Ciara: Killer instincts
Having scored one of 2009’s major worldwide hits with the Justin Timberlake-featuring ‘Love Sex Magic’, 24-year-old US R&B superstar Ciara this month returns with her new, compellingly sexual single ‘Ride’. Which - featuring Atlanta rap icon Ludacris - precedes the August release of her highly-anticipated fourth LP ‘Basic Instinct’.
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. Indeed, with the album going on to provide two further international Top Five smashes (the Missy-Elliott-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.
Going on to make 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. Meanwhile, with 2008 next seeing her guest on high-profile albums like rapper Nelly’s ‘Brass Knuckles’ and Latino hearthrob Enrique Iglesias’ ‘Greatest Hits’ (the international Top 20 single ‘Takin’ Back My Love’), May 2009 finally found Ciara releasing her much-delayed third LP ‘Fantasy Ride’. Which - despite spawning the uptempo international Top Five duet with Justin Timberlake ‘Love Sex Magic’ (and providing Ciara with her first UK Top Ten album) - nevertheless disappointingly ended up selling significantly less overall than its two predecessors.
… All of which ultimately brings us bang-up-to-date, with an undeterred and ever-bubbly Ciara happily reacquainting herself with Pete Lewis. As she proceeds to talk up her new single and forthcoming album a storm, while at the same time also enthusing about her rapidly-rising parallel career in fashion modelling.
Collaborating once more with Atlanta rap superstar Ludacris on her new single ‘Ride’
“This is actually my third time on-record with him. And basically what happened was, when the track was complete, me and my team were all sitting down talking - and a couple of us were like ‘It would be great to put Luda on the record!’!... So we called him up right away - and that’s pretty much how he got INVOLVED! I mean, whenever I’ve called for Ludacris I’ve never thought of any other rapper but him for the record - and this time was no DIFFERENT! I just didn’t feel anybody else could deliver on the record the way that Luda could! And I think he did an amazing job! It was like he brought a kinda extra, cool flavour to the track.”
The steamy, Diane Martel-directed video that accompanies ‘Ride’ - in which Ciara has been described as “employing every exaggeratedly-sexual dance move in the book”!
“Basically it was very important for me to make this video an intimate experience for my fans. Which is why I didn’t have smoke and mirrors - you know, it wasn’t about a whole lotta production. Instead I performed it by MYSELF - which in itself was really, really fun and very different for me. Because I’m used to having dancers, or people in general, on-screen WITH me. Plus we also thought it was important that I dance from top to bottom. You know, that was kinda the really, really big mission for the video - and so we just really WENT for it! I gave it everything that I COULD! And so I’m very, very proud of it. It’s actually one of my most favourite videos to date.”
How Ciara feels about the ‘Ride’ video being banned by BET in the US due to its “racy content”(!)
“Well, it’s definitely an unfortunate situation. Because in a perfect world I’d love for my video to play on ALL networks! But at the same time it doesn’t make me think any less of my video itself. And of course the cool thing about this day-and-time is that there are now many OTHER media platforms - like the internet - to watch videos on. So, even if my fans aren’t allowed to see it on certain channels, they can still view it elsewhere.”
Her new album’s title, ‘Basic Instinct’
“’Basic Instinct’ is really about me trusting my instinct and going back to the R&B/urban basics in my music - like where I first started, in the days of ‘Goodies’, ‘1, 2 Step’, ‘Oh’, and all those records. Plus for me as a title it also represents how lately I’ve been trusting my first instinct on EVERYTHING - whether it be my music, love, whatever.”
How Ciara breaks down her new LP musically and lyrically
“It’s always important to me that, when people listen to my music, they can DANCE. So, even with some of the slower records on this album, it’s still all about really feeling good. It’s almost like you can’t listen to Track Two without listening to Track One, and you can’t listen to Track Three without listening to Track Two... You know, you’re gonna want to listen to it from beginning to END! Because this album for me was all about my fans, and giving them what they want. Then lyrically, I have to say I’m way more confident than I’ve EVER been! I mean, I definitely have an attitude on this record - but in a very fun way. Because, more than anything it’s really about ENJOYING life. And the main message for me is about being confident in whatever it is that you believe in - because that was a big step for me TOO. You know, though my confidence has definitely been growing and getting stronger over the years, on this album I feel I was WAY more clear about everything I wanted to do.”
