There comes a point in an artist’s career where he or she reinvents themselves in some way. For Keyshia Cole, that time came for her third studio album A Different Me, which released on December 16, 2008.
After avoiding the sophomore jinx with Just Like You, which earned her platinum success on top of a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album, Cole was ready for a brand refresh, which included changes to her image and music. In years prior, Cole was known as the around-the-way girl from Oakland, Calif. who was often compared to artists like Mary J. Blige.
For her new era, Cole decided to showcase another side of her that was never before seen by fans — her sexy side. To help her improve her physique, Cole made it a priority to follow a strict workout plan that included lifting weights, among other athletics. While she was known for her flaming red and orange hair, she chose a more moderate hair color and style. In the words of Cardi B today, she also got a bag and fixed her teeth — getting rid of her signature gap that her fans adored. Although she never wanted her looks to overshadow her music, she still felt it was important to step outside of her box.
“I haven’t always felt sexy in my life and I’ve never wanted to base my career on physical appearance and being sexy,” she told East Bay Times in a 2008 interview. “I’ve worked hard to establish myself as a legitimate singer-songwriter. But now I’m here and hopefully it’s not a dead-end street.”
Cole’s sexy new look would also translate through the music on A Different Me. On the album’s intro track, she clearly states her intentions. “I would like to introduce a sexier side of me,” she whispers in an alluring voice. The intro is certainly much different than what fans were used on the opening track for The Way It Is and Just Like You, which were both kiss-off records. After setting the tone with the “A Different Me (Intro),” Cole keeps the theme going with “Make Me Over,” which interpolates Tina Turner’s “Tina’s Wish” from the What’s Love Got to Do with It soundtrack. “Make me over / I wanna look nice now / I wanna look real pretty / I wanna look jazzy,” she sings on the Polow Da Don and Ron Fair-produced track.
Continuing on throughout the album, Cole shines a light on the good side of love. Instead of focusing on heartbreak and pain, she takes an open-minded approach. “It’s a different me this time: a young woman who’s still growing and finding myself, exploring life through different routes musically and in other areas,” she told Billboard a little over a month before releasing A Different Me. “I wrote more about other people’s situations than my own. I’m moving forward.”
By changing her mindset, Cole proved that she wasn’t a one-dimensional artist and that there was more to her music than what we were aware of. She made us dance with uptempo cuts like “Make Me Over“ and “Please Don’t Stop.” She demonstrated her matured vocal skills on her Monica-assisted duet “Trust.” She incorporated other genres like country (“This Is Us”) and disco (“Beautiful Music”), which proved she had crossover appeal. She even made soundtracks for the bedroom (“Erotic” and “Brand New”). Lastly, she gave us hope that a broken heart could be mended (“You Complete Me” and “Where This Love Could End Up”).
Cole’s new direction would soon pay off, too. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with 322,000 copies sold the first week, which was about 40,000 more than Just Like You sold in its opening week. Cole also added to her streak of top 10 singles, scoring three on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart.
Looking back at A Different Me ten years later, despite its moderate success, it is still one of Cole’s most underrated and underappreciated works to date. Even though most of Cole’s fans will rank her first two albums above A Different Me (since it reminds them of the “old Keyshia Cole” that helped them through heartbreak) you have to respect her for breaking a mold that she was once in and wanting to show growth as an artist.