is pretty much the same. We just need room for a car seat now."

Summer Music Picks

A.R. Rahman
June 11

After spending more than a decade as Bolly-wood's undisputed film-score king, A.R. Rahman began turning American heads in 2008 with his music for Slumdog Millionaire; now, he has worked with the Pussycat Dolls and soundtracked a treasured Vince Vaughn vehicle. For his upcoming world tour (which kicks off here), Rahman recruited creative director Amy Tinkham, whose résumé includes collaborations with Madonna, Britney Spears, and Mötley Crüe. The result, Rahman's rep says, is a "theatrical experience" with dancing, acrobatics, and giant LED screens. Oh, and music, too, from throughout Rahman's expansive catalog. Nassau Coliseum, ticketmaster.com

Adam Lambert
June 22

In retrospect, it probably shouldn't have come as a surprise that American Idol's greatest-ever contestant kind of whiffed on his debut album: Adam Lambert was born for the stage, not the studio, which means that even the best writers and producers in the game could only do so much without the use of dude's hair, eyes, or faceward-thrusting crotch. Expect all of that (and more!) on the Glam Nation Tour, the singer's first headlining trek, as well as opening sets by fellow Idol alum Allison Iraheta and former Michael Jackson guitarist Orianthi. Nokia Theatre Times Square, Broadway and 44th Street, ticketmaster.com

Maxwell
June 25 and 26

The neo-soul smoothie played some thrilling shows last year behind BLACKsummers'night, his first studio disc in nearly a decade. But evidently, Maxwell isn't done squeezing that berry for juice: This summer, he's hitting the road with another r&b heavyweight, Jill Scott, for a joint tour that'll hopefully include some onstage Marvin-and-Tammi duet action. That trek concludes June 25 at the Garden, and the next night Maxwell's due back for a repeat performance, this time with future-soul stylist Erykah Badu as his partner. Choosing one bill over the other is a bad idea. Your only real option? Checking out both. Madison Square Garden, ticketmaster.com

Faith No More
July 2 and 5

Left-field covers were always a big part of the Faith No More playbook—remember their surprise-hit rendition of the Commodores' "Easy"? Still, you had to hand it to the reactivated Bay Area art-metal outfit when they opened their Coachella set last month with "Reunited" by Peaches & Herb—especially since they pulled it off without resorting to lame indie-band condescension. Here they're doing two nights at the Williamsburg Waterfront to benefit the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn. Go for the cause; stay for tasty FNM chestnuts like "Epic"and "Last Cup of Sorrow." Williamsburg Waterfront, 63 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, ticketmaster.com

Siren Festival
July 17

The Voice's annual summer-music blowout turns 10 this year, and to celebrate the occasion we've booked as headliners the most enthusiastic band we know: Brooklyn's boy-girl synth-pop duo Matt & Kim. (No word yet if they'll take the opportunity to give Erykah Badu another lesson in public nudity.) East Coast agit-punk lifers Ted Leo and the Pharmacists will also appear, as will local twee-popsters the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Florida guitar guys Surfer Blood, and Harlem, who actually come from Austin. Still not excited? More acts are due to be announced soon. Coney Island, siren.villagevoice.com

Hard NYC
July 24

M.I.A. headlines this all-day dance-music extravaganza with what the Los Angeles promotions company HARD calls one of her first live performances in support of her upcoming third album. (The "Born Free" singer-rapper will appear at HARD's L.A. event earlier in July.) Also on the bill are two acts currently signed to M.I.A.'s N.E.E.T. Recordings label—Baltimore-based rapper Rye Rye and Brooklyn noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells—as well as Die Ant-woord, the South African Internet-rap sensation. Pack those Flip cams, people. With Skream, Benga, Theophilus London, Borgore, Destructo, and more. Governors Island, ticketmaster.com

Paramore/Tegan and Sara
August 6

With last year's Brand New Eyes, Tennessee-based Paramore vaulted to the head of the pop-punk class; no group of Warped Tour vets currently boasts sharper riffs or a more ferocious singer. Actually, few singers, period, live up to Hayley Williams right now—she fronts Paramore like Kelly Clarkson in a pair of beat-up Converses. Openers Tegan and Sara also released a strong 2009 disc in the form of Sainthood, on which the twin sisters beefed up their guitars without dumbing down their words. With New Found Glory, whose guitarist Chad Gilbert is also known as Williams's main squeeze. Jones Beach, ticketmaster.com

Slayer/Megadeth/Testament
August 12

In Europe this summer, metal fans have several opportunities to see the so-called Big Four of thrash on one stage—that's Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax, in case you spent the '80s listening exclusively to Kajagoogoo. Here in the States, we'll have to settle for Slayer, Megadeth, and Bay Area journeymen Testament, a triple bill originally slated to hit the road in January before Slayer's Tom Araya was forced to undergo back surgery. Obviously, the Europeans are getting the better deal. But these dudes'll still rip your face off and make you say thanks. Izod Center, East Rutherford, New Jersey, ticketmaster.com

Justin Bieber
August 31

Last summer, you didn't know his name, and now he presides, Poseidon-like, over a frothing sea of prepubescent hormones: Justin Bieber could teach Olympic sprinters a thing or two about moving fast. The pint-size Canadian crooner told the Houston Chronicle recently that fans should attend shows on his first headlining tour expecting "some electronic things that haven't been seen before." But digital tricknology hardly seems like the point here (unless we're talking Auto-Tune); tonight promises to be all about the power of the tweenaged squeal. With Sean Kingston, Bieber's current duet partner in their song "Eenie Meenie." Madison Square Garden, ticketmaster.com

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