Having sold nearly 90 million records, Kelly Rowland could be a complete diva, but she is so much more than simply a star.
We first meet on the set of this shoot while Kelly Rowland is being tested on camera about her knowledge of Australia, answering all the really important questions, such as: “What is a lamington?” (which she answers correctly) and: “Where is Woop Woop?” (which she answers incorrectly – watch the hilarious video below). Of the 23 Australian vernacular questions, she gets almost all of them right. Oh yeah, Rowland is a gun.
The next time we meet is briefly at a Christian Louboutin party. Rowland is with teenage singer Bella Paige and on a mission not just to work those Louboutins, and Christian himself, but to have fun and show her The Voiceprotégé the ropes. She likes going out, like a moth to a flame.
“It’s been a great season of The Voice,” Rowland says. “From the energy between the coaches, and the new talent, this year has been exceptional. People are looking for something new and refreshing to catch on to and be excited about; they operate off passion. And people smell bullshit: they want honesty. If there’s even an ounce, they call it out.” Rowland has been honest all the way through.
“It would be nice to win, but it’s the journey and I want to really tell people about the artists who are here. If you have a vested interest you really want them to shine and do their best. Sam [Perry] is very clever. Bella … it just happens with her because she is 16, and because she has this dynamic, I can read her body language. We are in tune and that’s a good thing.”
A few weeks later, at The Voice finale, Rowland is crowned the new coaching queen, with Sam Perry and Bella Paige taking first and second places respectively. Her duet/mash-up of Fatboy Slim and Kanye West with Perry is pure Rowland energy. She brings incredible focus and determination to everything she does – heart and soul. She is as open, honest and unafraid to talk about her experience and life, as you might hope to expect.
We meet up again at Bills in Bondi, where she is quite the regular and works the waiters with her true Southern charm. She has that Jedi warrior thing that just makes you want to hang out with her all the time. BFF, honestly.
Rowland has been watching videos on the destruction of the ocean and has decided to stop eating fish for now, and so we eat chopped salads, and she eats a tumbler of ice. “If I am one less person eating fish, then that’s one more fish in the ocean. You know, everyone says one thing at a time, so I’m trying to do my part for Earth.”
She has a super-toned body, although she has cut herself a bit of slack during her time here, but will be back into her fitness regimen once she returns home to LA. “Since I’ve been here I have not worked out once,” she says with a laugh (she laughs a lot). She does boxing and pilates, and lifts weights. “I like to run track as if I were an Olympian. I went from doing all of the above before I left to doing nothing.” So it’s been a kind of fitness break for Rowland in Australia, and although she has “beat herself up a little bit”, it has meant that she has spent a lot of time with her son, Titan. “When I go back home it’s all about wrapping up this record, so it’s been awesome to spend so much time with him. He loves it here, between the water and the food, and he has buddies here; he is so content.”
She meditates and uses the Calm app. “It’s awesome. I do it every other day, first thing in the morning or if I feel like I’m overwhelmed or anxious and I have to bring it all ‘in’, because that means I’m putting too much energy out and not giving myself anything.”
An Aquarian (birthday: February 11), Rowland admits she expresses herself “through my creativity, which I didn’t understand as much at first, but now I get it more than I ever have. It came from having Titan and losing my mum … [Her mother, Doris Rowland Garrison, died in 2014 a few weeks after Titan was born.] It hit a switch in me about the greatness and beauty, the quickness and simplicity of life. People just want to be happy.”
It’s been five years since her last album, Talk a Good Game, was released, and Rowland is now working on a new record. For the first year her hiatus was all about allowing herself to be a mum. By the second year, she says, “I was thinking about pulling back from recording but I couldn’t help myself: I still wanted to record. I still felt like I was missing something. The third year just came and left so fast. The fourth year I said: ‘I have to get to work’ and now I’m ready to release some music!” She laughs, adding: “I felt like I wasted so much time, and it was my husband who actually called me out on it. He said: ‘Babe, as great as those records were, I think you were nervous, you got gun-shy’, and when he said that it was like boom, a gong went off.”
