Welcome to our podcast, Who What Wear With Hillary Kerr. Think of it as your direct line to the designers, stylists, beauty experts, editors, and tastemakers who are shaping the fashion-and-beauty world. Subscribe to Who What Wear With Hillary Kerr on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Anyone who grew up in the '00s can most likely tell you who Keke Palmer is. The actress, singer, comedian, and budding style muse has been in the limelight since she was 10 years old and made her debut in the award-winning film Akeelah and the Bee. The spotlight isn't likely to die off anytime soon, as she's cemented her place as a cultural icon in the film and fashion industries. Nothing better speaks to how Palmer's work has evolved into an integral part of the zeitgeist than her résumé over the past few years. In addition to building her social media presence and hosting the Met Gala, she's starred in crowd favorites such as Hustlers and Insecure and is set to be a part of four major projects this year alone.
Those projects include her leading role in Krystin Ver Linden's directorial debut, Alice, and part inJordan Peele's thought-provoking horror film Nope, outthis summer. This is in addition to lending her voice to two major Disney titles—The Proud Family reboot and Lightyear. Basically, Palmer has been out here grinding, so you can only imagine how gleeful I was when she agreed to let me profile her for our March cover story. Ahead, you'll hear excerpts from the podcast interview about what working with Black directors in Hollywood was like for her, what role her faith and art play in her life, and, of course, what hosting the Met Gala was like.
My job forces me to be so overdressed sometimes that it has turned me away a little bit from being just so jazzed up, which is so unfortunate for my friends. … They're like, "We're going out," and I'm showing up with no makeup on, and the most glamorous thing I'm wearing is my wig. So I have to try to find balance in finding joy in getting dressed and being chill.
You've been working with stylist Mickey Freeman—how has your collaboration with them changed how you approach fashion?
I love Mickey so much because he takes me outside of my comfort zone. And he's such a fashion guy. I have style, and I like clothes, but I'm not necessarily a fashion girl, meaning I don't know history. I'm not into following what's on the runway. I'm not very knowledgeable on all those things. I just know what I like and what looks good to me. But I like that someone like Mickey Freeman is educated on those things and can allow me to play in that world and learn and stretch. I also had fun on the Who What Wear shoot trying different trends and new looks. I just love getting that knowledge about fashion from people who love it.
You've spoken about how it took a while for traditional publications to put you on the cover. For you, how do you think systems of power uphold unrealistic and exclusionary beauty expectations?
I think everything is so subjective. So many people that we are wanting to be represented are not necessarily in those positions of power. And for the people that are in those positions of power, it doesn't mean that their idea of beauty isn't valid in its own right. But it's just subjective. It's just one version of beauty, and that doesn't make it wrong. The problem is not having more of a diverse set of people being in power positions to express all those different perspectives. We can't just keep having the same people saying the same thing is beautiful. Do you know what I mean?
Even if we take out personal feelings and just on a consumer level, it's boring. So it's all about finding a place for people to share power, share the wealth, and build and then also trust the people you've brought in to share their viewpoints to do the work. … A lot of times, what happens when a lot of companies do decide to diversify their staff [is] they don't even give the people that are meant to be leaned on to bring in that new perspective enough power to really make a difference with it.
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Okay, we have to talk about you hosting the Met Gala. You made a stunning homage to Diana Ross with your incredible hair and that Sergio Hudson gown. What was that experience like for you?
It was cool. Obviously, the Met Gala comes with many pretenses—just like this is the Met Gala. So I was excited to be working and having the opportunity to talk because sometimes people don't know what they can do at these kinds of events, what to talk about, or what questions to ask. So much of the attention is on how you look and your image. And I think that can be a lot because many of us don't know what that is, and if we do know, we don't know if we're doing the right version of it. We're just trying to do our best, so I was thrilled I got to bring it down to earth and just really try to have fun.
Were there any looks or people you were just so blown away by that you met at the Met Gala?
Man, everybody's look was so interesting in its way. I think I love what Yara Shahidi was wearing. She looked so beautiful, and it was an ode to Josephine Baker. And then, I loved Lil Nas X's look. I just think he's so fabulous and extra.
Would you also say that your faith is an integral part of your life next to creating art and comedy?
I think so. … Even faith, at its core, is discipline. And I think, as human beings, we always got to keep some level of checks and balances because we can so easily go off the rails. … We're not like animals. Things aren't so literal for us. It's not just black and white. I think faith, for me, is the checks and balances of making sure that I stay on track and that I'm accountable as much as responsible as I can be to myself. So whether it's my prayers, meditating, journaling, it's my way of keeping my humanity in check and trying to stay aligned with the Spirit. It's also how I make thoughtful choices, understanding that I'm not going to be perfect but also being willing to have forgiveness within myself to move forward when I don't make the best decision.
We have to talk about you working with two Hollywood legends—Issa Rae for your role as Kira in Insecure and your new film Nope, directed by Jordan Peele, coming out later this year. What was that experience like for you to work with both of these directors?
Incredible. And they're both so different but so similar. One of the ways I would say they're so similar is that they are both very, very chill. And for both of them, I can relate to just their genuine, pure love for the arts. I can tell that the kind of people who get inspired by anything and use their experiences as resources for their art. And they're available to challenge dominant perspectives and give different narratives by telling their truths, which I think is such a vulnerable thing. But they both do it in their particular way. With Issa Rae, it's straight comedy, and with Jordan, [it's] elements of humor but also dark realities.
They're both just exceptional. They represent the era that we're in. I think it is very much the renaissance era, where the level of creation is coming out of such an intense space globally—from global warming to heightening racism to ageism, sexism, so many of the isms. The kind of art they're creating—where they're not turning their backs on what's happening (they're leaning into what's happening)—is revolutionary. And I think that is a courageous thing to do and not an easy thing to do artistically and still make something entertaining. So the fact that they're able to accomplish that, I think, is very representative of their genius.
Agreed. And I hate to be broad, but I think that's what makes Black people so beautiful. We're able to transform trauma and history into comedy. What does comedy mean for you in your own life?
It's exactly what you said. It is a way for me to escape. Growing up where I grew up, I didn't have a lot of money. Although I did have a pretty great childhood, even before I became an entertainer, there were still hardships. I went to a school, was the only Black kid in the class, and experienced poverty. So my parents' stress was often obviously projected in the household. They were doing the very best they could, but you can feel that as a child—when things are hard, when something's not right, or when you know there's trouble in the family dynamics someway, somehow. Whether it's extended or immediate, you can feel it. I've always been a very empathic person. I felt my job in my home was to try to make people happy, to bring joy to divert the attention from whatever is bothering you, to give you a moment of peace or fun. I always have been that person that used comedy as a way for me to escape but also to create a pathway for others to escape. So it just ended up continuing to transform and become what it is today. Comedy, for me, has always been a part of who I am.