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Kelis review, Glastonbury Festival 2023: A sublime, genre-hopping performance that is more party than show

Kelis performs on the West Holts stage (PA)
Kelis performs on the West Holts stage (PA)

Her “Milkshake” brings all the Glasto-goers to West Holts! OK, so that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as the lyrics of her 2003 chef-d’oeuvre but, hopefully, you get the gist: this is Kelis’s moment as the musician headlines a Glasto stage for the first time, poised to take her place as a pioneer, provocateur and polymathic high priestess of Y2K R&B-pop.

Kelis’s career has had more twists and turns than Glasto’s naughty corner. The last time she played the festival was 2014, in support of her most recent album Food, on which her big-band soul and afrobeat sound marked a left-turn from the electro-dance she had toyed with on 2010’s Flesh Tone. It was a far cry from the mercuried funk of her early albums with hip hop and rock band N.E.R.D. More recently, Kelis has leaned into the food theme instead, by training as a Cordon Bleu saucier and launching a wellness line. But her music, in tandem with Noughties nostalgia, has been having another moment.

Kelis made headlines this year when “Milkshake” was interpolated (and then swiftly removed) from Beyoncé’s album Renaissance without her approval. Then in March, “Milkshake” turned up on rappers Jpegmafia and Danny Brown’s track “Fentanyl Tester”, yet another mark of the 2003 track’s cultural relevance and brilliance.

Her live show, then, is where Kelis can put it all into context, running the gamut of her genre-hopping sound. But, as she announces, “this is not a show, this is a party”. Kelis struts onstage in a sparkly yellow two-piece, dreadlocks cascading down her back, and performs two songs from Flesh Tone, the sci-fi Euro-dance of “22nd Century” and “Brave”, followed by Benny Benassi’s “Spaceship”, on which her gutsy, euphoric vocals feature. It’s an opening trio that sounds a little dated now, but then she cranks the dial up to hectic quicker than you can say “millennial medley”.

Like a mixtape, her set flips unexpectedly through her career, diving into “Caught Out There”, her storming 1999 debut single, from the first of two albums produced by N.E.R.D. From there, it’s a dizzying quick-fire mix. Interpolations of tracks by Soul II Soul, Beenie Man, Dead Prez, Riton and (why not?) Nirvana signal the vibe shifts. There are reworkings of some of her best songs, with the help of her band (two drummers!) and DJ Nikki Beatnik. “Bossy” has a syncopated Afrobeats-like swing; “Get Along With You”, a track that, unbelievably, failed to chart, is given a huge rock ending. The finale of “Milkshake” is mashed up with Wu-Tang Clan’s “Gravel Pit”, erupting into a samba gallop. Others from her catalogue are, thankfully, given proper breathing space, including her sublime rendition of “Good Stuff”, the funk instrumental still as potent as ever, and “In The Morning”, a 1999 Brazilian-influenced song that features Pharrell and still sounds current.

At times, the set feels chaotic but, crucially, it is never boring. Kelis, cool as ever, prefers to sashay on the spot than to prowl around the stage, but damn, that voice: husky, powerful and surely still one of the best in music. It’s nowhere more loud and clear than at the end of her set when she belts out the chorus of her David Guetta-penned “Acapella” without her backing band. Don’t call it a comeback – call it a party.