Keke Palmer Reflects on Her Now-Legendary Usher Collab: “It Was Just Too Good”
Keke Palmer is in a vulnerable place right now. She has been since dropping her revealing “Big Boss” visual album back in May, which marked her first studio release in almost a decade. She had a lot to get off her chest then and even today, as the 10-track album has just been upgraded with a deluxe version, which arrived on Oct. 20. No, the extended LP does not address Palmer’s busy summer – which consisted of everything from relationship drama with her child’s father to a very viral exchange turned surprise collaboration with Usher in Vegas. Instead, it digs deeper into the evolution of Palmer’s “unique artistry” and offers up some relatable messages about self-confidence and independence.
“Before I knew it, we had a deluxe [album].”
Despite seemingly always being booked and busy, the mom of one tells POPSUGAR that “Big Boss Deluxe” came together during a surprisingly calm period, right before her recently wrapped tour. “It kind of was like, the tour was coming up, and then we also went on strike – my actors’ union did. So I was chilling in New York and wondering what to do with my time,” Palmer explains, adding that she teamed up with a few producers to lay down new material and rerecord an old track. Then, she says, “Before I knew it, we had a deluxe [album].”
“Big Boss Deluxe” features four new tracks: “Serious,” “Assets,” and “Crazy Things,” all upbeat songs, plus a moving offering titled “Ungorgeous,” which Palmer made roughly more than a decade ago, though only now has she felt compelled to share it.
“That’s the beautiful thing about music for me,” she says, noting that it allows her to “keep it real with all my emotions.” “. . . Through music, I feel like I have a lot of opportunities to do that, because you can just take the music for what it is.”
It seems Palmer treats the headline-making aspects of her life the same: she bypasses the discourse her Usher collab stirred up when asked how it came to be, for example. She’d rather people take the art for what it is and appreciate her deep dedication to it. POPSUGAR recently hopped on the phone with Palmer to discuss her full-circle moment with her musical idol, plus her thoughts on his upcoming Super Bowl halftime show. But first, we touched on her new music and, of course, motherhood.
Read it all and more ahead.
Image Source: Dalvin Adams
POPSUGAR: First off, you just wrapped your tour last month. In between that and being a mom, when did you find time to put this deluxe album together?
Keke Palmer: In the in-between time of right before I did my tour. It kind of was like, the tour was coming up, and then we also went on strike – my actors’ union did. So I was chilling in New York and wondering what to do with my time. So I revisited this song “Ungorgeous” and then got back with the producers that I did that with, and then we did a couple of new songs, and before I knew it, we had a deluxe.
PS: I love that. By the way, I loved “Ungorgeous.” I thought it was a very beautiful song. You recorded that a while ago, right?
KP: Yeah, so I rerecorded it. But the original record and when the song was first composed was like, I don’t know, when I was like 19.
PS: Oh, wow. So much has changed since then.
“As a Virgo, we try to control so f*cking much, but when you let go of what you can’t control, sometimes it ends up serving you more.”
KP: OK. Things have changed but that’s the funny thing. I loved the song then but I really love it now. I think it’s from my growth, my life, my experiences, and me being able to own all of my feelings and transmute through music in a way that maybe I was not always as open and able to do before. It’s always different of the stories that you can tell or that your experience allows you to tell and the ones you feel comfortable sharing and how to let that out. That’s the beautiful thing about music for me, especially as an actor and being somebody who’s also private and also wanting people to see me. Making them have a good time and wanting to have fun, but also wanting to keep it real with all my emotions because, no, I’m not always happy. I don’t always feel great. Through music, I feel like I have a lot of opportunities to do that, because you can just take the music for what it is.
PS: Absolutely. The four new songs on the deluxe album – what do they all have in common?
KP: That I am an immovable force. With “Assets,” it’s like, I’m an asset. Like, I come with this. And loving someone like me can drive you crazy, you know, “Crazy Things.” And then “Ungorgeous.” Even though I am that girl, I too sometimes feel ungorgeous. What comes with embracing who you are is a lot of good stuff, but also a lot of difficult things, because you run up against people who also don’t embrace themselves. You come up against the world that sometimes doesn’t want you to embrace yourself, so it isn’t always peaches and cream. I think all those songs are observing things from that POV.
PS: For sure. Would you say music has taught you to be more fearless in life, or has life encouraged you to be more fearless with your music?