Rowland recalls reading about John Cassavetes telling Susan Sarandon that being a mother would make her less sensual. “I was like coming into that, people trying to say that women can’t be fly after having a baby,” she says. “But J. Lo defied that and said it’s not the case, Bey did it … all these women do it and I was like: ‘Fuck it, I’m going to do that too.’ And that’s when I started to pick up the pace a little bit. Then I got into the studio and started to find the groove and now the groove is there, it’s rolling.”
She loves the ocean here. “The water is giving me what I need to finish. In the middle of the night I’m hearing melodies, lyrics or somebody can say something … The universe is giving to the record in a place that I’ve never experienced before and that’s completely precious. And I’m being honest, but the pressure makes you nervous. You know everything feels right, but you want to make sure it’s perfect.”
This new record will be extremely personal. “If I feel it or think it and it touches me in some way, then I think it’s going to do that to somebody else, too.” There are six tracks that she’s in love with, but she wants five more. “The record about my mother I have yet to put into words, and it will be the hardest record I will ever write …”
But it will be part of this album, because it will be all about life, about everything she has ever experienced. “It’s about love, loss and gain and whether it’s professional or with family or whatever, it’s just honest. I had no choice but to be honest and authentic with this record: it’s about friendship and marriage.” The album has a title, but it’s too soon to disclose, although she hints that it’s actually super-connected to Australia. “This country has inspired me in so many ways, so many.” The “awesome” artwork for the album cover was found here, too.
When Rowland returns to LA she will go into the studio and finish it, and there will be collaborations. “I really enjoy getting new blood. And some have been in the game a long time. They are bringing fire. Serious fire. I’ve been working with Syd from The Internet on one record.”
Back on stage, Rowland brought her own serious fire with the Destiny’s Child reunion at Coachella in April. “Coachella was so much fun. The funny thing is, I told Delta [Goodrem]. I think she was the only person I told, maybe Joe [Jonas] … as I thought he might be there. Coachella was so much fun. The best part was ‘the secret’, then seeing people’s reaction when it was such a surprise.
“We rehearsed like crazy. I would go back to LA and we would be in rehearsals. They were intense. It was so much fun. When we finished I was sad, thank God Michelle and Bey were still in town, so I could still see them. It spoiled me all the time we were able to spend together, but that creative time is pretty remarkable when we are together. It really is. What a blessing, right? And we still love each other. We were laughing at that one day. We were getting ready, but our kids were running around. That’s the fun part; it’s the sweetest thing: they are going to be friends, because we are all so close. Coachella was awesome.”
The recent invitation to sing with Stevie Wonder at the Peppermint Club in LA came as a surprise. “Oh my gosh. I was like cheesing out on stage with him and I don’t know if I got any notes out … But he asked for me to come and I was like: ‘What?!’ We played until 2am. He was still going and, of course, I stayed and sang with him, and Childish Gambino was on the stage and Jessie J and Luke James, and it was an awesome moment, all these musician friends that’s he’s been playing with for years were there. There was so much incredible history in the room, it was like an extra piece of static in the air, just incredible, and he still has this voice, it’s still so strong, and he’s this icon and going through records like it was ABC.”
Could there be a Kelly Rowland–Stevie Wonder collaboration, perhaps? “Absolutely. If the opportunity presented itself, it would be very cool, especially given what he was talking about that night and the world, that’s what brought us all together, to celebrate love and push it back into the air, because there is so much going on in the world, so much that’s disappointing … It’s safe to be silent and I think now is no time to be silent: you have to stand up, as he did and Martin did, Gloria did, so many women and men did, and this generation can’t be quiet about it, this generation is sort of depending on us to change the trajectory for them.”
