Songs From the Lineup is a review series that unpacks the musical lineup of the Life Is Beautiful festival one piece at a time: through individual songs by the featured artists. Look for weekly installments at DTLV.com, right up through the festival in September.
“Bright” is not my favorite Kehlani song. It doesn’t curl your toes like “The Way,” the sexy lead single (and Chance the Rapper collaboration) from her critically lauded 2015 mixtape, You Should Be Here. It’s not “Unconditional,” the up-tempo R&B jam I two-stepped to when the 21-year-old singer made her sold-out Las Vegas debut last August at Vinyl in Hard Rock Hotel. It doesn’t rock the same unapologetic confidence of “Did I,” the radio-friendly one-off she released in December to tease her forthcoming debut album.
“Bright” is more important.
The second-to-last track on You Should Be Here is a love song, but not the kind you might expect. The Oakland, Calif. raised songstress caught her first mainstream exposure performing Bruno Mars’ “Billionaire” on America’s Got Talent in 2011, (Look it up, it’s adorable) but has since developed her own style of R&B that recalls Sade’s sultry rasp, Aaliyah’s sex appeal and rap music’s bravado. But “Bright” is a self-love song.
Can’t nobody love somebody that do not love themselves. You are what you choose to be, it’s not up to no one else. It’s a powerful message, and one that became even more potent after Kehlani endured significant controversy a few months ago.
On March 28, Kehlani was caught in an ugly mess of Internet confusion that led her to attempt suicide. That morning, singer and ex-flame PARTYNEXTDOOR posted an Instagram photo of himself holding hands in bed with the R&B star—who fans believed was still dating Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. Conclusions were jumped and headlines the likes of “Kyrie Irving Just Got Cheated On In The Most Embarrassing Way,” and “Kehlani Caught Cheating” were littered all over the web. Twitter was beyond ruthless, labeling her a “hoe” and a “hypocrite” at best. And by sundown, Kehlani, who remained silent all day, shared a photo of an IV in her arm, captioned “Today I wanted to leave this earth … Never thought I’d get to such a low point.”
As a fan, I was shaken. I’d always clung to her music when I felt low. As a female, I was disturbed by how one man’s photo became “proof” that a young woman should be crucified. As a person, I became disgusted with social media—the idea that every thing is worth sharing and how doing so opens all of us up to online love and hate. And I felt sick to think that any of this would cause someone to give up on life—especially an artist that I admired so much. I felt like I knew her.
That night I spent two hours on the phone with a friend in Florida just trying to make sense of the day. It came out that Kyrie and Kehlani had broken up weeks before—no one cheated—but online, it didn’t matter. Girl sleeps with boy. Boy gets to brag about it. Girl gets shamed. It’s not an isolated incident.
I couldn’t help but think of the lyrics in “Bright” that day. How they must have lifted up so many other people who heard them. How I wished they could have helped Kehlani. But thank goodness she’s still here—maybe they did.
I wondered if Kehlani would return to music after the scandal. She did, alluding to the incident on ‘24/7,’ released in May. (It’s okay to not be okay … I won’t judge you a little, not even a little bit.) I worried she might shy away from live shows, but she has reemerged, stronger.
I was ecstatic to see Kehlani on the Life Is Beautiful 2016 lineup, not just because I’m excited to see her perform live for a second time, but because each one of her performances is now a celebration of life. I look forward to being in the audience and singing along with her, hands high: Be great, be kind. Don’t let them dim your light. A woman, like the sun, should always stay bright.