CIARA: STAR BRIGHT
The hottest chick in the game right now, 23-year-old R&B superstar Ciara talks up her new album a storm while taking Pete Lewis on the ultimate ‘Fantasy Ride’.
Born Ciara Princess Harris in Austin, Texas in October 1985, with her father being a US Army sergeant Ciara grew up on military bases in Germany, New York, Utah, California, Arizona and Nevada - before, in her teens, finally settling with her family in Atlanta, Georgia. Inspired to pursue a music career after seeing Destiny’s Child perform on TV, she initially joined local girl-group Hearsay before being signed as a solo artist to legendary US music exec L.A. Reid’s LaFace Records in 2003.
Upon Ciara releasing her three-million-selling debut LP ‘Goodies’ in 2005, its title-track single instantly became a transatlantic pop chart-topper. Which - with its success coinciding with the height of popularity of the Southern hip hop sub-genre ‘crunk’ - immediately garnered her the title ‘The Princess Of Crunk’, due to it being produced by said genre’s self-proclaimed ‘King’, Lil Jon. With the album going on to provide two further international Top Five smashes (the Missy Elliot-featuring ‘1, 2 Step’ and Ludacris-featuring ‘Oh’), Ciara unquestionably ended up one of 2005’s biggest new R&B success stories. Which in turn resulted in her going on to receive four Grammy nominations - while additionally guesting on international hits for the likes of her then-boyfriend, rapper Bow Wow; plus the aforementioned Missy Elliott.
Having made her acting debut in the 2006 MTV coming-of-age film ‘All You’ve Got’, Ciara meanwhile in 2007 released her Platinum-certified sophomore album ‘The Evolution’. Which - lyrically reflecting her personal growth after two years in the public eye - eventually found her prestigiously winning ‘World’s Best Selling Female R&B Artist’ at the 2007 World Music Awards. With 2008 next seeing her guest on high-profile albums like rapper Nelly’s ‘Brass Knuckles’ and Latino heartthrob Enrique Iglesias’ ‘Greatest Hits’ (the current Top 20 single ‘Takin’ Back My Love), May 2009 has now finally found Ciara releasing her highly-anticipated third LP ‘Fantasy Ride’.
Having already spawned the uptempo international Top Five duet with Justin Timberlake ‘Love Sex Magic’, ‘Fantasy Ride’ additionally boasts guest appearances from Southern rappers Ludacris and Young Jeezy; R&B boys Chris Brown and The-Dream; plus long-time collaborator Missy Elliott. Its edgy musical moods meanwhile include the opera-tinged menace of ‘High Price’; the Eastern-flavoured swagger of ‘G Is For Girl’; the electronic Southern bounce of ‘Turntables’; and the provocative sexual vibe of ‘Like A Surgeon’.
A bubbly, super-professional, and totally-fabulous-looking Ciara talks 10-to-the-dozen to Pete Lewis about her music and fast-moving career, while fielding a hectic day of interviews within the plush confines of Kensington’s opulent Royal Garden Hotel.
PETE: Why have you titled your new album ‘Fantasy Ride’?
CIARA: “On a fantasy ride, anything can happen. It’s all about the fun, thrill and excitement of not knowing what’s coming next. And this is an album where I’m sharing the many different sides of me that I haven’t shared with my fans before, and also sharing my growth as a woman. You know, as a writer, a producer - and just creatively all-the-way-round - I’m really having fun experimenting and growing and learning so much. And I feel this record is just like a reflection of all that stuff in one.”
PETE: What’s the story behind the album’s artwork having its own comic book superhero theme?
CIARA: “I wanted my album artwork to be inspired by comic book illustrations. So for that I called on Bernard Chang, an amazing illustrator who’s previously done stuff for ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Wonder Woman’. Super C is the name of my comic book superhero character and, from a personal perspective, the way it relates to me is that it represents my INNER superhero. It’s basically just a symbolisation of my drive and ambition, and represents my courage as the woman I am today. So I’m kinda having a little fun with all that, being playful. But then the more serious message behind it is that I feel there’s a super-hero in ALL of us. It’s basically that strength that comes from within, that helps you push forward and do what you believe in.”
PETE: Do you feel the Super C character is reflected in any of the song lyrics on ‘Fantasy Ride’?
