Here recently, I’ve been asked a few times to do a “Curious Case of” career analysis article on R&B/dance artist Ciara, whose been putting out records for almost a decade, but seems to have declining success. I can describe shortly what I think has caused this arguable decline, so I’ve opted to do a “Rock&Rant” instead. Caught in the wave of hip-hop’s major infiltration into R&B and the Billboard Top 40, Ciara came to us donned the “Princess of Crunk N’ B” in 2004 with the smash hit “Goodies.” Crunk N’ B was an R&B-influenced off-shoot from the rap sub-genre, Crunk. One would think being the face of a new genus would give Ciara a head-start on a lengthy and flourishing career, but this was the first nail in the coffin. Crunk itself had a short shelf-life in mainstream music; therefore, any of its by-products would go down with it, leaving Ciara to enter the murky waters of having to revise her sound before becoming an established act. She also had to shake her current image, which brings me to the second nail in the coffin.
Most artists have what I call a “blueprint” that they’re built from. It’s based on either their personal musical influence (ex. Usher was heavily inspired by Michael Jackson) or someone that their record label thinks it’s cool to emulate (ex. Jessica Simpson came off of the Christina Aguilera/Britney Spears factory line). I’m not sure who Ciara deems her influences to be, but it was clear her “blueprint” was Janet Jackson and the late Aaliyah (who was inspired by Jackson, herself), as she was a soft-voiced singer, but a skilled and trained dancer. Comparisons or resemblances only work if the artist matches or succeeds them in their own way. Ciara’s music lacked the depth and production sophistication of some of Jackson’s work (ex. “Rhythm Nation”) and her voice was weaker and more limited in range than Aaliyah’s. Additionally, anyone that seemed to mimic Aaliyah was immediately dismissed or criticized. Aaliyah is and was a sensitive subject as the beloved artist (especially in the hip-hop/R&B community) died at age 22 in a plane crash just 3 years before Ciara’s arrival. When you’re viewed as a lesser-version of another popular singer, it can be hard to make a lasting impact.
For “The Evolution” album, Ciara made a seamless shift from “Crunk N’ B” to R&B/dance and had a sexier image. The changes worked for audiences and “Evolution” went platinum in the U.S. Everything came to a screeching halt on the “Fantasy Ride” follow-up as her label, LaFace Records, took the saying “change is good” too much to heart. With Justin Timberlake & Britney Spears producers Danja & Dr. Luke in the liner notes, many felt “Fantasy Ride” was the most “pop” we’ve heard Ciara and that the album isolated her core R&B audience. Instant genre changes can be a killer. Furthermore, as the heat cranked up on her sexual austere, it got hard to swallow (or respect), considering she used to sing about how guys couldn’t easily get to her “Goodies.” The icing on the cake was seeing her dressed and acting like a rap video model in the music clip for “Ride” (featuring Ludacris) from her last album “Basic Instinct.” Although it got her back to her R&B/dance roots, “Basic Instinct” was, well, basic (see my review here). So there you have it: Ciara’s career is where it is because she was initially marketed on shaky ground and musically (and image-wise) moves like a rolling stone, lacking any foundational consistency. I doubt Ciara won’t go down without a fight, however, because from what interviews I’ve seen, she goes head to head with her label and is desperate for creative saliency. Let’s hope the new self-titled July 9th album gets her back on track.