“For me it was just easy,” says Kelis when speaking on her latest creation — a remix of her hit song “Milkshake” called “It’s Dairy.” She’s done it in collaboration with the dairy brand Lactaid and shot a colorful music video for the cheeky track (which you can view above). “I was like, let’s just do something that feels like me. It was just fun stuff to put on socials. And I don’t take myself too seriously, especially when it comes to ‘Milkshake.’ It’s the 20-year anniversary, which I think is pretty dope. And so it’s just fun. It’s all very me.”
And who is Kelis? In addition to being a well-known singer, she’s a mom of three, a chef, and for the last few years, a farmer, owning her own land outside of Los Angeles. She’s a woman of many hats, wearing them all transparently. If you follow her on social media, you know that despite her flawless farm fashion fits, her work is not simple. She has to get in the mud and chase after a goat or two, but she does it all authentically. Authenticity is what she lives by. That’s part of the reason that out of all the companies she could have worked with, she was drawn to doing something with Lactaid. The star, who grows the things that end up on her table, knows through research all of the great benefits of drinking real, old-school milk. She believes in the brand’s purpose, which is to get people who may find some discomfort in drinking milk due to lactose intolerance, back to dairy.
“I am all about milk for so many reasons. And it was easy. It was a very organic and easy synergy,” she says. “It wasn’t a weird partnership that I had to be something else or learn a bunch of nonsense for. It was just milk.”
Kelis spoke with us in depth about this partnership with Lactaid, as well as the longevity of “Milkshake” and what her kids think about it, how eating unprocessed foods has positively impacted her body, and why she’s still that girl after more than 20 years in the industry.
ESSENCE: If you could take me back to circa 2002, 2003, when “Milkshake” came to life, could you have foreseen it being this soundtrack of empowerment for so many TV shows and movies and now ads all these years later, like the creative one that you have with Lactaid?
Kelis: You know what? It’s so funny. It’s like you see 20 years later and it’s this record that’s been licensed everywhere and it’s so iconic. No. No one wanted to play this record. I fought to get this record played for two years. It took me over a year and a half to break the record at all at radio. PD’s didn’t want to play it. No one knew where to put it. I got so much pushback for it, and it took a long time. And it was a different era so there was no streaming. It was literally grassroots. You had to go and convince radio DJs and program directors to play your record, and no one wanted to play it. And it was weird and off and they didn’t know at the time, especially if you look at what music was at that time. Nothing’s like this.
There was no Gwen Stefani “Hollaback Girl.” None of it existed. And it was a fight. And so it’s funny that of all the records, of all the songs that I have fought for in my career, and there’s been quite a few, that this one is one of the ones that still resonates and that is having a whole new resurgence. My son comes home from hanging out with his friends and his friends are like, “Your mom sings the milkshake song? It’s number one on TikTok.” And I’m like, “Is it? What?” And they’re 12 and 13. And for them it’s like a new song. It’s hilarious. You’re like, wow. I had no idea. No idea that this is going to have a life of its own the way that it has.
Wow. I was going to ask you later, what do your kids think of “Milkshake” since it is everywhere now. But it’s funny to know that your oldest son, people are like, “That’s your mom? Oh my gosh.” That has to be a great feeling.
Mind you, they know me. You’ve been in my house [laughs]. They’re like, “Wait, that’s her?” And my kids are like, “Yes.” And I think your kids never think you’re that cool. So they’re like, “Okay, mom.”
Ha! Nice. And just as that song has transformed and remained a staple in the culture, so have you. You are a mother now, you’re a chef, you’re a farmer, you’re just a renaissance woman in the true definition of that. So what inspired you to pursue these many different passions that you have? Because a lot of people wait for the perfect time, or they feel like this is a pivot they can’t take.
I think it’s a combination of things. I think the first thing is that I work hard. I am a hard worker. Anyone who knows me knows that I put a hundred percent into everything I do or I won’t show up. And so for me, I’m working that hard so that I can live the kind of life that I want to live, so I can give my kids the kind of things that I want to give them and experience the things that I want for them. And so for me, I think, yeah, I wanted more space. I wanted more control. I wanted more freedom. What is health? What is wealth? What does it actually look like?
