Welcome to The Drop, Refinery29's new home for exclusive music video premieres. We want to shine the spotlight on women artists whose music inspires, excites, and (literally) moves us. This is where we'll champion their voices.
Shea Diamond cannot be denied. The Arkansas native, speaking on the phone to Refinery29, is excited, nervous, and forceful. It’s not often a musical newcomer — Diamond has released music before, but this will be her first release with Asylum records — is already so seasoned. Prior to her musical career, Diamond spent ten years in prison for a minor crime. She also tells me that, prior to recording her upcoming EP, she emerged from a harrowing relationship, one where her partner routinely complained about the color of her skin. She carries this experience into her song “Keisha Complexion,” but the song is not burdened by it.
"You know, we don't get these affirmations from society, telling us that we're beautiful being dark," Diamond explains. She hopes her music can fill that void.
“Keisha Complexion” is a joyous ode to Diamond’s own dark complexion. It grinds, it flirts, and it celebrates. Diamond calls it "grooving and being an ally at the same time." In the video, which debuts today exclusively with Refinery29, Diamond is playful. She frequently clutches the pearls around her neck (this corresponds to a lyric) and gasps, looking coyly at the camera. She is the object of affection in the video, a spot Diamond wants to occupy symbolically for all the dark-skinned women who've been made to feel they don't deserve it.
In advance of her upcoming EP release, Refinery29 spoke to Diamond about breakups, hitmaker Justin Tranter, and why on earth her video stars a massive German shepherd. Diamond's debut EP, Seen It All, will debut on June 29, 2017.
Refinery29: Tell me about the inspiration behind "Keisha Complexion."
Shea Diamond: "The inspiration behind 'Keisha Complexion' is we live in a climate where we are still living with colorism. And the darker you are on the totem pole, the less beautiful you're considered. "Keisha Complexion" is a revamp — it's like doing reconstruction on the word "ebony complexion" adding an ethnic name to it, Keisha. You don't see Keisha on TV. You don't see Keisha as being sexy. We're doing this and making the trans beautiful and sexy. Making trans seem desirable. Making dark skin sexy and desirable, and that being alright. So "Keisha Complexion" is very powerful for women, and women who are marginalized."
This is your first collaboration with Justin Tranter, right?
"Yes, this is the first Justin collaboration."
How did you get involved with Justin? Did he reach out to you?
"Well, he reached out to me, which is amazing. I had just gotten through this divorce — okay. So, 'Keisha Complexion' is very complicated. I was in a relationship where a guy thought I was beautiful, but he thought I should have been lighter. He did a number on me and my psyche, telling me that he preferred lighter women. He told me all I was was a pretty face. I decided after that that I wouldn't allow anybody to rob me of knowing that I'm beautiful. We allow people to rob us of the fact that we are beautiful. This song is honoring the mother of everything. This is the strong coffee you're gonna get without any cappuccino. This is pure coffee. It's just coming to you in a pretty way, wrapped up in a bow. [The video] shows this guy being attracted to her, not in spite of her dark skin, but because she's dark-skinned. That message is powerful alone."
Yes, it's also really fun and lighthearted.
"It is! It's so super fun. But it has this political agenda in mind. You're grooving and being an ally at the same time."
Did you work with a choreographer for the video?
"A choreographer did come on board, and there were dancers. I wanted to — at first, my vision was, I wanted to have the representation of all these [dark-skinned] women. But then I thought, 'Well, the whole thing is to let people know that we're desired as well, so why not have it all men in the video?' And center it around this one [girl]. For this particular video, I wanted it to be nice and romantic. I wanted it to be real. I wanted it to be: He was desiring her and seeing her as a star and as somebody on television even though she has curlers in her hair. She's very underplayed, but he sees her as beautiful."
Can I ask why the giant German shepherd is in the video? "
"Oh, that was not a play on 'being a dog' or anything. The first video showed my cat. I have a special relationship with Rusty [the dog], who's a sweet dog. He just so happens to be Justin's dog. Rusty's amazing. He's a rescue. We have a amazing relationship, and I thought it would be super powerful to have this huge dog in the video. It gave the shoot a very soulful feel, having Rusty in it. And he's was prepared! I know he did this before — I'm not sure his background — but he literally went to the green screen and everything. He literally wanted to be in it. He was a part of it."
This interview has been edited for style and length.
Watch the full video for "Keisha Complexion," below.