After fifteen years of relevancy and a Grammy to her name, Ciara deserves some kind of victory lap (or at least she thinks she does). Her foamy brand of pop/R&B can still be heard on any number of radio stations to this day-and rightfully so. She did everything her own way, even if sometimes the music wasn’t always up-to-par (i.e. The Princess is Here).
In 2019, Ciara is doing things her own way on the business side as well. After signing a new record deal with Warner Bros, the Grammy winner inherited a company titled Beauty Marks Entertainment. It was a special moment for an artist who’s been strapped under Epic’s reigns for quite some time now.
But for every large step forward Ciara took in the business world, her music ended up taking one large step back. Her seventh album under the same name as her label sees the Atlanta native going full-on Beyonce, rarely ever manifesting her talent in the process of recording. Beauty Marks attempts to exude empowerment to the masses; acting as if it’s the album we all need during these tough times under the Trump administration. The problem- we’ve already heard albums like this; with better quality music to go with it (i.e. Lemonade).
Right off the bat, Ciara sees it fit to merge corniness with blandness. Her insipid attempt at self-love on “I Love Myself” reaches an apex of absurdity when Macklemore enters the fold. It’s fine spreading a positive female message, but does anyone really need a white/straight male’s perspective on it? He literally raps about the same shit he’s been rapping about since the dawn of his career (“If loving myself is a job, am I doing it?/Art’s a weapon, a resistance, am I using it?”) The whole collaboration just seems like a lame attempt at finding the airwaves again.
Tonally, the record can’t seem to find its footing-bouncing around between trap elements (“Set”), and bubbly R&B (“Greatest Love”). Even a sprinkle of dancehall invades the forefront of the final third (“Na Na” and “Freak Me”). Many of these stylistic choices boomerang off of each other with very little nuance or originality. If Goldlink’s rendition of Afro-pop and dancehall was progressive on his new album, then Ciara’s lame pursuit of trend-seeking pop ballads is very underwhelming, and at times, painfully cheap.
Much like a summer blockbuster straight out of Hollywood, Beauty Marks is a shallow attempt at saying something meaningful. The content itself is listenable, just forgettable. The greatest moments occur when Ciara isn’t trying so hard; allowing her magnificent voice to take the place of over-produced averageness. The title track is stellar, and reminiscent of Ciara’s long gone passion for curating raw energy through heartwarming piano melodies. Her energy is combative, almost as if Ciara has just come back from war. It’s everything an empowerment song should be-raw, passionate and emotional. It’s Ciara finally breaking free from an unhealthy relationship (Russell Wilson probably). More importantly, her sentiments are genuine.
Unfortunately, that same passion and fervor only rears its face once in a awhile on Beauty Marks. Kind of like a solar eclipse. If anything, Ciara’s emphasis on re-hashing outdated pop bangers shines through more than anything else. In a way, she’s sold out, which is weird considering her insistence on breaking free from Epic Records. She’s independent now, and it rarely shows. Ciara walks a fine line between emanating a positive message, and searching for her heyday. And rarely does it ever work.