Like most people, Keri Hilson has been practicing a lot of self-care after the chaotic 2020 that came and went. Fully shedding the glitz, glamour, and accouterments that come with pop and R&B stardom, she’s gone back to nature: going for walks, enjoying the sound of leaves underneath her feet, breathing in fresh air.
“The simple things like that have been my favorite form of self-care. That and plants,” she says on the phone, sounding holistic and happy. She talks with great warmth and calmness about taking care of herself in a way that she hasn’t been able to in the past. Getting massages, doing virtual therapy, reveling in the small stuff, including taking care of her own hair fully for the first time, has all been rewarding for the 38-year-old star.
“Watching your hair grow and flourish and learning to trim my own hair and deep condition and steam and twist and wash and go, and play with products, those things have become so much fun. Just being a woman,” she says. “I hadn’t really played in my own hair or done my own hair, short of maybe washing it if I was in a hotel and it was going to be very difficult for [a stylist] to do. But I rely heavily on others to take care of my hair and I learned that I’m very capable of doing that myself. I actually feel that no one’s going to care for my body, my hair, better than I would, better than I do. It had been a very long time since I had really cared about that. And it being part of my body, I’m ashamed to say that really.”
She’s even been doing her own shopping. The Decatur, Georgia native has been covered behind necessary face masks, hitting up the same department stores you pick up your water and must-have toiletries from.
“I was hiding so successfully and I enjoyed it,” she says. “I could look bummy and didn’t care, hair in twists, hiding behind the mask.” That worked until late last year when people somehow realized a star was in their midst. Then it started happening more and more often.
“I just hear my name. I know it’s a fan when I hear the ‘Hilson’ attached to Keri,” she says. “They’ll say, ‘Yo, I think that’s Keri Hilson.”’
“One girl walked up to me and said, ‘Oh my God Keri, you’re so beautiful.’ I was like, oh sh-t!” she adds. “I had my whole mask on. How is this happening now? My Walmart days are over [laughs].”
The enjoyment of getting to be like everyone else, even someone else, in different ways, is a draw to Hilson these days. Whether in her self-care practices and errand runs or in her recent acting work, she likes stepping outside of herself.
“I love anonymity,” she says. “Any opportunity that is provided.” A part of that stems from the desire to remove herself from experiences that have been heavy on her, including the loss of her father early last year. So she enjoys getting to be engrossed in the effort required to play another person. It’s cathartic being in front of the camera, and she’s giving it 250 percent, as she tells me.
“Filming a movie is like hitting the pause button on life,” she says. “I think that was most attractive, that I got to pause grieving my father. I got to hit pause on quite a few different aspects of life in 2020 and this year as well.”
“If I’m being completely honest, I think [I like] the aspect that is void of reality. You’re in a bubble. You’re in your own world. Time stops and you’re in a fantasy — whatever that looks like,” she adds. “It requires your full focus, energy, persona. It’s like I’m in an alternate reality for a few weeks or a couple of months and I’m quite enjoying that right now.”
And she’s embraced the opportunities that have come her way to step into that alternate reality. The star worked on four films coming out this year, including TV One’s original film Don’t Waste Your Pretty, based on author and media personality Demetria L. Lucas’s book of the same name. She enjoyed escaping into the role of Mykah Jones, a character with whom she shares similar qualities. Mykah pours herself deeply into work to the hindrance of her love life.
“She makes no time for the beauty of life and the many forms that it can present itself. The beauties of life. And that’s what this film really explores,” she says of the upcoming film. “A lot of women are seeking the same things and Mykah is no different. She wants someone to see her for her. She just wants to be seen…She’s one of the women utterly unaware of her beauty. And by beauty, I don’t mean ‘pretty.’ I mean her essence, her virtues, her integrity, her value. She’s not completely aware.”
Mykah, her twin brother Michael (played by Redaric Williams), and her friends, including Jeanné (Deborah Joy Winans), are all trying to navigate matters of the heart.
“I think in some ways I do relate. I’m at a point in my life where I’ve gone through a lot of lessons in love,” she says. “I’ve put my career first, absolutely done that. And I have not made a whole lot of room for exploring the beauty in life.”
Of course, as mentioned, she did spend a lot of time immersed in music, songwriting, and then performing front and center. She took a step away from releasing music a few years ago, but still creates it to this day. And for the record, her hiatus had nothing to do with the pressures put on her by anyone else within the industry.
“Authentically I am an athlete; the type of human who is inwardly competitive, not outwardly,” she says. “And though that wasn’t reflected in some decisions I was forced to make, authentically who I am is a driven, solo sport, competitive type of gal. I always felt there would be room and room was made for my gift.”
But like her character in Don’t Waste Your Pretty, she’s attempting to make room to appreciate other facets of life and to embrace her various talents. She’s hoping room will be made for her gifts in front of the camera, too. So acting it is for now, and until further notice. However, music will have its moment again. She just can’t say exactly when.
“When the time is right again, we’ll hear it,” she says. “I don’t think I’ll ever fully forsake it, though it appears that way. It’s still very much a part of my heart and a part of my days. I just know what it requires of me and maybe that is the factor. I’m just enjoying being used in a different art form right now.”
Don’t Waste Your Pretty premieres on Sunday, Feb. 28 at 8 p.m./7c on TV One.