Coronavirus

Keke Palmer on Staying Creative in Quarantine, Going 'Modernized Jessica Rabbit' in 'Sticky' Video: Exclusive

Keke Palmer
Lawrence Murray

Keke Palmer

The daytime TV host also dished about how she's spending her time in quarantine to focus on the next chapter of her music career.

Keke Palmer isn't used to not being busy. As the newest co-host of Strahan, Sara and Keke (the afternoon extension of ABC's Good Morning America), the multi-hyphenate actor-turned-singer-turned-daytime-host balances a rigorous television gig five days a week with acting projects, music and, you know, sparking the occasional viral meme over not knowing former vice president Dick Cheney.

Like so many, however, Palmer's demanding schedule has slowed considerably in recent months, with production currently suspended on SSK due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. And rather than go stir-crazy out of boredom as she shelters in place, the star has turned her full attention back to one of her first loves: making music.

In the first few months of 2020 alone, she's steadily released a string of singles including mid-tempo jam "Virgo Tendencies," the TK Kravitz-assisted "Got Em Mad" and temptation-fueled anthem "FYG." Her latest offering is "Sticky," a sassy, sexual collaboration with rising rapper Coi Leray on which she swaggeringly declares "Lip gloss sticky, attitude b--chy/ How I taste? Peachy/ He wanna lick my keke."

On Friday (May 15), the star is premiering the colorful video for her latest single exclusively to Billboard. Speaking over the phone from her home in L.A., Palmer dished on everything from the inspiration behind the visual's sultry looks to how TikTok is helping her channel her creativity in quarantine.


How are you doing in quarantine?

I'm doing good! You know, quarantine is so weird because I'm not used to having all this time at home, or not, like, actually going out to work. So doing a lot of my work from home is very, very weird, but it's allowed me to put my energy in other areas of my creativity than I would usually get as much time to do. You know, sometimes I have so much stuff that I do that the schedules end up fighting each other and canceling one out. So now, one is canceled out for other reasons so...

Let's talk about "Sticky." How did the song came together?

I'd been working in Atlanta with this producer Tasha Catour and this guy A-Lex, who's also a producer and artist and writer. We had created a bunch of music, and so I've been putting out a lot of stuff...a song called "FYG," a song called "Virgo Tendencies" and then "Sticky." The other two records were a little bit more reflective and a little bit more emotional, whereas "Sticky" is just an attitude.

With everything that I was starting to feel, that song gave me the energy of where I want to be and how I want to be doing. You know what I mean? Like, it gave me the, like, "Once this over, I'm out here and gettin' it goin'." So it kind of gave me that attitude that I need, I think, that's helping me pull through some of these weird times.

Where did the concept for the video come from?

I was really interested in trying the different lighting that you see in the blue room. I really wanted to try to give something that was playful, show flirty and really be about the look, honestly. I've been doing some different hair stuff lately, I've been having a lot of fun with changing my hair color up and trying on different wigs.

So I really wanted to have fun with the sticky, with the honey, but really give you looks and give you a mood when it came to some of the lighting choices. And of course, with Coi coming in the video, Coi Leray who's a super dope artist, I wanted us to have fun. It was really about a mood and giving just visually something that was going to be pleasing to see. That's where I was coming from with it.

Did you have a favorite look from the video?

Yes! The red one is my favorite look by far. I mean, I love the other ones as well, but I think I just felt like a little modernized Jessica Rabbit in the red look. And then the makeup! I loved it so much, because it was like playing off the red, but it wasn't red, it was pink. So to me, I was having so much fun with the look -- with the whole glam, I think.

In this quarantine time, I've been experimenting a lot with the different makeup looks and hair looks, and that's actually brought out more of a...It brings out a different energy in you when you change up your look. So that was everything I was getting with it, 'cause that's how I feel when I play the song.

Did you shoot the video in quarantine or was it done before all of this went down?

I shot the video in quarantine, which is also why it is a bit simple. Just for the simple fact that, you know, I was like, "I wanna keep it light, I wanna keep it under five [people] on set," you know what I mean? So it was definitely something I was being careful with and why I think also played a part in me just keeping it solo and making it just about my looks and serving you attitude and vibes with some of the art direction.

Were there any particular challenges that came along with filming it in quarantine?

Man, I think the challenge is, especially right now for everyone...obviously the essential workers, we wouldn't be able to do any of this without them. But people that are deciding to stay creative or do something in some capacity, you're just thinking to yourself like, "OK, I don't want to be crazy or put myself in jeopardy," but I think at the same time, it's like two things: you don't want to put your spirit in jeopardy either.

You want to try to be creative and try to somehow keep yourself expressive and engaged, and so I think I was a little bit nervous about that. But the main thing for me is I'm having so much fun to be able to explore music with this time that I have now that a lot of time could be taken up for other aspects of my career.

What was it like working with Coi?

