Comeback. It’s a term frequently bandied about the industry these days, given that an act’s fortunes increasingly hinge on reactions to a chosen buzz track or single versus a whole album.
As the 2013 summer release slate heats up, the notion of a comeback is currently being floated in regards to Ciara. Breaking through in 2004 with the No. 1 Billboard Hot 100/Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs single “Goodies” and a multiplatinum album of the same name, Ciara has scored eight top 10s on the Hot 100 and 13 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. Not to mention a second platinum album in 2006, “Ciara: The Evolution.” Also a Grammy Award winner for best short form video for her vocals on Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control” in 2005, Ciara was later named Billboard’s Woman of the Year in 2008.
However, despite racking up additional hits like “One, Two Step” (featuring Elliott), “Promise,” “Love Sex Magic” (featuring Justin Timberlake) and “Ride” (featuring Ludacris), the onetime Queen of Crunk N’ B lost sales momentum on her third and fourth albums. “Fantasy Ride” (2009), debuting and peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and No. 2 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, has sold only 206,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And 2011’s “Basic Instinct” debuted and peaked at No. 44 on the Billboard 200 and No. 11 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, selling 116,000.
But ramping up for the July 9 release of her self-titled fifth studio album on Epic, Ciara has notched her first top 10 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs since 2010 with the single “Body Party.” And she has reteamed with Nicki Minaj for newly released second single and banging club anthem “I’m Out.”
So it would seem Ciara is on track to reclaim her earlier fame and commercial success. Can she?
Derrick “DC” Corbett, director of urban programming for Clear Channel’s WUSL/WDAS Philadelphia, thinks so. Interpolating the 1996 Southern hit “My Boo” by the Ghost Town DJ’s, “Body Party” (whose just-released remix features Future and B.o.B) is in power rotation at WUSL. “[Producer] Mike WiLL Made-It is hot as a firecracker,” Corbett says, “and Ciara’s voice rides perfectly over the modernized track. It works. And ‘I’m Out’ is a good follow-up. Ciara is en route to a comeback. People want to see her win.”
That’s something Ciara, manager Lisa Ellis and Epic chairman/CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid banked on in 2011 when the singer/songwriter left Jive Records and signed with Epic. The move also marked a homecoming: Reid originally signed Ciara to LaFace Records in 2003 and helmed the then-16-year-old’s “Goodies” triumph.
“It feels good to be with the person who believed in me from day one,” Ciara says during a recent promotional trek to London where she and her new band headlined a show at the O2. “Being in an environment where there are creative people who understand you and fully support you…that means a lot. I felt reinspired.”
Underscoring Ciara’s inspiration were heart-to-heart sitdowns with Ellis. “We made a pact to keep a positive attitude and make things happen,” says Ellis, whose background includes a tenure as president of urban music at Columbia Records. “Ciara burst onto the scene but had gone through some creative challenges in terms of going to the next level. So we talked honestly about the good and bad ingredients in the stew, about knowing who she is as an artist and a person, having the patience to bring her core audience back into the story and not rush things. It was about taking everything and giving it more depth and dimension. Now the story is starting to come into focus.”
But not before encountering additional creative challenges during the past year. Originally titled “One Woman Army” when announced in 2012, Ciara’s album-in-progress spun off the track “Sweat” (featuring 2 Chainz) last June. It debuted at No. 93 and peaked at No. 86 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. “Sorry,” tagged as the official lead single, bowed in October 2012 at No. 96 and peaked at No. 42 in December on the chart. Another track, “Got Me Good,” was released digitally in November but didn’t click with her fans either.
But “Body Party” did. She says the song helped her lock into the “creative clarity” that helped her turn the corner on finishing the new album. “I started with one direction in mind. Sonically it was a bit aggressive and more pop-heavy,” she says. “Some elements from my ‘One Woman Army’ movement — putting my heart on the front line — still exist on ‘Ciara.’ ‘Sorry’ is still one of my favorite songs. But the new album is more of a balance between R&B and pop. When I recorded ‘Body Party,’ it came from authentic energy; it still feels good. And people are feeling that energy.”
Plugging into that charge, Ciara says the bulk of the new album took shape within the last six months. In addition to “Body Party,” the set includes the Rodney Jerkins-produced “Read My Lips,” while “I’m Out” was helmed by Rock City. The latter club anthem features Minaj, who asked Ciara to guest on “I’m Legit” from Minaj’s “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded-The Re-Up.” In addition to carrying over a few songs from “One Woman Army” (including “Livin’ It Up,” “Overdose” and “Super Turnt Up”), Ciara boasts another track, “Where You Go,” featuring the singer’s leading man and creative inspiration, Future. “He’s a happy spirit who adds the cherry on top,” Ciara says.
“She started to hit a stride that we all realized we didn’t want to interrupt,” Ellis says of Ciara’s creative epiphany. “In this modern environment, a lot of people would have dropped away a long time ago. But L.A. played a key role in that he contributed the time for this project to really come together.”
“This is a fun urban pop album,” says Scott Seviour, executive VP of marketing and artist development at Epic, which is mounting a major media/marketing blitz on behalf of Ciara. “It shows everything from her fierceness and strength to her vulnerability and an honesty that haven’t been explored as deeply on her other albums.”
Outside of the creative realm, Ciara has encountered a few more bumps on the comeback trail. The social media world has stayed busy during the past year, keeping tabs on a beef between her and Rihanna. And while in Los Angeles recently to headline a concert at the Los Angeles Pride festival, Ciara was served papers onstage during her performance by the Factory, alleging she reneged on an appearance at that West Hollywood venue.
Ciara dismisses the former situation. “I’ve learned that someone is always going to have something to say. I choose to give negative energy no power.” As for the latter issue, Ellis calls the impending lawsuit “ridiculous. We never confirmed that show, had no contract, no money was exchanged and it conflicted with the main show [she was doing].”
In the meantime, a tour is planned for the summer and fall. And Ciara will continue her recurring role as herself on BET’s popular “The Game,” debuting on the March 26 season-six premiere. But other film and TV projects, as well as entrepreneurial ventures into clothing and perfume, are being put on hold until late this year and into 2014.
“We did ‘The Game’ because organically it felt like the right move, addressing Ciara’s core audience,” Ellis says. “We want to come from a position of strength where the fans know she’s back in pocket. We have to get the core hot, reclaiming them through the music and touring.”
Ciara, who will turn 28 in October, agrees she’s come a long way from the 16-year-old ingenue of “Goodies” fame. But, she adds, “that same energy is back now. I’m going for it.”