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‚ÄĒthe 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‚ÄĒothers, 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‚ÄĒup and until‚ÄĒher 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‚ÄĒthe master of the naughty good girl image‚ÄĒcouldn’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‚ąíso 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‚ÄĒbalancing 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‚ÄĒas consumers‚ÄĒequally responsible for our¬†representations?

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