CIARA: “Absolutely! Because throughout this record I’m actually even more confident and aggressive than I’ve been in the past! I mean - if you’ve noticed - with some of my lyrics I’m really like going HARD! There’s some bad attitude going on with tracks like ‘High Price’ - which is very powerful and aggressive - and ‘Pucker Up’, where I have lyrics like ‘I’m aware of my supergirl swag/If you don’t like it you can KISS my swag’!... So yeah, I’m really being quite cocky on some of the songs, in a very fun and playful way. And that’s definitely the ‘Super C’ in me coming out!”
PETE: So what did you want to achieve musically this time around?
CIARA: “The ultimate goal was to make sure there was something on there for EVERYONE! I’d describe this record as the perfect combination of R&B, hip hop and pop all infused in one. To be honest, I do feel I’m sprinkling a little more of a poppier edge to my music this time. But, when the records DO get R&B, they get HEAVY R&B! Like I have a song called ‘Like A Surgeon’, which definitely caters to the super-hardcore R&B fans. But, at the same time, it also fits in with the rest of this record, in that it’s still very much a feel-good track. You know, as a body of work - when you listen to it from the beginning to the end - I feel the energy on this record is even more on the uptempo side than my PAST albums. I definitely wanted to get you dancing in a way I’ve never done before.”
PETE: And how did you come to select some of the big-name guests?
CIARA: “I’ll be honest. Before I started recording this album, I didn’t plan on having ANY features. But then a lot of my features started to happen organically as I was going along and recording and writing. You know, I just felt the artists that I called on were the perfect artists TO call on for those actual tracks. And also none of them feels like a person just coming on there putting in an appearance for the sake of it. Like even with ‘Love Sex Magic’, Justin (Timberlake) sings a little bit of the hook with me and THEN does his own verse. So it feels like we’re making a record TOGETHER! It doesn’t feel like ‘Oh, I’m just coming on to do a verse so my name is on there’. Plus with Missy (Elliott), because my fans loved the songs we’d done together before - ‘1, 2 Step’ and ‘Lose Control’ - I called her back so we could once again make the perfect party-starting record. And, on the song we’ve done this time (‘Work’), the two of us literally just partied together from the beginning to the end of the track!”
PETE: So what was the thinking behind bringing a thugged-out Southern rapper like Young Jeezy on board?
CIARA: “The fact he’s on there is one reason why I say the record is absolutely the perfect combination of R&B, hip hop and pop. Because I’ve taken an artist like Jeezy - who’s a very, VERY heavy representative of the street and hip hop in rap - and put him on a BALLAD, because I felt he would give me the edge that I NEEDED. Plus I also felt he’d represent for the GUYS on that track (‘Never Ever’), because it’s definitely a song for my WOMEN! It basically deals with something I’ve been talking about a lot with my girlfriends. Which is how a woman often holds on to the hope that a man will change his ways or become special. But the reality is that that doesn’t HAPPEN, and the relationship just gets dragged out.”
PETE: And what inspired the strikingly sensual video for ‘Love Sex Magic’, where you display some breathtaking dance moves?
CIARA: “Well, I was inspired by The Crazy Horse Show, in terms of the actual visuals. I first saw it in Vegas, and then just recently I was lucky enough to go to The Crazy Horse Show in Paris, which is the original. And that was like AWESOME! I felt like a big KID! ‘Cause I have so much respect for that show and its artistry. So, because I wanted to give my own ‘Love Sex Magic’ show, that became my visual reference. And for me it was so much fun making the video! You know, Justin (Timberlake) is one of the most easy-going, down-to-earth, hard-working and passionate artists you could ever work with. And, with both me and him, our goal was just to make the best video we could possibly MAKE together, and to give the fans something a little fun and a little unexpected.”
PETE: Do you feel growing up as an “army brat” - and living on military bases in Germany, New York, Utah, California and Arizona - has impacted on you personally?
CIARA: “From a personal perspective it certainly broadened the way I look at things. Because it helped me be able to adapt to different cultures, lifestyles, and pretty much ANYTHING. So in that way yes, I look at it as an experience that was very necessary in shaping me to become who I am today. Because, when you travel around, it’s like you look at life differently and everything is not so one-sided. And I would definitely advise anyone who hasn’t travelled outside of their own city or region, to go and visit as many places as you CAN. Because it really will broaden your outlook.”