Despite her enormous success in the music industry, Rowland has had her fair share of difficulties to overcome, including when she was dropped from Sony “and the terrible statement they made saying I was no longer … some bullshit … basically saying I had no more worth. That was the hardest thing I think I ever went through, because I thought to myself, I sold so many records for you guys, with and without Destiny’s Child I sold records. Then I had a record (When Love Takes Over) with David Guetta that was number one in I don’t know how many countries and I was like, okay …”
Rowland is grounded by her faith and her relationship with her husband Tim Weatherspoon. “At the beginning, I was scared of the idea of loving one person. I was nervous about being with one person for the rest of my life. I’d had the worst relationships and I was so scared and said: ‘How about we take a break from dating?’ and he said: ‘What if we took a break from dating and God sent you a guy and that guy was me?’ And I was like click! I hung up the phone. I was scared, because I knew he was my husband in that moment. And I almost ran away from that, but I just embraced it. Marriage is awesome, it has its ups and downs, like anything in life, but it’s incredible. My husband is my rock, my best friend. He believes when I don’t, believes that anything can work and that anything is possible in such a positive light. I think he’s a freak sometimes, no-one can see things like that, but he’s a realist and he’s positive and he’s an asshole, but I love him for everything he does, like in the cutest way of an asshole.”
Getting pregnant, she says, “wasn’t a shocker, as we were trying, but we didn’t know how to tell anybody, because we were just like, let’s ahhhh, um …. get married, as we were wanting to bring the kid into our unit. We just go with the flow: we don’t follow anybody else’s rules. That’s the way we are.”
They married in Costa Rica. “We had the most beautiful wedding with 27 people, when I said my I dos to him, it was the most tears I’ve ever had, because to confess your love like that to someone is so powerful.” Her best friends were all at her wedding. “I’ve got lots, I do, I do … and they all are incredibly important. There are some I don’t even talk to every day, but they are my best friends in the whole world, and I trust them with my whole life, I trust them with every story with every secret, absolutely. A whole bunch. It’s Bey, Michelle, Solange, Angie [Beyince], La La [Anthony], my best friend, and Barbara [Rubio] and Yoshika [Berroud]. My husband trumps all of them now, ’cos we are going through life together. But that’s my clique, for sure.”
From her early teenage years, Rowland grew up with the Knowles family. “It was actually a really good time, because my relationship with my mother was a very interesting one, which I talk about in the record. It was great at times and it was awful at times. She was doing her best and some times in my eyes as kid I didn’t see … there were times when I just didn’t click, didn’t click at all.
“It was okay not being with her, actually, because I didn’t grow up with my dad. I felt like: ‘Oh my God, Solange has a daddy’ and I needed to see what a male figure in a household is like – Tina [Knowles] was just awesome, always has been, always will be – and having sisters. Tina was there when Titan was born; she walked me down the aisle, because my mother was actually too sick to walk me. Tina is his grandmother, you know what I mean.”
She doesn’t know her estranged father, Christopher Lovett, but admits she would like to get in touch. “I don’t know my dad. I last saw him was I was seven or eight: I haven’t seen him since then. I do want to know him, meet him, know his background for the sake of my son. I don’t know, I’m just nervous to make that phone call. Tim has spoken with him on the phone. Just talking about it gives me butterflies.”
Asked what she would do if she could rewrite any part of her history, Rowland says: “I would have told my mum that I really appreciated her, that she was bold, she was courageous, she was beautiful and that I wish I really told her to her face. I didn’t think she was ever really told that.”
Rowland is good at giving advice, and we talk about how to pass that on, akin to ‘Kelly’s Life Lessons’. She thinks about this for a while, then says: “I think life teaches you that with life comes wisdom. So what you tell somebody you would also have to live by. There were moments when I did X Factor in the UK and I thought: ‘Do you believe it?’ And I started to kick that into higher gear, so when you tell someone something you have to live by it, otherwise you are a hypocrite. Be honest with yourself. It comes back when it goes out into the universe: it’s a life …”
Rowland resembles a kid in the candy store, ready to grab it all. She loves life, the smell “when Titan gets out of the tub”, she loves the sight of the ocean or a garden, and the touch of “my husband’s skin”. Her favourite taste is for anything sweet, “like pound cake; I love cake”. And so we order dessert and cocktails. Well, it is 3.30pm. She says the best part of being Kelly Rowland is all of the above, plus “being brown, being like a brown-skinned girl, that’s the best part of being me”.