ciara's back with a new single so we're celebrating her greatest hits
With a new album on the horizon, i-D celebrates R&B’s largely unsung hero, Ciara…
Last night saw the return of Ciara Princess Harris, aka Ciara, aka one of music's last remaining triple threats (singer-actress-model - she starred in 2012 Adam Sandler comedy vehicle That's My Boy, as you well know). Rather than burst out of the traps with a futuristic R&B banger or a silk-soft sex jam, she's shared the late 90s-esque I Bet, a simple, low-slung composition that puts sole focus on the lyrics. And for good reason because - and perhaps I'm leaping to all the wrong conclusions here -I think it might touch ever so slightly on her recent breakup with vocal effects ambassador Future. Maybe. Possibly.
There are some hints in there, see if you can spot them. Those faux Future backing vocals are a nice touch, aren't they? Obviously there will be ludicrous bangers on the horizon - apparently the album, rumoured to be called Jackie, features production from the likes of Dr. Luke and Mike WiLL Made It - but for now let's have a look at some of Ciara's best musical moments from the last eleven years or so…
Like A Boy
Over a year before Beyoncé's role-reversal anthem If I Were A Boy, Ciara unleashed her own self-proclaimed "female-empowerment record". While Beyoncé let her anger simmer slightly, Ciara goes full on batshit; that breathless vocal delivery percolating nicely over dramatic synthesised strings, chest-pounding beats and the general air of wide-eyed mania. In fact, by the song's final minute or so Ciara's spewing out so many questions at some rightfully defeated loser you imagine the line "left the loo seat up, would you like that?" was only cut at the last minute. Also, the identity skewering video is amazing, topped off with one of Ciara's main assets - the ludicrous dance break.
Produced by Mike WiLL Made It, co-written alongside then boyfriend Future and sampling R&B classic My Boo, the cashmere soft, almost illegally horny Body Party showcases that which makes Ciara so special. Like Janet Jackson, Ciara manages to squeeze every ounce out of her voice's whispery top range, cascading down the song's meticulously paced chorus, adding character to a song that in anyone else's hands might have descended into the kind of sex jam that feels almost intrusive to listen to. Basically, Body Party is for everyone, which sort of makes it sound like the soundtrack to group masturbation but hey, whatever floats your boat.
Oh Ft. Ludacris
Obviously Ciara's debut album Goodies is a treasure trove of mid-naughties 'Crunk&B', and the title track holds a special place in my heart for announcing her to the world in the first place. But it's the album's third single and Atlanta anthem Oh that seems to have dated better. "Round here we riding slow" Ciara coos over the sort of beat that seems to have been made specifically for cars to bounce to in the video. Again, it's all about that voice which glides over the top of the beat like a silk scarf over metal spikes. Altogether now: "Ciara got that fire like oh...oh".
You get the feeling Ciara could perform a dance routine to the sound of a kettle boiling. Obviously she can dance like her limbs are broken to a massive banger, but she can also 'drop it low' to a mid-paced sex jam as the video for this 2006 single shows. You want props? Fine, there's a bit where she seems to levitate while doing something unspeakable to a mic stand. As for the song, it's one of those that seems to completely engulf you; Ciara's orgasmic vocal multi-layered over dripping synths, bed-rattling beats and the general whiff of forthcoming bedroom Olympics.
Yes we know Ciara can do husky, breathy and ride the beat like a rapper when she needs to, but on the ludicrously-ignored Sorry (it was meant to be on the One Woman Army album that never happened), she proves she can also do heart-wrenching. Showcasing that slightly manic side again, there's a bit where she sings, "You walked away and I walked away and we should have stayed, baby" with her voice cracking at just the right moment. As if to prove how sad it all is she cries in the video, but that might just be because her boyfriend's sat on the loo while she's in the bath and frankly no one needs that. Also, who else dances in the video for a break-up ballad? Amazing.
I'm Out Ft. Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj appears twice on Ciara's self-titled 2013 album, unnecessarily interrupting the effortless Livin' It Up and spitting pure fire on the opening I'm Out. Dealing with the best way to move on from a broken relationship - basically if you see him with another woman who's less attractive than yourself, then tell him - Ciara lets Nicki rip the guy a new bumhole, before she then has some words of wisdom for his new paramore: "Now which bitch want it? 'Cause that bitch get it, I gave him to you bitch. Don't fucking forget it". Obviously Ciara holds her own, prowling about like a scorned woman but never playing the victim: "See, I found out he was my problem (Ooh yeah-yeah-yeah), Tonight I came out here to solve him".
Basic Instinct (U Got Me)
Apart from vegetarians, who doesn't enjoy a bit of beef? The brilliantly OTT (it samples Eye Of The Tiger for goodness sake!) Basic Instinct (U Got Me) is apparently in response to Keri Hilson's Turning Me On remix, which of course was read as a diss to both CiCi and Beyoncé. Referencing Hilson's remix of Turn My Swag On in the lyrics ("See I was out buying Chanel bags, While I was doing that you turned up your swag, you got me"), it's refreshing to hear Ciara go on the attack but there's also the underlying sense that she knows she let things slide. She's humble, you see. Unfortunately the album this song opens, Basic Instinct, was Ciara's least successful to date, which didn't exactly help matters. While she spits the words out like bullets for the majority of the song, it switches suddenly in the final third as she softly lilts, "I should have listened to myself before I let you win". I don't think she's talking about Keri here, let's be honest.
Wake Up, No Makeup
Another collaboration with both Mike WiLL Made It and Future, Wake Up, No Makeup is possibly the most experimental thing Ciara's attempted. Vocally it covers every Ciara timbre; the first verse is basically her rapping, the pre-chorus is deliciously sensual and breathy, while the half-chorus is a chant put through a robotic filter. Every gap in the production is filled with some sort of vocal tick, while Mike WiLL Made It opens up his production suitcase and empties it everywhere, spilling haunting choral chants, distant bell sounds, massive bowel-rupturing bass drops and the sort of metallic, clanking beats that have become his trademark. It's an odd curio, but once again shows the versatility of an artist who seems to be ignored by far too many people.
Text Michael Cragg
Photography Shaniqwa Jarvis
Styling Damian Collins
[The P.Y.T Issue, No. 302, Pre-Fall 2009]