PETE: And has that, in turn, given your music a more multi-cultural appeal?
CIARA: “Absolutely! Because, while I do feel it’s affected me personally more than anything else, there’s no question it’s also totally influenced my writing too! Because, when I’m working on a song, I find I’m able to put everything in perspective and keep EVERYONE in mind.”
PETE: How did you feel about being dubbed ‘The Princess Of Crunk” due to the musical flavour of your 2005 debut chart-topper ‘Goodies’?
CIARA: “Well, when I used to hear that definition, it did used to get to me. I definitely wasn’t crazy about that title, because I just felt there was so much more to my music than crunk! You know, there was only that one track - ‘Goodies’ - on my entire first album that was a genuine crunk record. And that was because it was produced by Lil Jon, who was officially known as ‘The King Of Crunk’! So that’s why I’ve made it my aim with this new record to show people how much more there is to me! It’s like the ultimate goal is to speak to every possible person in this world. For example, to me the song ‘Keep Dancin’ On Me’ is somewhat Euro-inspired in terms of the bigness of the track and the production. But, at the same time, it’s also a record I feel can reach out to EVERYONE. You know, as an artist I wanna go to every possible crack and crevice on this earth; I wanna go and meet every possible fan that I can possibly meet... And so I just wanna make music that can REFLECT that.”
PETE: So - as both a singer and dancer - what are your ideas on the current trend in US urban music towards Euro-dance-influenced, uptempo tracks?
CIARA: “I just feel music tends to somewhat recycle itself, and that we’ve kinda been here before - like back in the day, when Michael Jackson had records like ‘PYT’. It’s like we’re in a time period right now where fashion is starting to become really, really strong. And I feel that’s influencing the music, in that as artists we’re all expressing ourselves in a fun and creative way. You know, it’s like the fashion and the music are going hand-in-hand. Plus I think even the way the economy is changing is also playing a very important role in the tempo of the music right now. Because of all the drastic changes happening that could prove really tough, it’s like we all just wanna escape and have fun through the music. And that upbeat feel and energy definitely reflects that.”
PETE: “Can you tell me more about the new film you have coming out, ‘Mama, I Want To Sing!’ - which I understand is based on the off-Broadway musical?
CIARA: “Well, it’s a movie I filmed about two years ago that’s actually going straight to DVD. I don’t have a release date as of now. But what I can say is that I got the opportunity to work with Patti Labelle, Lynn Whitfield, Phil Harper, Billy Zane, and many OTHER talented actors and actresses. Basically the storyline revolves around the character I play going through the confusion of wanting to sing secular music while her mother is a televangelist. So you’ve kinda got the reality of me saying ‘Mama, I wanna SING! I wanna do what I aspire to DO! PLEASE let me live my DREAM!’ kinda thing... And I can definitely say that I have big plans to do a lot more television and films in the near future, So, while my ultimate and biggest priority right now is music - I have to do a lot of touring around this new album - I’m also hoping to do at least one or two more movies by the end of this year too.”
PETE: So what else is in the pipeline?
CIARA: “I’m going on tour next month with Britney (Spears). Which is something I’m really looking forward to, because I’m just really, honestly very proud of this new record. So I’m very excited about sharing the artist I’m becoming with my fans across the world. Plus I’ve definitely gotta say that I’m a HUGE fan of fashion! So, while I am taking my time, when the moment is right I do want to start my own affordable clothing line. Then modelling also has always been one of my major ambitions. I’ve always had aspirations to do a lot more stuff like walking on a runway and doing a lotta cool, edgy, stylistic photo-shoots... So yeah, I‘m definitely playing around with all those things a whole lot more right now, and like just really TAKING it there!”
Ciara supports Britney Spears at O2 Arena, London on June 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, and 14. Tickets available from www.aeglive.co.uk and the 24-Hour hotline: 0871 230 4422
Ciara’s album ‘Fantasy Ride’ and single ‘Love Sex Magic Featuring Justin Timberlake’ are both out now through LaFace Records
Words PETE LEWIS