Kelela: "What I’d just say to Rihanna is, 'Thank you'"

The RnB singer-songwriter on imposter syndrome and what she has to be grateful to Rihanna for.

by i-D Staff
20 January 2020, 6:00am

This story originally appeared in i-D's 'Rihannazine' Special Edition, no. 01, 2020. Order your copy here. For this one-off project, Rihanna put a series of questions to the women shaping culture today, and invited them to share their visions for 2020.

Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Kelela. I’m a singer-songwriter, and I make experimental, vulnerable and tender RnB. Songs about breakups and heartbreak are my specialty.

What do you think your biggest personal or professional success has been so far?
The drive to pursue my dreams, despite how turbulent it felt. Just standing up for myself, and believing in myself before it felt cute, or before anyone else believed in me. I’m good at that.

What do you think your biggest failure to date is? How did it help you grow?
In my teens and early twenties, being in a relationship and treating people with respect was something I had to learn the hard way. At one point, I was not taking care of my friendships, and I lost a lot of them in one go. And that experience was extremely formative. It was also incredibly painful but I learned that things will pass, and that you can try again. And then, the next time, you can knock it out of the park.

As we’re heading into 2020, what are you taking with you into this year, and what are you leaving behind in 2019?
Last year, I pursued some dreams I’d always had in the back of my mind, and I planted seeds, which is a very big step for me. I put out some feelers, I took the first steps. This year is a matter of completion. What I’m leaving behind is my impostor syndrome. I think I had moments where I was like, “Yeah, I’m cool,” and other moments where I was less certain. Deep down inside, I know I’m that bitch, and I think next year is going to be the one where I act like it. Period!

If you could ask Rihanna one question, what would it be?
What I’d just say to her is, “Thank you.” Thank you for expanding beyond what even she thought was possible for herself. I think, as a black woman who is doing this, you know that anyone who is being presented with opportunities and changing them into something bigger in the way she does is doing something that changes lives. I just know how I’ve done that for myself, and I can only imagine how that would be for her. It’s had a profound effect on me and my peers. So it brings me to tears, because it’s such a real thing, for me personally.

Kelela by Mario Sorrenti Kelela wears coat Kwaidan Editions.
Kelela wears coat Kwaidan Editions


Photography Mario Sorrenti
Styling Alastair McKimm

Hair Duffy at Streeters.
Make-up Kanako Takase at Streeters.
Nail technician Honey at Exposure NY using Tom Ford Beauty.
Set design Jack Flanagan at The Wall Group.
Colourist Lena Ott for Suite Caroline.
Lighting technician Lars Beaulieu.
Photography assistance Kotaro Kawashima, Javier Villegas and Jared Zagha.
Digital technician Johnny Vicari.
Styling assistance Madison Matusich and Milton Dixon.
Hair assistance Lukas Tralmer, Dale Delaporte and Allie J.
Make-up assistance Kuma, Tomoyo Shionome and Megumi Onishi.
Nail assistance Tera Darden.
Set design assistance Mike Williams, Akaylah Reed and Amy Sabel.
Production Katie Fash.
Production coordinator Layla Némejanski.
Production assistance Fujio Emura.
Casting director Samuel Ellis Scheinman for DMCASTING.
Casting assistance Cicek Brown for DMCASTING.

Mario Sorrenti