For her follow-up to "Goodies," her funky 2004 R&B album that sold more than 3 million copies worldwide, 20-year-old Ciara had a specific vision. She knew in her head exactly how "The Evolution," which hit stores Tuesday, was supposed to sound. "I had an idea where I want to go musically," she says in a 45-minute teleconference with a half-dozen music writers. "And I think that's what took a lot of the pressure off. Whereas, I feel like if I had just been searching, just making records without knowing what I wanted to hear or wanted to do, I probably would have been, like, 'Oh, my gosh, what am I going to do?'"
So what exactly was that vision? "Water," says the Atlanta singer, who performs Sunday at the Nokia Theatre Times Square. "That's what I kind of wanted it to feel like. I wanted it to feel like water."
Ciara was speaking about her first single, "Promise," which doesn't sound particularly wet, but it does contain the best qualities of smash singles such as "Goodies" and "1, 2 Step." Many singers moan or coo in a sexy way, but they usually have to build up to it in a Christina Aguilera-like crescendo. Not Ciara - she puts across this feeling with every syllable, even in a banal spoken-word "Promise" interlude: "I mean everything I say from the bottom of my heart." And while "Promise" is technically a ballad, the booming, house-party sound effects by producer Polow Da Don are befitting of "The First Lady of Crunk & B."
The R&B is easy to detect in Ciara's sultry, low-key singing. But the crunk? That comes from the over-the-top production, and guest crunkmaster Lil' Jon, who screams stuff like, "Let's go!"
"His energy is crazy," Ciara says. "When I heard this track, it just took me over and I wrote the
verses really quickly."
Born to a military family - her father was in the Army and her mother was in the Air Force - Ciara Harris moved around a lot as a kid before catching a Destiny's Child show and pinpointing her future. She became so focused on her career that she dumped her boyfriend and stopped hanging out with her friends. Her first attempt at fame, the girl group Hearsay, bombed, but its manager introduced Ciara to former Aaliyah producer Jazze Pha. Her No. 1 single, "Goodies," came out the year after she graduated from high school.
During the teleconference, the only dark cloud on Ciara's enthusiasm comes when a reporter asks her about "catty, nasty things" said about her in various articles. "It's one of those things that come with the territory," she says. "When I was in high school, I was popular, so I kind of experienced some of this.... If I were to track down every little thing that everybody said, I would drive myself crazy. And I don't want to do that, so I just kind of say, 'It is what it is.'"
WHEN & WHERE
Ciara plays Sunday at Nokia Theatre Times Square, 1515 Broadway, Manhattan, 212-930-1950. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $26.50 at Ticketmaster, call 631-888-9000 or visit ticketmaster.com.