I love working with Coi! I've been wanting to do something with her for a long time -- she had a record and did a video a few months back that I was trying to do, but I was in New York working on [Strahan, Sara and Keke] and I couldn't make it, so we've been trying to link for a while. She loved the record, she hit me up and I was like, 'Yo, would you be interested in getting on it?" and she immediately recorded it at her house and sent it back to me.

The song has also launched this whole TikTok phenomenon with the #StickyChallenge.

TikTok loves a good dance, honey! My sister and I, all we were doing was making up dances all night, to my music, some other music that we were listening to on TikTok, just different little [clips], 'cause you know TikTok also creates their own mixed, mastered beats and stuff like that.

And so I was like, "Let's do one to 'Sticky,'" and then my sister and I choreographed it together and put it up and people really liked it. We did, like, a part one and part two. But really it's just fun, you know what I mean? The timing of those TikTok videos, you can really get lost in for hours. [Laughs]

@kekepalmer##StickyChallenge♬ Sticky - Keke Palmer

@kekepalmer##stickychallenge ##part2♬ Sticky - Keke Palmer

You were already pretty big on TikTok before you launched the challenge. So is it something you enjoy otherwise?

I loved TikTok even before it was TikTok, when it was just Musical.ly. So when it changed to TikTok, it enhanced all the things I liked before with the editing effects -- I love editing and I also just love being able to add effect or just...The way the app films things, it makes it, to me, really fun to be creative, especially with dances and stuff like that. So I always loved the app, so it was dope when people started doing the challenge, for sure.

Any highlights that have stood out as you've seen people do the challenge so far?

I think really just the wide variety of people! I think that's the best part for me, is that I see guys doing it, I see girls doing it, I see queens doing it, you know? Everyone is doing it. So, I think that's the best part for me is just to see so many different faces and different vibes and what they bring. Even some little kids! The little kids was killin' it. [Laughs]

You mentioned how other parts of your life have slowed down, but you're still juggling music with so many other parts of your career. How do you balance everything?

I think it can get really difficult and I think music is so often like a self-pursuit. Even though you have a team that does it with you, when it comes to the creative process behind everything, it's gotta be you. And that takes a lot of time and energy and effort, and for me, a lot of times my other half of my career -- which is a very demanding schedule when you think about SSK or even when you think about movies and television. I do movies and TV, it's like we've got a shooting schedule and it becomes difficult to put anything else around it.

So the fact that we're in this weird place, which of course I'm not happy about 'cause I love acting and I love hosting just as much as music, but because we're in the space where now, what is it gonna look like working in a studio again? And what is it gonna look like going to a show where there's no audience? Or is there audience? It puts me in a space where I have all the time to dive in creatively and totally in my new music. And so that's been awesome. 'Cause a lot of time's often taken from it, and I feel kinda sometimes guilty for that but I'm really, really excited now about all the stuff that I have coming.

Is there any music you've been listening to in quarantine that you've been loving lately?

I've been definitely listening to Drake's new album. But most of all I've been binge-watching more than anything. 'Cause when I think about music and listening to music, I often see myself in the car. And I haven't had that many places to go. [Laughs] So I've really more so been in the house, and when I'm in the house, I'm watching TV.

Money Heist, love that. Finished that. I've been binge watching Love Island U.K., which you never have to finish 'cause there's like a billion seasons. It goes on forever. Also, I just started Little Fires Everywhere, so don't tell me anything if you've seen it!

"Sticky" is your fourth single in just the first few months of 2020 alone. Is this all building up to a new album?

It's definitely building up to, umm, a project. But most of all it's gearing up to just more music, it's gonna be more to come. I'm so excited, like I said, because I've been in such a great space of being able to do the creative work that goes behind putting a project together that takes a lot of time. Especially when you want to be right, and I'm definitely a perfectionist. I've definitely got Virgo tendencies, so I'm just happy that I've been in the space and had the time to create. And that it's not forced! That's the other thing about it. It's 'cause sometimes when you have all this time on your hands, you're like, "Oh, now I feel like I can't come up with anything."

But I think how I arrived at this place was good because I feel inspired. I think coming in to quarantine, when it first began, I was very like, "OK, I'm gonna take a break." And then it went from the taking a break to kind of going stir-crazy and wondering how I'm going to express myself creatively. I can't do it in the way I usually would in terms of SSK, but I can still develop projects and I still can drop my music and put my all into that. Then I found myself like, "OK, you know what? I'm excited and I'm engaged." So first it was the break and then it was the hustle again.

Since "Sticky" is so different than the other songs that you've already released, is there anything you can tease about what the rest of the project might sound like?

Yes! And I think it's exactly that; that was the whole thing. When I dropped "Sticky," I was like, "OK, I'm gonna turn up the fun." Because I think it was getting so soggy for me, and for everybody else! At home, I was just kind of wanting to keep myself upbeat, and so that is what the [project] is developed around, the idea of focusing on, "Where do you want to be after it's over?" Like, what's my energy? What's my attitude? And kind of living in that space while you're in all of it, and reflecting later once you're out of it all. Once the storm is over, I can reflect on it. But during the storm, this is where I wanna be.

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