Hours before the release of her third studio album, JHUD, Jennifer Hudson greeted an audience on New York City’s Gramercy Park Hotel rooftop for an intimate Q&A and listening session, hosted by Gilt City. Fans funneled into the swanky rooftop terrace for an evening with the singer-actress, complete with a first listen to what is a wholly different side to Hudson, an added dimension to her personality and oeuvre that counterbalances the stirring ballads that have come to define her.
“A part of my dream was for my fans to know me,” Hudson said while seated in the corner, the Empire State Building in the distance behind her. “You should have a sense of who you’re following.”
JHUD, as a result, is an upbeat, funk- and disco-infused record that allows Hudson to be more playful than before. On “Dangerous,” she does it “for the thrill, even if it kills,” and on “He Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” she suggests to “whisper in his ear, it makes it hotter.” With producers like Pharrell Williams, Timbaland, and Jerry Wonda at the helm, the new sounds are tailored to Hudson’s signature resonance. (The album also features guest appearances by R. Kelly, Iggy Azalea and T.I.) She embodied her new edgier and lighter look with a shorter hairdo (the album, at 10 tracks, is shorter too), and a gold necklace spelling out her offhand nickname.
“I don’t feel like anything in the album was forced — it’s a reflection of me as a person, as a music lover, as a songwriter,” Hudson told The Hollywood Reporter at the listening party, during which she sang “Happy Birthday” for a few fans. “There are a lot of different elements of J.Hud or Jennifer in there, which is what I’m introducing everyone to.”
There is a quality of JHUD, out Tuesday, that reverts to Hudson’s hometown roots. Its sultry second single, “Walk It Out,” sports a video that salutes the art of the pickup while Hudson roams the Chicago streets in a loose black hoodie. “Everything about that song reminds me of growing up in the Englewood area, and the boys in the playground playing basketball, trying to flirt with the girl that’s walking to the candy store,” she told THR. “I wanted to revisit that, and it’s part of my background.”
While some of that more PG-13 material is present on the album, including some expletives (“I am 33 years old, I think it’s OK” she said), so are the stripped-down emotional ballads that have become her calling card. The album’s closer, “Moan,” is a track Hudson says she wrote “maybe four to six years ago” and is “deeply personal.”
“My mom used to tell us growing up, ‘If something hurts, if you moan, it’ll feel better,’ ” she told the audience. “I wrote every note, every word. It came from me.”
Hudson anticipates taking the new album on tour, though she has a limiting filming schedule ahead of yet-to-be-confirmed projects. “I’m not going to tell you right now — it’s acting, events, things coming up,” she said with laughter. Of contributing a track to the concept album for Harvey Weinstein’s Finding Neverland stage musical, Hudson said. “I’m a music lover, I’m a theater lover, so I hopped at the chance — and I love to sing songs like that.”
This article originally appeared in THR.com.