Fergie: Everybody has choices ... I just made bad ones
After battling demons and separating from her husband, Fergie has a new album out this week. She tells Craig McLean how a date with Kim Kardashian inspired her comeback
As with so many things in these end-of-days times, it started with a Kardashian. "Kim and I were on a playdate at her house," begins Fergie, super-casually, by way of explaining how one of the first tracks on her new solo album came into being. The sometime Black Eyed Peas' singer's son Axl, now four, was hanging out with Kim and Kanye West's daughter North, also four. While the toddlers were playing with wifi-enabled Gucci Lego or whatever future-chic nuttiness goes on in Kimye's Bel-Air romper room, the voice of 2005's hit ditty My Humps was silently plotting.
"I was letting her hear some (of my) music while we were eating dinner. And I thought, 'Hmm, Kim's definitely got that MILF vibe going on here - among a lot of other things'," she laughs.
The Californian-born Stacy Ann Ferguson has never been one to publicly forswear her past, notably her issues with drugs. Few thoughts go unshared. "I've had a lot of fun with women and I'm not ashamed of it," went Fergie's declaration of bisexuality in 2009, the year she married actor Josh Duhamel (Transformers: The Last Knight). Some things, however, remain more private. Despite Fergie flashing her mighty wedding ring when we meet, a week after our interview the couple announce their separation.
Anyway. Fergie wasn't sizing up Kim over the gazpacho for reasons of impropriety. The eight-times-Grammy-winning, multi-million-selling dynamo had a concept in mind for a new song. It was all part of the journey of her adult life. It's a pop picaresque that began with teen girl group Wild Orchid, collapsed into crystal meth addiction, rebooted when she joined the Peas in 2003 and is now chronicled in an ambitious, expressive, R&B/hip hop/dance spectacular, Double Dutchess, the follow-up to 2006's The Dutchess (that extra "t" inserted in case anyone might mistake her for the actual Duchess called Fergie). She describes it as "my life. This album is like a photo album".
"There is something about being a mom where it's flattering to be called a MILF," she continues, referring to a moniker some might view as rather crude.
"But I thought: how can I do this in a way where people don't have to feel they're not supposed to say it? So I came up with 'Moms I'd Like To Follow', because of social networking and all that. Even though of course I ended up making a video that's so wrong it's right, in my eyes," she grins. "It's completely un-PC."
The video for the M.I.L.F. $ single was shot in gaudy Fifties suburbia style, and stars a bevy of suggestively clad A-listers. The hunky, perspiring milkman doesn't know what to do with himself as various mommie-hotties pout and pose in lingerie outside their lovely homes.
"Through Kim, Chrissy (Teigen) got on board," she says of the model/TV presenter and wife of singer John Legend. "Then it was like a ripple effect - all these fashion girls and supermodels such as Amber Valletta and Devon Aoki, all these amazing women of all shapes and sizes, just agreed to do it. Everyone was game. And every girl nailed it - they were in their element and just giving it fierceness."
The colourful shots of her squad in the spa, having their nails done and receiving massages, were, she insists, about self-expression and tongue-in-cheek larks. She won't be drawn on her thoughts of women's rights under Donald Trump ("I don't think anyone really cares about my political views"), instead preferring to focus on day-to-day challenges.
"I'm a firm believer in moms getting to go out once in a while and having fun. It makes you a better mom because you come back refreshed. In this world of mommy shaming, ageism, fear of being relevant and all that," she says. As a 42-year-old who's releasing her second solo album 11 years after her first she believes "that sometimes you just got to have a laugh with things".
"And treats are important," she continues. "Because we work really hard, especially career moms. I'm very lucky that I can afford to get my nails done because I'd bite them if I didn't."
All taut abs, teeth and hair, Fergie has blown into a small DJ booth at New York radio station Hot 97. In town from Los Angeles to promote Double Dutchess and the accompanying visual album "experience" Seeing Double, she instantly fills the room, the energetic paragon of the modern brand whirlwind with her five perfumes, shoe line (Fergie Footwear) and vineyard (Ferguson Crest, run by her dad).
She's rocking black Tom Ford heels and a black Gucci tracksuit, Jeremy Scott-for-Moschino gold knuckleduster and fistfuls of glittering rings.
She looks fit and sounds fierce and pronounces herself more than ready to get back in the pop ring six years after the Black Eyed Peas went on "hiatus" after a world tour in support of their album The Beginning. She works out as often as she can and "absolutely" sees a therapist.
"She's a real therapist but does hypnotherapy on top of that, which was an added bonus. Although I didn't believe in it when I first met her - 'Meh, that's not gonna work for me,'" she shrugs. But it did and it does: Fergie asked for some hypno-help with food issues.
"Sometimes I'll ask her to put in a little bit of that, because I'll be obsessing over fast food. And I just to have to stop thinking about it so much," she says speedily. And it works? "It's very subtle. Nothing happens overnight. It's that really hard work that you have to do step by step that really makes a difference."
For Fergie, then, preparing for her comeback has meant getting both physically and mentally fit.
"Oh, absolutely. And you have little vices like this to keep you going," she says, thrusting a freshly sucked watermelon lollipop in my direction. "Would you like one?"
Double Dutchess features a couple of killer club tracks produced by her Peas bandmate will.i.am, Like It Ain't Nuttin' and You Already Knew. The latter is a brilliantly full-on duet with Nicki Minaj, and comes with a booty-quaking video.
"Oh my God," she says breathily. "I could never compare with her bum, as you guys call it. That's a beautiful shape right there. Mine is still round but a different size. I wish I had more. I wish she would share. But I worked what I got," she winks.
The standout is a triumphant song called A Little Work. On Double Dutchess: Seeing Double it's been turned into a 12-minute short film by acclaimed director Jonas Akerlund (Madonna's Ray Of Light). "We're all just a little bit broken," sings Fergie. "We all can use a little work."
In an interview for Akerlund's cameras, Fergie recalls a time walking on LA's Wilshire Boulevard, screaming and "seeing devils everywhere". No, she says quietly, that wasn't scripted.
"No, that happened. I'm very open about what I call my 'dark period'," she says, lowering her voice theatrically. "I went into a church and had this epiphany. It was a crossroads. The drugs that I was taking were making me insane. I was definitely seeing things and talking to them."
But all that's behind her, the ghosts exorcised by a cathartic power ballad in which Fergie busts a lung like her life depended on it. Pointedly, the final frame in Akerlund's film is one neon word: Revelation.
"The last book in the Bible. I did a whole report paper in catechism," says this woman raised in a devout Catholic household. "In the song I was thinking about a holy war. And possibly the reason my brain went there when my wires got crossed and I was thinking in a parallel universe and fighting with a bush and talking to a hamper," she says, referring to a couple of comical-sounding but clearly dark drug-induced episodes, "is because I read Revelations so closely. It's very trippy."
Still, it wasn't the first choice for last word. Akerlund originally went for "Resurrection".
"But that's one of the words Beyonce used in Lemonade. This was done so long ago, before (she did) that," Fergie clarifies. "But now she used that word. That happens," she notes with a sanguine pout.
"But that's fine, it just means you're in tune with the zeitgeist and the universe."
Double Dutchess and Double Dutchess: Seeing Double are released on September 22