What Happened to Ciara?: R&B and the New Sex Entrepreneur


It seems like it was just yesterday when little Ciara was singing an ode to the benefits of keeping one’s cookies in the jar.  Six years later,  her now delicately cultivated sexual Lolita image has been either co-opted or manipulated into outright hedonistic vixen.  I for one am not happy about it.  With  her recently slumping album sales, this new level of sexuality reeked of desperation and was bad form for a clearly talented young woman.

I was extremely disappointed with the video for her gym friendly single “Gimme Dat”.  The single has her once again leveraging the southern fried hip-hop laced stylings that put her on the map, except this time around the audience is distracted from the intricate choreography and gravity defying dance moves that made her famous.  Instead, we find her in a full sexual spectacle popping it on a handstand, gyrating, and clad in her underwear dancing in the rain.  Her dancing is amazing, but the imagery makes her come off like a glorified pole dancer; she even performs much of the dancing in the ubiquitious stipper shoe—the glass heel.

Make no mistake that this exotic dancer/stripper imagery is by design. It is not an accident.   With the recent popularity of Amber Rose, Maliah—others, it makes sense that the largely patriarchal music industry sees an economic opportunity in co-opting the images of its female R&B starlets to  evoke a similar aesthetic.

I do not want to get all judgmental big sister on Ciara because sexuality has always had its place in R&B and soul, but there is a thin line between sexy and trashy.  Take for instance, Christina Milian.  She was carefully managing the naughty good girl image—up and until—her video for “Dip It Low” found her sliding across the floor and gyrating in pools of oil.  Her singing career tanked soon there after.  Even Janet Jackson—the master of the naughty good girl image—couldn’t survive the nipple slip seen round the world.  She blurred the line between trashy and classy for a good run, but one near fatal move finds her musical career barely gasping for life.

With Rihanna giving us a lot of manufactured S&M imagery and both Keri Hilson and Kelly Rowland  following much of the same path, it seems to succeed the modern R&B star must become a sex entrepreneur.  She must balance equal parts talent, sexuality and purity−so as not to appear “deflowered” to their male fans (see inside image of Rihanna’s Loud CD). This seemingly impossible challenge has been mastered by few.  Remarkably, Beyonce has managed to walk this tightrope for over a decade—balancing sex kitten, with empowered feminist, diva, and business woman.

I would hate to prematurely morn the loss of Ciara, as I believe she has the time and talent to rebrand and redeem her image.  I am not suggesting she take the sex out, but instead she remember the importance of artistic integrity to her fan base.  She is certainly not a strong vocalist like a Melanie Fiona or a Jennifer Hudson, but she was well positioned to inherit a Jacksoneque like role as a consummate entertainer.

So what do you think?  Are the sexualized images of R&B stars like Ciara, Rihanna, Rowland and Hilson simply the norm now for a music industry plagued by poor album sells?  Does legitimate talent allow artists to avoid the trappings of the over-sexualized image?  Does the male consumer drive this trend or are women—as consumers—equally responsible for our representations?

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5 Comments

  1. These women CAN NOT SING. Therefore they must put the focus on the physical. People talk more about Rihanna’s hair and wardrobe (or lack thereof) than her actual songs. This is not by mistake. Poor Ciara…the child should just give up making “music” and focus on what she does best – dancing; maybe even modeling. She’s a talented dancer and doesn’t need to gyrate on the floor or hump some male singer to prove it. Maybe she can even write songs (which is where the real $ is) but a singer, she ain’t. Keri was (is?) a songwriter and that’s the lane in which she should have stayed. All these songwriters got greedy and decided they needed to be in the spotlight (including males) but if you can’t really sing (including males) stay your a$$ in the back. I don’t know if Kelly R can sing and is just getting caught up in the wave, or if she actually was being held up by Beyonce’s vocals. I’m hoping it’s the former. I’m far from a prude and I believe that women should embrace their sexuality, but you can’t sell me on the fact that you are really a singer, if you can’t do anything fully dressed and without faking fornication. No sale. And yea, we all know that “celebrities” shouldn’t be our childrens’ role models but the fact of the matter is that girls are looking up to these chicks and practicing these Showtime after Dark moves in the mirror. They need to do better.

  2. This is a great piece and I couldn’t agree more with the ever so expressive and poignant points! Ciara went from Billboard’s Top Three to number Forty-Three! (Ok, it was actually 44, but what rhymes better with ‘three’ than well, 43!) I feel like the more she took off, the further down her career went. It’s a shame that so many have to fall victim to such a demanding industry. But we all know men are visual…and as long as it’s more of them than us making all the “artists and repertoire” decisions (as in, A&R Execs)…we’ll continue to see sequinned bodysuits, snake-skinned unitards, and sadly—those ubiquitious glass heels! (smh).

    I think Kanye’s last album posed the question best: “WHO WILL SURVIVE IN AMERICA? [x4]” Seems like we’re all doomed (the producers, consumers, and the kitchen sink too). Fingers crossed for a better tomorrow! :-/

    -RP

    • @RP I agree with you wholeheartedly….but perhaps the music industry does not demand enough? We as consumers must demand real art from real artists by making our money talk. As long as we settle, ignorance and lackluster products will continue to overwhelm the industry.

  3. rpeezy said “But we all know men are visual…”

    We all know women are visual too. By the way, it is not the men who drive the music industry, but the primary consumer, females. It is women, especially the feminist, so-called African American women, who purchase the music, then go to the club and dance to it. You are only getting what you want. You cannot have it both ways. The men cater to the women. Everything men do is centered around gaining attention from the woman. She wants to feel sexy and celebrate her sexuality, whatever that means, then lets throw her out there and give her exactly what she wants. Women like pole dancing, throw them on a pole. That is what you like. Above all, it is a white male dominated industry, but that is a different topic. These things happen because you are perfectly okay with it. Trey Songz sells records because women are visual and he is half naked and laying in between a woman’s legs every time you see him. D’Angelo was nude and sold over 6 million copies of the Voodoo CD. Sweetheart, the only men who bought that CD, were men who are musicians and actually appreciate the musicianship that was on the project. When D’Angelo was fat, was he selling 6 million records? Women drive this industry.

    The truth is, Black artists are a mirror of the consciousness of the people who support them. Black males love to hear about killing and destroying the community rather than being good fathers, providers, and protectors, and Black women love to hear that they have the best “nah nah,” can swallow this and that and so on, rather than hearing that they can be good mothers, great partners for quality men, and that they are more than a piece of ass. Collectively, Black people have an appetite for their own destruction and are all mouth and no action. We do not want change, and that is why our situation is getting worse with each day.

    This is a planned attack on our people, and other groups are not parading their women around in such a way. IT IS A RACE ISSUE FIRST, then a gender issue. If you want to know what qualifies me to speak on it, feel free to ask.

  4. THANK YOU for your mention of Beyonce. She is the classiest woman out there.


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