Blame Janet Jackson. Her pedigree required her to feign autonomy on Control–would you want to be mistaken for Rebbie, never mind LaToya? Ever since, any R&B girlie desirous of a career rather than merely a hit has been compelled to prove herself more than the sum of her beats. But though such imitations of self-expression make for an silly rite of passage, they don’t always make for bad pop–at least so long as the beats remain.
Ballads are, as always, trickier territory, often demanding more of a self than their singers have to express. So Ciara deserves credit for pulling off this mid-tempo pledge, though Polow da Don’s production deserves more. With those liquid, reverberant beats, the lyrics probably imply a capital P for “You can be my prince,” even if the electro-echo recalls Missy’s early-00s Prince imitations rather than the original item. The song shows off limitations of Ciara’s voice, sealing her off in an uncomfortably pinched area of her register. But such low-wattage, all-too-human frailty came as a relief up against the prevalence of powerhouse diva theatrics.
Much he same could be said for follow-up “Like a Boy,” which predated Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy” but relied less upon wind-tunnel melodrama. But the lead single, “Get Up,” may as well have been called “3,4 Step,” and it’s unlikely fans of Ciara: The Evolution. zeroed in on tracks like “I’m Just Me” (aren’t we all?), let alone its various “revelatory” interludes. By the time of Fantasy Ride in 2009, the industry’s renewed interest in artifice led to the creation of her own larger-than-life persona, “Super C.” And yet, can you really be a superhero if no one really cares to uncover your secret identity?