Kehlani wasn’t feeling her pride cover, at first. The initial concept for her PAPER cover shoot had the Bay Area raised, pop R&B songstress in lots of black and red latex and leather, straddling a motorbike with a high fashion mood. Photoshoots take a lot of planning — a flurry of emails, texts and phone calls between producers, editors, stylists, photographers, publicists, fashion houses and, depending on the person, the subject themselves.
But when Kehlani got to set and fully absorbed the image she would be presenting to the world, she gracefully and graciously got the whole team on board to change course for an entirely different vibe, one marked by ultra-romantic, feminine beauty capturing the bright, colorful, airy aura Kehlani seems to carry everywhere she goes.
“I like feel people judge me a lot when they see me, because of what I look like,” the 23-year-old singer says a few days later in her hotel room on New York’s Upper West Side. She’s feeling under the weather and headed on tour in Asia the very next day, so we’re chatting on her bed, Starbucks in-hand. Indeed, one of the first things you might notice about Kehlani are her tattoos — she has them on her arms, legs, torso, neck and most notably, her face, including a tiny paper airplane poised to take a nosedive off the upper ridge of her left cheekbone.
“I get a lot of, ‘Why do you get your nails done? Why some days are you more masculine then you are feminine? People either expect me to be a quote-unquote dyke or femme, and it’s weird to me. Especially when queer people do it to each other, because I think when you truly understand the humanness of queerness, there are no rules to this shit.”