Despite a struggling chart profile, Ciara remains optimistic: 'I’m in this for the long run'
On the eve of the release of her fourth album, Ciara stood attentive, watching her choreographer run through moves for a planned performance of her single “Gimmie Dat.” It was well after midnight when the songstress arrived at a rehearsal studio in Burbank. She’d just flown in from filming promotional appearances in New York, and without time to shake off any jet lag, she joined in with the army of dancers awaiting her.
Though in later conversation, the 25-year-old was steadfast in her optimism, there is a lot riding on “Basic Instinct.”
Her offering on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” -- for which she was prepping -- and later in the week, “Lopez Tonight,” would be the first time fans saw televised performances for the album that hit stores the same day of her planned Ellen spot –- and they were already buzzing about the seeming lack of promotion.
And after a revolving door of release dates and a slew of poorly received leaked tracks –- paired with the underwhelming reception of the albums’ predecessor, “Fantasy Ride,” excitement, and patience, seemed to be waivering among her fans on popular urban music blogs.
“Even though ‘Fantasy Ride’ didn’t sell as much records as all my other albums, you have to recognize the time that we’re in. We’re in a time where records don’t perform as strong as they used to,” she said after wrapping “Lopez Tonight” a few nights later. “However, I’m very proud of that album … but creatively, I wanted to go back and throw my sneakers back on. The inspiration was really about taking it back to basics, to where I first started. I wanted to make sure my core, core fans got to connect with me. But it doesn’t mean [‘Fantasy Ride’] was wrong, or it wasn’t good.”
“Basic Instinct” sees the singer return to the team that crafted “Fantasy Ride,” The-Dream and Tricky Stewart. The album is chock full of the seductive dance floor jams that have been a staple through her career. Though she doesn’t have the big voice of Beyoncé or other R&B divas or the pop prowess of Rihanna, Ciara has always held her own, being able to outdance the big boys while maintaining a purring femininity.
But when she traded in her high octane footwork for the sensual bump and grind of the album's first single, “Ride,” not only did the steamy video -- which features a soaking wet romp on a mechanical bull -- get tongues wagging, but it also subsequently was banned from BET. To date, the Ludacris-assisted clip has logged more than 18.5 million views on YouTube.
“To be honest, I was very happy with the overall reaction to the record, because, you know, one thing that I’ve taken pride with is being able to do something that may not be expected. I think people were expecting me to do [dance] records, and it was fun to switch it up,” she said. “The tempo, the production, it is very distinctive. It’s very aggressive. It felt good that the world embraced it. The views are still going on YouTube. I’m getting a lot of love from it even though it got banned on BET … thank God for new media.”
“When the video got banned, it was definitely unfortunate for me. The core of my music is R&B, and there is a pop element that’s added, but that’s the core of who I am, so when BET banned it, that was really unfortunate because that’s one of the biggest platforms that plays urban music. At the same time, it brought a lot of attention to the video, so it was like a positive too.”
The album debuted to weak reviews -- The Times gave the disc 1½ stars -- and even weaker sales, it landed at the No. 43 spot on Billboard 200’s chart, having sold about 38,000 units, making it her first to not debut in the top three. When pressed, her mind doesn’t appear to be focused on the charts.
“When you think about first week [sales] and performance, you don’t really think about that because I’m in this for the long run,” she points out. “I’m in this to build a brand, I’m in this to one day hopefully be known as a solid touring act. That’s the ultimate goal, and there are so many other factors that you have to put into play when it comes to being an artist. And it allows me to be in a positive place.”
Ciara is quite aware of the rumblings about the project. She gets humble and confesses what bloggers had been murmuring about the album’s opening track, "Basic Instinct (U Got Me):" "I was on the red carpet when I shoulda been in the studio laying down hot [stuff]."
She admits with a laugh that she is currently ignoring the gossip.
“You know what? Its so funny. [I’m doing] an Internet fast where I don’t see what exactly is being said when it comes time to promo because I am just getting started,” she said. “And a lot of things that happen behind the scenes, honestly, one day I’ll be able to share with my fans that I don’t necessarily say. However, I do hear what my fans say and it's exciting to know I have a solid fan base and it's exciting to have people that rock with me, no matter what.”
As to any rumors of label disputes holding up the album's release and promotion, she remains circumspect.
“I did see a few comments and I said, 'You know what? I one day look forward to being able to share with my fans (things that happen).' Right now, this is about living in a world of possibility and doing my best,” she maintains. “Getting the record out there, I just want my fans to hear it. This album is really for my fans, and it's good to know the energy and the feedback has been great. It really is just the beginning.”
With the clock approaching 1:30 a.m., she wanted to run through one more time, before everyone departed. As the lyrics “I've been gone for too long, think it's time I bring it back” filled the studio, she stomped her feet and pushed further, flinging her bone-straight hair over her shoulder and hitting every mark as her production team, including creative director Kim Burse, nodded in approval.
“Did you see that?” Burse boasted when the run-through was completed. “That’s how you know she’s a superstar.”
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photos: Ciara. Credit: Jive Records.