Actor, singer, writer, viral meme creator, producer, and Emmy Award winner Keke Palmer is a creative force. The star is a master of reinvention, charming the internet with her off-the-cuff antics. Whether you know her from Hustlers or recognize her voice from hosting the Met Gala red carpet (where she coined the now viral sound, “I know it ain’t Thee Stallion!”), chances are she’s crossed your screen.
Among her many creative projects are a handful of characters and sketches that the performer shares on social media. Longtime fans have seen the personas evolve into a one-woman show, Turnt Up with the Taylors, which recently won Keke a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series. Now, she’s taking her characters into a new dimension—the written word. Her newly released collection of five short stories, Southern Belle Insults, follows main character Janet on her journey to self-confidence with the help of four magical wigs. Each new ’do conjures an alter ego, transforming Janet into Lady Miss Jaqueline, Chelsea, Keri, and Sophie.
To really get to know the fabulously eccentric characters, Keke curated four exclusive Spotify character playlists. For the Record spoke with Keke to learn more about her inspirations, her song selections, and her personal anthems.
You’re an Emmy Award winner, a published author, star in Jordan Peele’s upcoming film, and have even more projects in the works. Do you have any advice for aspiring creators?
My advice is to go for it. When I think about Southern Belle Insults, I literally just went for it on my page, SNL style, and did a sketch. Eventually I’ve been able to build out a world. Don’t wait for the platform or the situation to come to you. Be willing to go out there and set the tone yourself because you never know what that can inspire.
Who or what inspires your wit and your performances?
Being under the gun all the time. It’s a survival technique, to be quite honest with you, to avoid moments of awkwardness. A lot of my quote-unquote talent, especially when it comes to personality or comedy, is based on survival. “Oh, I don’t know what to do now. Let me get silly.” It’s how I deal with pressure situations and happens to also be a skill that I can use in a job like entertainment. When I did [TV show] Scream Queens, I also saw a lot of great improv skills from Niecy Nash.
Did you feel like you incorporated her lessons into your characters?
The thing I picked up most is how much she trusted herself. Obviously my brain isn’t going to create improv in the same way hers does because that’s just not possible. However, I understood from watching her that there was a lot of trust going on. And that helped me when it came to my own stuff, to just trust that I know what I’m doing. Have fun with it. Don’t be afraid. Be honest. Be the truth in the scene.
Turning to the playlists, what was the experience like curating these? Can you tell us which song most represents each character?
It was a lot of fun. My music range is different from the music I perform myself, so it was exciting to be able to identify with those styles through the characters. I wanted to capture the tone and vibe of each character’s voice through the songs. For Lady Miss Jacqueline and her feminist-but-old-school edge, there are two songs that I most identify with her: “Criminal” [by Fiona Apple] and “Private Dancer” by Tina Turner. Those two anchor the playlist.
For Chelsea “Barbie” Taylor, I’d say “No Scrubs” [by TLC] and “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette. Because the thing about Chelsea “Barbie” Taylor is she’s a culture queen, so she can give you Alanis Morissette one minute and she can give you Blu Cantrell the next. She’s that pop culture chick.
Keri is that more turnt up, I-don’t-give-a-****-type vibe. The two songs that really represent her are “G4L” by Rihanna and “Alone” by Heart. Again, they’re quite diverse. She’s going to be listening to rock and “G4L” because Rihanna is a pop queen who has jumped across many different genres in her time.
Sophie’s a romantical, whimsical kind of character. The main songs that represent her would be “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King and “It’s Getting Better” by Cass Elliot, because she’s always trying to be inspired and empowered. She’s looking for the grace and the gratitude in every situation.
Speaking of songs that most represent someone, do you have a song that you would say captures you, or a personal anthem?
I used to always say “One Step at a Time” by Jordan Sparks because I really do feel that [sings] “you take one step at a time.” It’s such an inspiring song. On one hand, it’s a cross between that and “Firework” by Katy Perry. And then on the other hand, it’s a song of mine that I wrote some years ago. It was titled “I Don’t Belong to You,” and it’s about how I don’t belong to other people’s ideas of me. I’m a strong believer that I get the right to change at any point in time that I want to change, and nothing defines me other than me.
Whether you’re searching for some Lady Miss empowerment or simply want to get inside Keke’s head, there’s a playlist with your name on it. Explore the four exclusive curated character playlists now.