In a gloomy afternoon with intermittent rain, Keri Hilson (03Ox, 05C) managed to bring out the sun.
The 35-year-old Decatur, Ga., native and Emory alumna performed at Saturday’s “Homecoming at Sea” Alumni concert. Hilson, best known for hits such as “Knock You Down” and “Pretty Girl Rock,” entertained a crowd of enthusiastic alumni and students on the Quadrangle. While Hilson’s presence onstage was lively and captivating, her performance fell short in terms of vocals, as Hilson did not sing nearly as much as one would expect at a concert.
After an exceptional opening set from Baltimore country artist Emma White, Hilson took the stage. Clad in spandex, a jacket and hat, Hilson could have nearly passed as an Emory student herself. She began her set with her hit “Turnin’ Me On,” which featured on her debut album “In a Perfect World…”
Although the concert was considered family-friendly, this did not stop Hilson from adding a bit of sensuality to her performance. After flirtatiously asking a student to “show [her] around” campus, she preceded to serenade him with her hit “One Night Stand” in an array of lewd dance moves and lyrics. While this was probably not the best idea on Hilson’s part, considering the many young audience members in attendance, it was effective in piquing the interest of other audience members, who appeared as shocked as they were awed at Hilson’s bold performance.
Hilson’s song “Energy” — her first single — was a crowd favorite; young and old fans alike cheered her on as she danced across the stage. Although not flanked by the likes of Nelly or Chris Brown, both of whom have featured in her songs, Hilson managed to hold her own; her energy and enthusiasm was positively contagious as she belted out tunes like “Got Your Back” and “Turn My Swag On.”
While Hilson’s voice proved clear and strong in her performances, she spent far more time dancing around the stage and talking to the audience than she did singing. Hilson appeared to be relying on the backup track for most of her performance, only singing for small parts of the concert before allowing the recording to do the rest of the work for her. While it is certainly not unheard of for artists to use a backup track, it was disappointing to observe how much it detracted from Hilson’s performance. Anyone can listen to a recording of Keri Hilson’s songs; the point of an Emory concert was to hear her voice in its rawness and authenticity, not the pre-recorded, perfected, auto-tuned version.
Hilson took to interacting with the audience as she performed, hailing her alma mater every chance she got. Hilson attended Oxford College and Emory University, pursuing a degree in Theater Studies. She gushed about her love for the school, praising the intelligence of its students.
“I’m so excited to represent such an esteemed school of such esteemed people,” Hilson said to the audience. “I’m home.”
Audience members met her remarks with passionate cheers. It was a refreshing sentiment to hear, a nice nod to the strong work ethic and intelligence Emory students value so highly. Unfortunately, it did not negate Hilson’s rather raunchy performance of “One Night Stand” and certainly did not render Hilson’s heavy reliance on her backup track null and void. Hilson may be motivating individuals to work hard and educate themselves, but her role in coming to Emory was to sing, and Hilson spent more time interacting with the audience than doing so.
The highlight — and much-anticipated moment — of the concert was Hilson’s performance of “Pretty Girl Rock.” The song, released in 2010 as the lead single on her album “No Boys Allowed,” reached number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100. Hilson invited several women onstage for her performance of the hit, singing alongside them. Every audience member appeared to know the words to the song, singing the line “don’t hate me ‘cause I’m beautiful” at the top of their lungs. Like her strong emphasis on continuing education, Hilson’s proclamation that all girls should feel beautiful was refreshing to hear. It was also very entertaining to watch audience members belt out “Pretty Girl Rock” onstage. However, once again, Hilson acted more as a motivational speaker than a singer at her own concert.
It would be remiss to say Hilson’s performance was not entertaining, as it certainly was. Her presence onstage was powerful and her cheeriness enthused even those who did not know the lyrics to her songs. However, it was rather disappointing to watch her rely mostly on her backup track during her performance, even if her time was spent inspiring and motivating young fans to work hard and love themselves. Hopefully, Hilson’s future concerts will include much more singing, or else Hilson will likely only ever be regaled for “Pretty Girl Rock.”