Her studio collaborators on ‘Basic Instinct’
“I executive-produced this record with Tricky (Stewart) and The-Dream, and I pretty much worked with them on mostly everything. Basically the core of ‘Basic Instinct’, and the overall shape of it, came just from myself, Tricky and Dream. And the reason I wanted to work with them is because I feel their work together is AMAZING. You know, Tricky is a very seasoned producer. And what I especially like about him is, I can spend a lotta time telling him my vision and the goals that I wanna accomplish, and I know he’s gonna take the time and put in every effort to make it WORK. Plus I’ve been knowing him for years - I used to work in his studio as a really young writer - and so it’s long overdue for us to be working together the way we are now. Then the reason I wanted Dream to come along as well is because I think he’s an amazing WRITER. I mean, I’ve always been heavily involved in my writing. So it was really important for me that my records didn’t feel monotonous, in reference to what I’ve been doing in the past. You know, while I am taking it back to basics, I still wanna show the GROWTH. So in that light it was essential to have another person to come in and give me another cool angle in terms of the actual writing too. So between, them I just felt Tricky and Dream were the perfect team for me right now.”
How Ciara now feels about her last album - 2009’s ‘Fantasy Ride’ - falling way short sales-wise of its two multi-million-selling predecessors
“You know what? That was a great experience for me, to be honest with you, Because I feel like, when moments like that happen, you get to LEARN a lot. And, even though my numbers may not have been as high as they’d been on my other records, in many ways it was still a successful project for ME. Because I was able to travel around the world, I was able to have cool moments like (the Justin Timberlake-featuring global hit single) ‘Love Sex Magic’... Also I’m very proud MUSICALLY of my work on there too. Because, even if you pick up that album today and just listen to it, you’ll hear there are some really amazing records on there! Plus coming off the experience of that record to making my new one, I’ve found myself at the most extreme creative-wise that I’ve EVER been! So, as I say, I do look back at the whole experience as a really great one for me. Because I learnt so much FROM it and a lotta things happened AROUND it - like making a lotta changes to my team.”
Whether Ciara feels her early life growing up as an “army brat” - and living on military bases in Germany, New York, Utah, California and Arizona - has impacted on her personally
“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.”
Whether she feels it’s given her music a more multi-cultural appeal
“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.”
Ciara’s rising career in modelling, which has - after signing a multi-million-dollar deal with the agency Wilhelmina Models - recently seen her do prestigious photo-shoots for both the German and French editions of ‘Vogue’
“Modelling for me has been really fun, because it’s something that’s always been a big dream of mine. You know, I’ve always wanted to do stuff like walking on a runway and doing a lotta cool, edgy stylistic photo-shoots. And so to now be able to express myself in that way has been the coolest thing EVER! Because, though in my career as an artist and entertainer, I do of course get the opportunity do DO photo-shoots, things like my most recent experience in French ‘Vogue’ with my good friend Ricardo Tisci and Givenchy, for example, are just totally different from what I do in my MUSIC world. You know, I’m like a big kid when it comes to that part of my career, because it’s still so fresh for me. I basically look at it as an exciting journey, an exciting moment that I’m just so happy to be able to experience, to add to all the things that I ALREADY do.”
Her plans for establishing her own clothing line
“I’m a HUGE fan of fashion. So, while I am taking my time, when the moment is right I do definitely want to start my own clothing line. And, while I don’t have an exact idea of the way I’d like to go creatively, I do definitely want to put a bit of MYSELF into it. You know, I’d want for my clothes to be a reflection of who I am and what I represent. And, while I don’t know at this point exactly what the pieces will look like, I do know that the most important thing for me is that it’s AFFORDABLE.”
Ciara’s single ‘Ride Featuring Ludacris’ is released July 4. Her album ‘Basic Instinct’ follows on August 23, both through LaFace Records/Jive
Words PETE LEWIS