Release Date: May 4, 2015
Record label: Epic
Genre(s): Pop, R&B, Contemporary R&B
Ciara’s Jackie as Locus of Contestation: Toward a Unifying and Generous Theory of Pop Music What do we talk about when we talk about pop music? It seems that three prominent threads have, in this decade of publication, unravelled from this hot mess of an exigence: wide-eyed poptimism (which privileges populist aesthetics against claims of its inauthenticity), Foucault-informed capitalist criticism (which situates a given text’s aesthetic choices within a capitalist context), and semiotic or symbolic interpretation (which sees a given text as a cultural artifact). Each approach has its merits in identifying underlying problems and values in a given text and its context, yet each approach has its pitfalls as well, as each relies on making inferences (and inevitably judgments) with incomplete information. Ciara’s Jackie is stylistically and culturally situated in such a way that it evades these criticisms’ most scathing points of contention, attaining a high level of craft without provoking or inciting hyper-specific criticisms.
Forgive this one: Ciara is like the Bernie Sanders of R&B. Her mononym (and title of her previous album) for once reflect a keep-it-simple-stupid ethos rather than a desire to hear it in households, which for Cici is medium at best. After allegedly philandering ex-fianceé Future excreted one of the most ill-advised diss tracks ever, “Pussy Overrated,” she ignored it and named her sixth album Jackie after her mother because she’s one now too — instead of, like, Past.
Ciara's sixth studio album is, conceptually speaking, about perspective. After her much publicized relationship with rapper Future went south, the new album is about Ciara's life as a single woman, as a mother and as a maturing individual who finally realizes how much her own mother did for her. As an artist, Ciara has been someone who, for some reason, hasn't been able to attain Beyoncé or Rihanna's level of status, despite all the buzz and popular singles.
Motherhood has often brought out the best in your fave pop stars. Mariah, M.I.A., Madonna, Kelis, Beyoncé: all have stellar postpartum releases to their names, with some explicitly riffing on the theme, and others signaling a shift—sometimes patronizingly referred to as more 'mature'—in sound. These albums all sound very different, but they form a sort of collective statement that motherhood isn't some aesthetic, thematic or musical purgatory for women.
Once the dust settled on her self-titled album, her first for the Epic label, Ciara quickly got to work on her sixth overall album. She also went through some extreme highs and lows: an engagement to and split from collaborator Future, as well as the birth of the couple's son. Named after her mother, Jackie understandably covers many emotions. They're often bundled in perplexing ways.
Ciara’s inconsistency fascinates me. On one end, you want to cheer any artist willing to forgo formula for the sake of innovation. However, sometimes trying new things feels more rooted in cynicism than creativity. Like they’re simply trying whatever, hoping something sticks. Whatever the case ….
As far as pop stars go, Ciara is pretty buttoned up. She rarely strays from talking points in interviews, and until recently has avoided getting specific or personal in her music. So when she used her breakup with rapper Future as the inspiration for the searing, acoustic guitar-led R&B ballad I Bet – complete with Future-esque call-back vocals – it felt like a jolt in a new direction.