The Eternal Sunshine of Kehlani
R&B’s newest superstar is a force for radical happiness.
Kehlani is the cutest. It seems like she’s always smiling: in her Instagram posts, Snapchat stories, and personalized GIF sets, flashing dazzingly white, enviously straight teeth (unlike you, she definitely wore her retainer like she was supposed to, or is simply orthodontically #blessed). Her eternal sunshine is infectious, but her goofy grin belies something deeper: it’s a testament to near superhuman resilience after a difficult year, in which she attempted suicide after a very public breakup with Kyrie Irving.
To radiate such positivity less than 12 months later — for happiness to effectively to become her calling card — would have been a feat in and of itself. But to top things off, Kehlani just dropped her debut album, SweetSexySavage, one of the most-hyped new releases in recent memory. Did I mention she’s 22? Yeah.
In some ways, it still seems crazy (CRZY?) that SweetSexySavage, Kehlani’s irresistible new album, is being hailed as her debut, if only because her self-released 2015 mixtape You Should be Here was my own exhilarating introduction to her music. I’m definitely not alone in considering YSBH an exceptional effort — Rolling Stone and Complex named it as one of the best albums of the year, and it was even nominated for a Grammy for best Urban Contemporary Album. Confident, charismatic, and seductive, and accompanied by jaw-droppingly hot music videos, Kehlani’s mixtape established her, at only 19, as a force to be reckoned with.
SweetSexySavage, her first full-length release, takes everything I loved on You Should Be Here — dreamy synths, syrupy beats, and sharp lyrics that are both unapologetically sexual and irrepressibly joyful — and infuses each track with the sultry confidence of an old pro. A benefit of having already produced two mixtapes, and perhaps a silver lining of a tough year, is that Kehlani sounds supremely comfortable in her own skin throughout the record. Discussing her suicide scare on The Cruz Show, she admitted, “I was really recovering from so many things at once…on the flip side, there’s not to much that can hurt me now.”
On SSS, Kehlani gives it her all because there’s nothing left to lose. Blissfully liberated from any personal constraints or self-consciousness, she’s hypnotic: from the grooving “Keep On” that starts the album, to the sexy, mischievous “Distraction” (casually revealed to be about a girl), to the acoustic lilt of “Undercover,” which samples Akon’s middle school party-starter “Don’t Matter.” SSS warms you from the inside out, and more than lives up to each of the adjectives in its name — the perfect antidote for increasingly incredulous newsfeeds and stress-inducing CNN push notifications.