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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
12:00 AM

Crash Landing


Despite the use of this picture and a previous post that may suggest otherwise, I don't take any comfort in Ciara's album dismal first week performance.

When she made her way onto to the scene five years ago, I appreciated her for what I thought she was: A young girl who wanted to be a star.

She didn't have much a voice, her shtick wasn't anything we hadn't seen before, and even the song she debuted with was a rehash of two other Lil' Jon helmed cuts. Still, you couldn't help but root for someone who put that much energy into her stage performances. She was filling a void left by Aaliyah's untimely passing and Janet's unfortunate decision to embrace stagnation.

She seemed eager to please and ready to impress on stage. It didn't hurt that her first studio was actually quite decent.

While I still maintain that "Goodies" is nothing short than the blue balls national anthem, I appreciated hearing a singer talk about not giving it up. The album overall had a Control esque feel to it, and even if she weren't being genuine about her virginity ala Britney Spears, it at least seemed believable at the time.

Then only a short time later did she try to sell us on her evolution. It seemed as natural as the button on Michael Jackson's face posing a a nose. I don't care what black weaves, new tights, and Tina Landon's choreography say -- evolutions don't occur overnight. Listening to her try to force feed audiences a tale of how she discovered her new self only fifteen seconds after we embraced the original let me know one thing: Ciara takes herself way too seriously.

That's a bad thing for a pop artist. Especially one who doesn't have any real clue as to who she is, what she's about, and what her image should be. As one reviewer pointed out recently, Ciara's pop-star facade has always been "vague and undefined."

And what does one typically do when that happens? They turn to sex. It comes from the belief in the adage "sex sells." One glance at Ciara's last video and you can tell how she and her handlers decided how to handle this album.

Lose a few pounds.

Tone it up.

Get a little more limber.

Spread 'em wide.

Sex is certainly a way to get attention, but at a time when pornographers are not so jokingly asking for a bailout, when is it going to dawn on the already terribly behind recording industry that sex without quality equals another name on the increasingly growing list of flops?

The same goes for the theory that R&B singers have to crossover in order to sell records. When Ciara moved two million copies of her first album she did so on the strength of a 'crunk music' trend that was rooted in urban airplay that had pop stations run to them not the other way around.

Ciara's choice to go into a more pop-dance direction alienated the very audience that made her who she is. While everyone talks about how great "Promise" is (and it is a great song), it only reached #11 on the Hot 100. By contrast "Goodies" was #1, while "1, 2 Step" and "Oh" each peaked at #2.

Yet I'm to believe the strategy of alienating your fan base to chase after an audience that would likely find you anyway if you scored a hit song is the way to go.

A sexual temptress can probably sell almost as well as pontificating prude in an industry where no one really sells anymore.

Though I've commented on how her bit now seems like an act of desperation from one trying way too hard, Fantasy Ride's main failure is not in its image but this: It's just not good.

If she wants to lick Justin Timberlake's ear and be the co-star in her own video, fine. If she wants to pretend she's always been this Madonna loving, comic book reading shero with an altar ego waiting to burst out and yack the yaki out of Sasha Fierce's head, great.

Anyone who didn't like it would ignore if the music was up to par. It's not, hence everyone's attention shifting elsewhere.

Fantasy Ride should have been one easy flight, but instead it's marred in layovers. One minute she's seductress, the next she's a Europop dance queen, and another she's channeling her inner crunk 'n b star.

When she initially said she planned to split her album into three separate discs it seemed wasteful. Now I get it, but sadly, she still doesn't.

She doesn't understand that you can't toss out multiple singles that genre hop everywhere but the format that made you a star.

It hasn't hit her that a sexed up image alone won't set you a part from all of the other sexed up thin-voiced R&B singers.

The people close to her neglected to pull her to the side to inform her that she's going about being a superstar all wrong.

That explains why she can't take constructive criticism and passes anything not praising her to high end as negativity. What an unfortunate opinion for someone who needs to be steered back in the right direction before she makes a permanent detour into irrelevance.

The difference between her and the people she grew up admiring (including those we're just now hearing about) is that their transitions seemed organic.

Janet went from telling her parents that she wanted to be free to expressing hope for freedom for all to her declaring her right to be freely open about her sexuality. This happened over the course of years versus a few albums and meetings with stylists.

If Ciara read this, she'd call me a hater and keep going.

That's fine by me because in a week she likely envisioned would place her at the top of the charts, she now finds herself sitting at the bus stop while Chrisette Michele drives off with her fantasy.

The Cynical Ones.
posted by Michael at