When she arrived on the scene in 2004 as music mogul L.A. Reid’s newest protégée, Ciara was a sporty, urban alternative to the hot pink power flirts of the era, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. But after two underperforming releases—2010’s unfocused Basic Instinct debuted at a disappointing 44 on the Billboard chart and reportedly caused the singer’s acrimonious split with now defunct Jive Records—Ciara is hoping this new record will reconnect her to the fan base that took her early albums multi-platinum. Once again under Reid’s guidance, she’s now at Epic and hoping to avoid becoming another casualty of the rapid pop hype cycle that can turn a potential superstar into a Norma Desmond figure before the age of 30.
Born Ciara Princess Harris in Austin, Texas, the singer moved around a lot as a kid; her dad was in the military and her mom had been in the Air Force. The family eventually settled in Atlanta; that’s where Ciara went to high school and now lives after some time in LA. After she graduated high school, Reid discovered and signed her to LaFace records. In 2004, she launched her career with “Goodies,” a chastely flirtatious crunk track about saving yourself for the right guy. In the years that followed, Ciara became known as a reliable producer of decent radio singles (among others, her collaborations with Missy Elliot, “One, Two Step,” and Justin Timberlake, “Love Sex Magic”). Her signature became the mid-tempo club jam, bound to inspire enthusiastic grinding. But it was on MTV where Ciara was able to show off her most exceptional skill: dancing. She’s been nominated for several “Best Choreography” MTV Video Music Awards, and her video for 2010 single “Ride,” a collaboration with Ludacris, stands up as one of the most captivating clips of the last 10 years. While some of the video shows her writhing in a swimsuit and a fur coat, for the bulk of it she rolls her body around in an empty room wearing a sports bra and a ball cap. It’s compelling to watch, though, not just because it’s sexy but because it’s skillful. But in spite of her resume—touring with Jay-Z, modeling for Adidas, palling around with the Kardashians—and in part because of a legitimate lack of support from her former label, Jive, big fame continues to elude her.
Ciara, the singer says, is a new beginning. “Do I believe there was a disconnect creatively with the fans? And my vision—what I was hoping for? Absolutely,” she says of her last few albums, though she doesn’t get specific. “But again, you have to have those moments to know what to do and what not to do. This whole chapter where I am in my life—it’s about not running from my fears and the things that make me uncomfortable. It’s also about acknowledging the things that were wrong. I had a short break, but I plan to be here for a long time.” Two days after meeting at Quad Recording Studios, Ciara arrives at a Chelsea photo studio for this magazine’s cover shoot. She’s mostly hidden away in a back room with her makeup artist and hairstylist, but emerges every once in a while in a new outfit followed by Georgia, her mini-mini-schnauzer, and Tyson, her sandy-colored maltipoo, both in Louis Vuitton collars. Somewhere between plays of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne and Madonna’s Hard Candy (both Ciara’s requests), the door to the studio opens, and in walk two stone-faced bodyguards along with Ciara’s genial boyfriend, the rapper Future. He and Ciara have the same flashy smile, which Future displays around the room before slipping into the back to see his girl, leaving the delicious scent of good weed in his wake.
Though they’ve only been together a short time, Future is also from Atlanta, and it’s hard to imagine that isn’t part of Ciara’s motivation to move back home and reconnect—sonically and otherwise—with her roots. Musically, the rapper’s interest in exploring the fringes is already influencing Ciara’s sound. “Body Party,” the first single from her new album, is co-written by Future. It’s got the slow jam tempo and sensual feel of a classic Ciara track, but with more inventive production, and Future’s signature woozy Auto-Tuned vocals and ambient coos give the song a surreal vibe. The video is everything good about Ciara: racy, feminine and filled with mesmerizing dance sequences, including a scene in which Ciara, in lingerie and heels, gives Future a private show. It’s both sexy and weirdly old-fashioned, two adjectives that sum up Ciara’s general appeal.
my fears and the things that
make me uncomfortable. It’s also about acknowledging the things that were wrong.”
1. Video: Ciara, “Body Party” (2013)
2. Stream: Ciara, “Sweat” (2012)
3. FADER TV: Ciara Live (2011)
4. Ciara Wants Free from Major Label Energy Suck (2011)
5. Celebrating Ciara’s 2010 (2010)
6. Download: Ciara, “Deuces (Nguzunguzu and Dubbel Dutch Remixes)” (2010)
7. Download: Ciara f. The-Dream, “Speechless” (2010)