I’ve been doing this for so long, it is no longer a car. That just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. What can I actually do to benefit my legacy, my lineage, even just in me just right now, how do I live the best that I can live? I like working. I like being outside. I like my space. I like my privacy. And for me, all those things started to add up to land. But you need land, you need space. And I think just even as a Black woman too, I feel like we’ve always, as black people, as people of color, as indigenous people, all of the full diaspora, we have always been connected to the land. It’s always about the land. The land we were on. The land we were from. The land we were cultivating. The land we were taken from. The land we were put on. It’s always about the land. And so for me, having land was such a huge part of the next chapter of my life.
And then what does that mean? What does that look like? What can I do with it? What should I be doing with it? And so you start small and start growing stuff. And then I’m like, oh, well, okay, I can do this. And then it’s like, let’s get a cow. And then the next thing you know I’ve got sheep and alpacas and cows and chickens and goats and horses and partridge in a pear tree. But basically it’s a farm. The more I do it, the more I’m like, oh, I love this. It’s great. This is what I should have been doing all along. And this is where I’m at my best and where I’m happiest. I’m an extremist, so it’s in the garden or on stage. Those are my happy places. That’s where I feel like I’m most me. And so I just want more of that. I’m like, how do I get more of that?
That’s real. I love that. And in your work as a farmer, because I follow you on Instagram, you talk about just the importance of the natural things that we put in our bodies, as well as the products that we use. With that in mind, what made Lactaid the perfect brand to partner with as they try to get people to consume dairy who may have trouble with it?
I don’t align myself with a lot of brands just because I feel like if it doesn’t really make sense for me, I’m not going to pretend that it does. I don’t have to. I don’t want to. I feel like I’ve earned that at this point in my career. And so right now, for me, when the idea was presented to me, my initial reaction was just like, “Ah, I don’t know if that makes sense for me. I’m not sure.” The reality of it was that I didn’t know enough. I was just like, I’m a food person. I don’t really know anything about this. I was like, before I veto, let me do some research. And when I started to research it, I was like, “Oh, actually, okay, this actually is milk.” Because my biggest thing is I don’t like substitutes for anything. I think the more we manhandle stuff, the less beneficial it is for us.
So for me, I just was like, is it chemical? What is it? What happens? I’m like, oh, actually it’s pretty much just milk. I can do that. I like milk. I’m like, milk is good. I’m one of those people, I believe in real milk. I have cows. I want milk, I want cheese, I want ice cream, I want all of those things. And so I’m a big believer in if you do it the right way, then you can actually have all those things. I believe we benefit from them. I’m a big believer in that. It’s been good for centuries. I don’t believe that all of a sudden it’s not. So I think there’s lots of weird propaganda going around about food and what’s good, what’s not good. And people don’t really know where these things come from.
So for me, when this opportunity presented itself, it was a very logical step because my first message always is real food. I want you to have it. Start there. If we can just start with real ingredients and stuff that’s nourishing and purposeful, then we can get into all the other stuff. And I can go down a rabbit hole with you for days about it. But start with the basics. We need the basics, calcium and things like that. And milk and the fats that come from milk are good for you. And I believe that. I genuinely believe that. And for me, it was a no-brainer.
I was like, okay, if I didn’t know it, I feel like I’m pretty versed about food. I care. I read everything. I look at the package forever. I’m obsessed. I’m that person. So the fact that I didn’t know, I felt like if, I don’t know, there’s got to be a lot of other people that don’t know. And so that was my first thing. I was like, oh, okay, well the message needs to be more clear. Or maybe it’s like we need to talk about it more. Maybe it’s just not being spoken about in forums for people who look like me. Let’s start there. Real milk, it’s dairy, it’s food. This is not a substitute. It’s not an alternative. It’s just milk. It’s milk minus the lactose and all that other stuff. That I love. I was like, that goes right on brand for me. It makes perfect sense.
And I did want to ask you, how have the foods that you’ve grown and the products that you make allowed you to stay as fantastically stunning as you have all these years after three kids and a long career?
I love that you said that because I feel like people always assume that I’m doing something crazy. I am not a dieter. I will say that outwardly. I’m not knocking anyone who does. I like to eat. I like to cook, to eat. I want to eat all the things. And so for me, it’s about how do I maximize? And that’s when we talk about purposeful eating. I know why I’m eating everything I’m eating. I very rarely, and don’t get me wrong, I believe cheat days are important. I’ve got kids. I’m not trying to take away their joyful childhood.