KP: That’s right. Life has made me be more fearless with music, for sure, especially when things are out of my control. It’s also leaning into that. I think as a Virgo, we try to control so f*cking much, but when you let go of what you can’t control, sometimes it ends up serving you more.
PS: OK. I feel that because my best friends are Virgos, so I understand the control part.
KP: Yeah, trying to make everything just so, what we want to make it. But honestly, when we let go and let things rock, it’s actually good. Letting life do its thing instead of trying to think of what’s best.
PS: Absolutely, and some unexpected, amazing things can come out of that. Speaking of that, you had the pleasure of being in Usher’s “Boyfriend” music video this summer. Tell me when and how that collaboration came together.
KP: So it was after I went to his concert and everybody was kind of talking about us. L.A. Reid reached out to me and was like, “We have an idea.” And then Usher called me and he told me what he had an idea of. It was like this Fatboy Slim-inspired type of vibe. Me being like Christopher Walken and almost singing his song and being him in the video, and I loved it immediately. Especially ’cause I’m somebody who loves to play with the masculine-feminine. Like, for me, it’s all about the fluidity.
“Obviously, when he asked me to do the video, I was like, ‘An opportunity to work beside you, side-by-side, to watch you and learn from you? It would be an honor.'”
When I think about Usher, I know a lot of times we think about people like him and it’s like, oh, they’re heartthrobs, and absolutely, they are heartthrobs. But for me as a kid, I wanted to be Usher. Like I remember as a teenager watching his videos like “U Don’t Have to Call.” Being somebody that was in music, I wanted to know how somebody became that. So I used to watch a lot of people like Jennifer Lopez, Alicia Keys, Usher, and I would watch their videos to try and figure out how were they able to be successful artists, because I was trying to be a successful artist.
The one thing that I love so much about Usher was all the storytelling that he would do in his music videos, and it made us feel like we knew him. Oh, he’s the cool guy, but he also was so silly and goofy, and he’s able to have a personality, and he winks at us, very tongue-in-cheek, and it feels like he’s our friend. But at the same time, he allowed us to know who he was through the storytelling of his music. That’s what I always admired him for and that’s what I wanted to emulate. Even though I’m a girl, I felt like I was very tongue-in-cheek, but also I want to be able to give you these vocals and give you cool, but also, I want to be approachable. All the things that he was always able to do. So, obviously, when he asked me to do the video, I was like, “An opportunity to work beside you, side-by-side, to watch you and learn from you? It would be an honor.”
PS: And what a blueprint to study and then turn around and work with Usher.
KP: That’s what I’m saying. It was just too good.
PS: How would you feel if he called you up to dance with him during his Super Bowl halftime show?
KP: I would say, “Absolutely, I’ll accept this role.” Like yes, what are we doing?
PS: What’s one song you want to see him perform during that show? Because I know everybody’s waiting to see what the setlist is going to be.
KP: Now you know, “They call me U-S-H-E-R . . .” [“Nice & Slow”] OK, he has to do what started it all. He has to go to the beginning. I remember when I was a little girl, in the back of the car, we would be listening to, “Tell me, do you wanna get freaky?” It was so funny because my cousin and my sister would tease me because I hated the word “freaky” as a kid, and so we’d be in the car, and when he got to the freaky part, I would be cringing and they would pull my hands off my ears because I would be trying to be like, “No, that’s nasty. That’s gross.” I always think about that. That was one of my earliest memories of Usher. I was like 5 or 6 years old listening to him talking about that, and I was being all cringe.
PS: But then you grow up and then you listen to the song, and you’re like, “OK, I see what you’re saying.”
KP: I was like, oh, I know what you’re talking about. Get into love.
PS: So who else is on your bucket list of collaborations, whether that’s musically or on the big screen?
KP: I mean, I would love to do something with Lil Durk just ’cause we’re both from Chicago and I know him.
I don’t know if I necessarily need to do a song with this person, but I like Doja Cat as an artist and a talent. I don’t know what type of acting she’s done, but I feel like she could create a mean character or sketch. She’s kind of funny and quirky, and I’m also quirky and not afraid to be weird. So I feel like we could do something funny together. For me, it’s like, I do so many different things. So it could be comedy, music, drama – there are so many different vibes that I can get in. So when I think about collaborating with an artist, it’s like, what could we do across the board?
PS: Absolutely. Before I let you go I have to know, what are the biggest lessons you’ve learned about motherhood?
KP: To put myself first. The reason why I say that is because in order to be the best for your child and to give your child the best of you, you have to be doing good. You have to feel good within yourself and your cup has to be full.