Shake It Up

Kelis gives thanks to more than her mammaries.

Breasts: Kids love 'em! Grown men, too -- and while Ruben Studdard has a nice set, most dudes prefer the ones on women. Why? Chemistry. See that guy across the room from you? His testosterone started boiling the second he first registered the joys of feminine pulchritude, and it probably won't stop until his relatives are picking out his coffin.

The creative team behind the video for "Milkshake," the Kelis mega-hit, understands this fascination, and takes cruel and unusual advantage of it. The title refers to jiggling hooters, and in the clip -- set in a diner filled with flirty waitresses and panting fellas unable to keep their eyeballs in their sockets -- the miraculously endowed Kelis (last name Rogers) demonstrates a handful of ways to move them around: the slow, side-to-side wobble, the roiling, full-body shimmy, the mid-orgasmic, serpentine undulation and so on. As a bonus, she demonstrates Playboy Channel-approved techniques pertaining to several other anatomical pleasure points. At times, she's seen gnawing on a Maraschino cherry in lip-smacking close-up, sucking her pinky, blowing bubbles into a frosty beverage, mounting a counter to deliver some well-aimed pelvic thrusts and displaying ass cleavage while bending over to pull (I'm serious) two buns from an oven. That last move should drive the nation's plumbers insane!

A compendium of erotic action sprinkled with humor, the video helps explain why "Milkshake" has been embraced by uncounted thousands of horny male teenagers and twenty-somethings a lot like them. But the song's clever, irresistible variation on jump-rope rhythms, devised by the production duo of Pharrell Williams and recent Westword profile subject Chad Hugo ("N.E.R.D. Alert," August 14, 2003), has also made it a favorite of grade-schoolers from coast to coast. The sudden explosion in the number of youngsters on her bandwagon has left Kelis with an interesting dilemma. Should she soften her style in an acknowledgment of tender eyes and ears, or simply ignore the demographic mutations in order to keep her sexually mature constituency (very) satisfied?

Any answer to this question carries repercussions, as Kelis acknowledges. She may be touring with Britney Spears, who's gone from naughty schoolgirl to sloppy, drunken embarrassment in five years flat, but she isn't entirely blind to responsibility. "Don't get me wrong -- the last thing I want to be is a role model," she says. "That's never been something that I've wanted, never been a goal of mine. I just find it inevitable. Whether I'm good or bad or whatever, there are people watching me."

After the briefest of pauses, she changes course. "Forget the people," she declares. "It's the kids. I could care less about the people. They're adults. They can make their own choices. The kids are more important, because they're a lot more impressionable. And although I don't want to be the one who decides anything for them, some of them look to me for, well, a way. So it's hard. My artistic integrity tells me to do one thing, but my morality and my sense of reality, I guess, is telling me something else."

As these observations indicate, Kelis's bosoms are supplemented by a fully functioning brain. Far from being an inarticulate love object, she's bright, opinionated and occasionally caustic. Just prior to last month's Grammy Awards telecast, for instance, she was quoted dissing OutKast, Musiq, Les Nubians and Erykah Badu, who, like her, were nominated in the Best Urban/Alternative Performance category. "I look at the other nominees and I don't feel honored," she allegedly said. "It's a joke."

When asked about these comments, Kelis insists that they were placed in an incorrect context. "I don't know where that came from," she says, adding, "People have always taken my words and twisted them into something else."

This defense is hardly original, but Kelis makes a particularly good case for it. After all, OutKast's Andre 3000, whose across-the-board smash, "Hey Ya!," bested "Milkshake" in the Grammy vote, is a guest on Kelis's latest recording, the consistently enjoyable Tasty; they pair on "Millionaire," an alluringly jittery groover larded with synthetic backbeats. Besides, Kelis's amended remarks are just as potentially incendiary as those she denies uttering.

"Most likely what I would have said is, 'Music today is a joke,' because I can totally stand by that comment," she maintains. "I think the people in the category I was nominated in are probably the best of the bunch. But most artists need to take a lot more chances."

Kelis certainly has, both professionally and personally. A Harlem native and self-confessed wild child, she was on her own by age sixteen. But, through her attendance at the LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts (the institution that inspired the setting for the movie and TV series Fame), she came to the attention of numerous rap scensters, including the RZA, who served as the sonic architect of the Wu-Tang Clan. The RZA subsequently employed Kelis on 1997's The Pick, the Sickle & the Shovel by the Gravediggaz, one of his side projects. Later, Kelis crooned the hook for "Got Your Money," an authentic piece of hip-hop folk art found on 1999's Nigga Please, an album by Clan member/idiot savant Ol' Dirty Bastard. ODB doesn't just have a screw loose; he's missing the entire hardware store. Unfortunately, Kelis keeps any tales of lunacy she may have witnessed to herself. "He's an incredible artist," she says, "and at the end of the day, as long as the work gets done, that's what matters."

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