All of Kelis’s music videos are works of art

Our favorite clips from the chameleonic star show she’s always been ten steps ahead.

Illustration Sharon Gong
November 13, 2017
All of Kelis’s music videos are works of art
"Caught Out There," 1999

In the Hype Williams-directed video for "Caught Out There," Kelis is not self-loathing, which is common after breakups. Instead, she affirms herself and her righteous anger by flipping tables, throwing chairs, and setting pictures on fire. There’s something extremely cathartic about watching Kelis channel the rage of all women who’ve ever been crossed by lying pieces of shit. In several shots she screams while wearing a straightjacket, depicting the psychological harm that deceitful men inflict on our psyches. In the end, she’s victorious, leading an army of women fed-up with trash men. —Juliana Pache

"Good Stuff," 1999

Kelis’s 1999 debut Kaleidoscope was a declaration. The Harlem native’s sound, scored by The Neptunes’s production, was unapologetic and forward-thinking; her look was original and inimitable. The David LaChapelle-directed video for “Good Stuff,” the second single of her career, feels like a fantastical look behind the scenes at a night in the life of Kelis: a high-fashion party at a roller rink, filled with beautiful, scantily-clad people. Kelis wore her curly hair in various shades of blue, green, and yellow for the video, and she dyed her eyebrows to match. “Good Stuff” never achieved commercial success — the single failed to chart on the Hot 100. Like much of her catalog, Kaleidoscope was overlooked in the U.S. at the time of its release. But watching the video for “Good Stuff” now, it still feels fresh and exciting. At the beginning of the song, though she’s talking to a potential lover, Kelis may as well have been addressing the listening public when she said, “You’re wasting your time on them. The good stuff is right here.” —Ben Dandridge-Lemco

"Young, Fresh N' New," 2001

Teen angst rarely lasts forever, but you couldn’t tell me that in 2001, when I first saw the video for Kelis’s “Young, Fresh N’ New.” Already a fan of her no-nonsense attitude, I felt something I can only describe as “understood” each time I watched her climb into a giant truck and raise hell. Growing up, whether you're an adolescent or an adult barreling through trying times, requires staking out a place for yourself, and sometimes that means channeling imprecise anger into something productive. I loved to watch Kelis do what I perceived to be exactly that, all the while wearing the shit out of impossibly low jeans and an inimitable fro. There are a handful of extras in the clip — some shoplifting prepubescents, a family on the outs, a bad-ass all-woman band — but all I could ever see was Kelis, moving in whatever direction she wanted. —Rawiya Kameir

"Milkshake," 2003

When I first saw “Milkshake,” I was 13 and I really wanted to go to Nasty’s Yard, wherever that is, because Kelis brought all the boys there. When that cowbell over the door dings for Kelis’s entrance, you knew it was about to be on, and that there would soon be a rollicking party in that diner. The video was one of my first introductions to the fact that women can brag about sex, too, and be confident and nonchalant as fuck while doing it. “Watch if you’re smart,” she instructs, so I let her teach me how to pop a maraschino cherry in and out of my mouth, to employ and enjoy euphemisms, and that liking your body and wanting to show it off was not only a possibility, but something to embrace. My milkshake doesn’t bring all the boys to the yard, but there’s always Kelis’s unwavering self-possession in the back of my brain reminding me I’m hot shit. —Leah Mandel

"Trick Me," 2003

The video for 2003's "Trick Me" was shot by the legendary Director X, during the same period he crafted "Get Busy" and "I'm Still In Love With You" for Sean Paul, a.k.a. some of the best music videos ever made. "Trick Me" shares a similar style to those clips, especially the latter. The little world X created with an intense orange pallet and a bunch of arrows is a feast for the eyes. And the dancing, most likely choreographed by his frequent collaborator Tanisha Scott, is hypnotizing. The video's powerful graphic style is trailblazing for X and, in fact, all music videos — there simply wouldn't be a "Hotline Bling" without "Trick Me." Of course, Kelis shines in the video too, looking commanding as hell while showing lots of skin. —Myles Tanzer

"Bossy ft. Too $hort," 2006

Kelis did not need our permission to run shit and she made that clear in the video for "Bossy." She flexed while she ran down her catalog and innovations in music, all while wearing diamond encrusted grills and silky dresses. After this video came out, I made up my 17-year-old mind about the type of boss bitch I wanted to be. I chopped off my long hair to get Kelis's short edgy haircut for my senior prom because I needed to pop out and send a message. I even started painting my nails black, and I begged my older sister to give me her one-piece bathing suit with cut-outs so I could feel as posh as Kelis looked when she did that cute poodle-like bop by the pool. —Lakin Starling

"4th Of July (Fireworks)," 2010

If you were expecting popsicles and American flags, you just don't know Kelis. Instead of giving us any patriotic camp, the video for this Fleshtone highlight is a full-on desert fantasy. Kelis stomps the house down in front of a wall of flames, struts through the dust bowl in high fashion, and then contorts herself around a laser light rope. Yes, there are some fireworks for good measure, but they're tastefully done. The song is a rollercoaster of drops and energy, and the video, with its many sparkling looks and moods, reflects that. It's a worthy visual for one of Kelis's most fun songs. —Myles Tanzer

"Rumble," 2014

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: The video for “Rumble” is nuts. I don’t have that much space to detail the verging-on-dadaism realness Kelis has served up, so here are the finer points. Kelis is wearing camo hip waders while sitting on a velvet chair in the middle of a lake. Occasionally a bald eagle flies around. Men come in at various points to 1) fly fish 2) play the trumpet 3) canoe through the background with a whole ass band. “Rumble” is about getting over an ex, so it would make sense that the video be about the transience of men and a woman’s ability to weather their bullshit. But also maybe Kelis just wanted to rock hip waders. —Olivia Craighead


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All of Kelis’s music videos are works of art