But I think there’s little tiny little tweaks that you make, little steps that you take to start to eat better. And so like I said, I think that the more manhandling we do with our food, the less prosperous and the less good it is for your body, the less nutrients you’re going to get, the less benefit you’re actually going to receive from each ingredient. So you want to stay with whole products. For me, I don’t diet. I eat what I want to eat. I don’t eat a ton of sugar. When I do, if I do, it’s organic, it’s raw. Like I said, it’s minimal processing. So I make sweeteners. My everyday stuff, for my coffee or my tea or my iced tea or whatever, how do I intake what I want to intake and get all the benefits without feeling like every time now I have to count calories? I’m not counting calories, I’m not doing that. That’s not a choice for me. Who the hell wants to live like that? I want to eat good stuff all the time. How do I do that?
I’m sure that everything that I’m eating is what it’s supposed to be. It came from its natural source, as close to it as it could be on my plate. That’s all I want. So it’s about farming. I grow a lot of my own stuff. There are tons of local farmers in every city. The funny thing is I have friends all over the country and I can just search all the time. I’ll do a quick Google search to show them how easy it is. I’m like, “Hey, within a hundred mile radius, these are the farmers around you.” Most of the time, especially now as a farmer, I can tell you, I love when someone wants to talk to me about my products. Why? Because I have watched this from seed to look at it now. I care. I want you to care. I want to give it to you. I want you to have it.
For me, I’m giving stuff. I’m like, have it please. It’s delicious. You’ll love it. You’ll feel great. It’ll look great. That’s really how I feel. So it’s not about dieting. It’s more about lifestyle and knowing that everything that you put in your body can have a purpose and a benefit if you just take that extra second to think about it. And that’s really how I live my life. That’s how my kids, we eat. And I don’t do kids menus and we’re going to all eat as a family. This is what we do. And I think all of these things, if we start to bring these practices into our everyday lifestyle, it will change how you feel. Your weight won’t fluctuate as much. You won’t feel crazy in the day because you’re angry.
I eat good. I eat food, real food that’s not been processed. Processing is the major issue. So I find with a lot of this dairy free and vegan and all of these things that I’m not knocking, do whatever you want to do. The problem is though, we’re not realizing that when you start doing all the substitutions, you’re getting away from what was originally intended. So you’re losing a lot of the nutrients and a lot of the things you’re eating pointless calories. And so people end up on these diets that are not really helping because it’s all this processing. It’s not even food anymore after that. What is that?
That’s so true.
The second you add heat to something, you’re diminishing the nutrients. You’re diminishing what the benefits of it are. So we start to think about that. Yeah. You want to keep things as in their natural form, as close to the natural form as possible.
Nice. My last question for you is if you tell everybody to drink Lactaid milk and make a wonderful chocolate milkshake or a vanilla milkshake, you know they will, because you’ve been, like I said earlier, you’ve remained a beloved staple in the culture. And if you change your hair, we are going to want to change our hair. Whatever you do, we’re going to want to do. So what would you say is behind the longevity that you have had and the appreciation that people have for you after all of these years, since you were the first girl to scream on a track a long time ago?
I mean, everything I do I do with conviction. I don’t feel like I have to do anything. I am so grateful. I am so blessed. I have had such a wonderful career and life. I am exactly where I want to be in my life right now, with all of the trials and the things that happen and tribulations and things that are innately going to happen because that’s life. I still feel like I maintain my dignity and my perspective in everything that I do. I don’t believe in compromising for the sake of anyone other than my own personal ethics and morals and beliefs and what makes me feel the most comfortable for who I am. And so I think because of that, whether it’s music or fashion or food or whatever, I don’t feel obligated to do really anything, honestly.
My old godmother used to say, “Stay black and serve God.” That’s most of my requirements. Everything else beyond that is gravy. And that’s really how I feel. I am true to myself. I have children who are watching everything that I do. I’m big on do what you believe, be who you really are. You owe no one anything. And that’s why I think it works. I think I do everything I do because I believe it. This is what I really feel like, and whether someone’s watching or not, this is what I’m going to be doing. This is where I’m at.