Kelly Rowland is about to release her fourth solo studio album, "Talk a Good Game," and her voice on the phone bursts with enthusiasm, like a volcano erupting candy. Rowland was, of course, one third of mega-selling phenoms Destiny's Child, along with Beyoncé Knowles and Michelle Williams, and has had three prior successful solo albums. In any other career, this would be, charitably assessed, a big deal. But the aforementioned Beyoncé, whom Rowland refers to as "my sister," is arguably the biggest entertainer in the world right now. So, what do you do if you're a planet but one of your closest friends is the sun?
If you're Rowland, you create the best record of your career so far and address all of the above head-on. "Talk a Good Game" was recorded with a phalanx of acclaimed producers and collaborators, including The-Dream, Pharrell and Mike City, and they urged Rowland to reveal her innermost truths. In the first single, "Dirty Laundry," Rowland sings of a past abusive boyfriend who, for a time, convinced her Beyoncé didn't love her. In "Kisses Down Low," she unleashes a wonderfully playful ode to female lust. Rowland walks, not just talks, a good game.
What prompted you to be so candid now?
Kelly Rowland: Having a talk with Dream before we got into the studio and him telling me, "I feel like you're just skating on the surface. I want to know what's underneath it all." I remember going away after this conversation to think about it and a couple weeks passed, and we got in the studio again and we were just talking regularly, but I just felt comfortable talking to Dream. And Dream started putting all of this story together in his head. I was expressing myself and he was putting all the pieces of the puzzle together and he wrote everything out. When I listened to it, I just cried like a baby, because it was me and it was real. It was honest. And thinking to myself, "Wow, do I want to say this? This is a lot to put on the table." I remember having some hesitation about it and talking to my manager, who's also my best friend, about it, and he said, "You know what, Kel? Everybody goes through this. Everybody has their own set of dirty laundry. This is just yours. I think it's going to be therapeutic for you. I think you are going to affect other people. It is going to be good." I took a deep breath and went in the following week to record it and it was probably the hardest session I've had in my life, because it didn't end there. It took two more recording sessions to get that. Then I got it and it was great. But it's very emotional to get through.
I saw live footage from a recent performance of "Dirty Laundry" and the crowd seemed genuinely moved when you started crying. And when they started chanting, "Kelly! Kelly!" it was pretty clear they were on your side.
I think what we all have in common is we have a beating heart, we all bleed and we feel and we have emotions. And everybody, I don't care who you are, you've felt some sort of way that's expressed in that song.
Definitely. "Kisses Down Low" seems like it's at the opposite end of the spectrum and that you're having a lot of fun, both in the song and in the video. And it's a great song about desire from a female point of view. Did that come together more joyfully?
Yes! We're in the studio, Mike City is playing all these different tracks, Pharrell gets in and starts singing the melody and started throwing stuff in. A bunch of different things come together and the song is done and we're all dancing around in the studio, having a party. [Laughs.]
You were part of one of the largest-selling female groups in history and one of the largest-selling groups, period. As a solo artist, you've topped the R&B charts, the Dance charts and the Pop charts. And you sang at the Super Bowl this year. Is it frustrating to still be known sometimes more as a boldface name than for your talent?
Oh, you are right about that. You want people to respect you as an entertainer, with singing, performing, everything else that comes with that territory. Including have a great attitude and respect for the industry and for other people and, of course, yourself. But I think being respected as an entertainer is the most important thing, to not be lollygagging here or there.
Not to be some story on TMZ.
Exactly. So, that's how the industry has changed. Sometimes it's way trippy because it didn't start off like that. At least I don't remember it being like that. Ever. So, it's really crazy it's become that and that a story might have more hits than what you could possibly sell. That's insane to me. That's something that you wrap your head around, that we're living in a new day and age. They're going to do their job and you're going to do yours and, eventually, they have to respect you.
It seems you're experiencing a real resurgence now.
Thank you. Well, thank God for my sister [Beyoncé] and the incredible moment with the Super Bowl and she killed at the Super Bowl. We all got up there and I don't even remember what happened. It was that incredible that I don't remember what happened. [Laughs.] I just remember looking at my feet and telling God, "Please just let me land on my feet."
What was it like right after the Super Bowl? Were you exhilarated? Exhausted?
It felt like my heart was beating out of my chest. I was so excited and looking around and seeing people and listening to their excitement. That's what really did it. Because as soon as Bey announced she was going to perform, everyone went, "She's going to bring Jay-Z! She's going to bring Destiny's Child! She's going to bring all these people to the stage!" And I know when she called me and she called Michelle and asked us about it, of course, we're not going to say anything [publicly]. She wanted the fans to be surprised and we wanted the fans to be surprised. And then as soon as you get there and you get off the plane and all this is going on and you don't even know your own name [laughs], you just know your instinct is to shut up. I'm going to be quiet and I'm not going to say anything, and they're like, "Can you say 'yes' if you are? Can you say nothing if you are?" I'm like, this is ridiculous. I'm not going to say anything. I want our fans to be surprised. And I'm so happy that they were!