Super Bowl

Missy Elliott and H.E.R. Are Ready to 'Shake the World' With More Collabs After Pepsi Super Bowl Ad

Between two Grammy wins and countless big-time performances, the past few years have been a whirlwind for H.E.R. The 22-year-old R&B singer will add yet another major accomplishment to her resume on Sunday (Feb. 2) when Pepsi's 2020 Super Bowl commercial -- in which she stars alongside hip-hop vet Missy Elliott -- airs.

The futuristic 30-second spot features H.E.R. and Missy singing a revamped rendition of The Rolling Stones' classic "Paint It Black," in promotion of Pepsi Zero Sugar's new matte-black can. Collaborating with Missy was exciting enough, but H.E.R. (whose birth name is Gabriella Wilson) was equally as pumped to cover the iconic rock band.

"I’m a huge Rolling Stones fan, and just to be able to flip a Rolling Stones song was enough for me," H.E.R. tells Billboard. "It’s always a challenge, but this was probably the most fun challenge I’ve ever done."

The feeling is mutual for Missy, who has been a H.E.R. fan for years. The pair feel like kindred spirits in the Pepsi ad, and when they chatted with Billboard together ahead of the commercial's pre-Super Bowl launch on Wednesday (Jan. 29), that same energy could be felt even over the phone.

Below, check out what the dynamic duo had to say about their team-up -- and why it's just the beginning of their work together.

How did you both react when Pepsi approached you about doing their Super Bowl ad, especially with each other?

H.E.R.: A few months ago, I don’t even remember how much time passed before we actually shot it, but I just know I could not believe it. I was honored and even more excited because Missy was going to be in it with me. I can’t describe that feeling of knowing I’m doing a Super Bowl commercial with Pepsi, with Missy. It was just a dream come true. To be honest with you, I was kind of nervous and anxious at first, but I had so much fun on set.

Missy: I felt the same way. I’m always honored and thankful to be asked to be in Super Bowl commercials, but then when I found out it was H.E.R. doing it with me -- I actually hit H.E.R. on Twitter a few years back, a friend of mine had put me on to H.E.R. music, and I was just like, “Whoever this is, they gon’ blow up.” She didn’t have any pictures out, so I didn’t know who she was, I was just familiar with H.E.R. music. I just started working out to H.E.R. music, walking to H.E.R. music. So when I found out it was going to be H.E.R., I was just like, “Wow this is going to be fun.” 

What was it like getting to watch each other’s process in the studio?

Missy: That was the first time I really got a chance to see a female musician [in the studio] and to even watch H.E.R. grab the guitar -- it wasn’t like she was afraid, she most definitely grabbed the guitar like a pro, and was like, “I want to try it in this key.” That was amazing to me, because a lot of times you get to see the product, but you don’t get to see what goes on behind the scenes. Now I can say I know how H.E.R. creates. I haven’t seen females get in there with musicianship like that. So I was in awe.

H.E.R.: The studio session was mostly us getting to know each other and forming a musical connection, as well as a personal one. We’re both Cancers -- we just were vibing and talking. We talked about everything, it wasn’t even just about what we were doing at that moment. 

I learned so much from Missy out of this experience, I got to peek into her world -- she was telling me stories about being on the road and in the studio. Once we had that connection on a personal level, the song kind of just created itself.

So you guys had never met each other before this collaboration?

H.E.R.: Yeah, we did, super briefly.

Missy: We actually did meet at Janet [Jackson]’s tribute in Atlanta [at the 2018 BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards]. We spoke there, saying, “We gotta get together, we gotta do something together.” And time went on, but when the stars align, they align, and God came in the mix and here we are.

H.E.R.: Mmhmm!

What was it like recreating and adding lyrics to a song as classic as “Paint It Black”?

Missy: When you are recreating an iconic record, you want to make sure that you do it justice. Because there could be times people try to recreate something, and people love the original so much that they be like, “I hate it! Why did they mess with that record?” So we had to make sure that we all collectively felt that it was a great extension to the original, and that we did our best at creating the 2020 version. 

You know, you can’t really make it too much better because it’s already iconic, but I think they’ll be happy with it. Timbaland most definitely went in there and put that oomph on it, we call it oomph down South -- I don’t even know if there’s a spelling for it [Laughs] -- but it’s just that oomph, that knock on the record to make it have a rock ‘n’ roll feel and a hip-hop feel to it. I think it’s a great combination, and I think Pepsi feel the same way -- we gon’ see!

H.E.R.: I totally agree. When flipping a song, it’s always scary. If somebody would’ve given me this track and said, “Hey, H.E.R., flip the song,” I would’ve been like, “Uhhh,” but then when I knew it was me, Missy and Tim, I was like, “Oh no, we got this. We definitely got this.” 

It was me and the rock guitar vibes -- the scale in the song sounds like a Spanish scale, so I was like, “Okay, flamenco intro, that kind of vibe.” And then Missy came in with the bars, that energy that is in the original record, and Tim made the drums hip-hop, so I thought, “This is the perfect balance and the perfect way to make this song 2020.” And that’s what made me feel really confident, all the elements that everybody put into it. 

And with two strong women on the same track, it brings the sort of female empowerment movement we’re seeing now to the song.

H.E.R.: Definitely. I think the song is empowerment in general, and the fact that we’re together in the commercial, there’s this energy and excitement, and individuality. 

Pepsi has been highlighting women who have been taking over the hip-hop and R&B game, having Cardi B star in last year’s Pepsi’s Super Bowl and now you two this year. Who are the female stars that are on each of your radars right now?

Missy: Oooh. You go first! [Laughs]

H.E.R.: That’s a tough question, because there’s so many of us. The majority of the industry right now, as far as artistry, is women. The list goes on, I don’t even know where to start. There’s tons of female artists right now that are really killing it, and they come from all genres. Can’t single nobody out!

Missy: We take to all the females, for all the women that’s doin’ it.

I feel like women are really taking over nowadays.

H.E.R.: I know me and Missy ‘bout to take over! 

Missy: Facts!

So this Pepsi campaign is just the start of H.E.R./Missy collaborations?

Missy: I most definitely want to do a record with H.E.R. Or two, or three! I’m a huge fan of hers, like I said I’m always listening to her music. When I stumble across somebody like a H.E.R., I most definitely get engulfed in their music.

And I’m sure that’s a lot for H.E.R. to take in, that Missy Elliott’s always listening to H.E.R. music.

Missy: She got everybody listening to her music!

H.E.R.: I definitely would love to work with Missy on some original stuff, because she’s a legend, you know? And I honestly want to work with you, Missy -- since we’re on the phone [Laughs] -- on some really dope visuals and just get creative. More than just the studio, because I feel like we could do something that could like, shake the world. Something bigger than just a song.

Missy: I’m down. I do need to mention, when we were in the studio, we was just going through sounds, then we’d stumble across another sound, and she’d immediately start playing to a whole ‘nother sound, and we would almost get ready to create something else, but we had to do this record. But it showed how, musically, when two people’s minds that think out there like that, it takes one new sound to make a whole new song.

Super Bowl 54