Ciara is a changed woman.
And that may sound odd, at first blush, because the 29-year-old singer doesn’t have a history of reinventing herself. In an industry where hyper-sexuality or outlandish antics can be rewarded with career jolts, Ciara has been coasting quietly in her own lane, which may be part of the reason why she hasn’t hit at the level of some of her contemporaries. Ciara’s sixth studio album, Jackie, which debuted earlier this month, failed to crack the top 10 on the Billboard 200 and sold just under 20,000 copies in its first week–a 66% decrease from her previous album sales for 2013’s Ciara. But if anyone knows from slow burns, it’s Ciara who is quick to point out, and understandably so, that she’s been riding steady in a merciless business for 13 years. More crucially, the next phase of her life has given her newfound perspective and confidence: motherhood.
Ciara gave birth to her son Future Zahir Wilburn last year with now-ex-fiance, rapper and producer Future (né Nayvadius Wilburn). Rumors of alleged cheating on Future’s part reportedly delayed Jackie‘s release but it also gave Ciara time to write new music, specifically Jackie‘s lead single and breakup anthem “I Bet,” as well as the dulcet lulla-ballad “I Got You,” dedicated to her son. And it’s her son, more than any new sound, new look, or lost love, who’s given Ciara that jolt, which will no doubt prove useful as she continues her U.S. Jackie tour and prepares for the May 26 premiere of NBC’s new variety show I Can Do That, where she’s one of the judges.
Fast Company caught up with the “new” Ciara to hear how she’s adapting to motherhood and what keeps her going in such an unpredictable industry.
Your son recently turned 1–congrats! How has motherhood been for you so far?
It’s been the best thing that’s happened to my life. I’m truly enjoying every day–I’m taking it one day at a time. They say soak it all in because they grow up so fast in front of your eyes. Honestly, it’s everything I hoped it would be and more.
How are you finding the time to soak it all in with your career?
I am blessed to have an amazing team that’s like family for me. Basically, on my in-betweens I always check in with my son. For example, I had an off day for my tour here in North Carolina and I took my son out and I hung out with him the whole day–all the mommy duties, I just turned them all the way on. Those are the moments that give me satisfaction as a mom because sometimes it is hard when you are in full-on work mode and you have to be super focused, and it does take a lot of time away from being able to be there every second. So whenever there’s a break, I go into being a mom and it’s really fun–it’s a balance.
How have your priorities shifted as a new mom?
The word “responsibility” has a whole new meaning to it. After having a child, you really have to be clear when you’re making decisions. We’re going to all make mistakes–we’re human. But you really have to focus on trying make the best decisions you can make because whatever you do affects your child.
What’s been the most difficult thing about motherhood so far?
I hate to sound like I’m trying to be Miss Perfect but everything has been pretty smooth for me. I think it’s because I was really ready for my child–it’s a lot of work, now that I can tell you. It took a lot of patience but if you’re ready for it, it all kind of flows. If anything, the only challenging thing is time.
Speaking of motherhood, you named your new album after your mom. How is Jackie more personal than your previous albums?
The thing about this album that makes it so unique is several things. One is Jackie, the title: Not only is it my mom’s name but it also represents this special time in my life being a mother and now knowing what it’s like being in her shoes. This is the most life-changing experience I’ve had, being a mom. And so it really does mark this special time. And then there’s also how I am as a woman right now. I’m super confident–I feel like having my child has given me a whole other new level of confidence and it’s adding a whole other layer to me being a woman. I’m being more clear about the things that I need, the things that I want, how I’m expressing myself. I’m not afraid of how I feel or saying what I feel. Even sonically I was able to do everything I wanted to do on an album and I’m super proud of it.
You sound settled in your personal life with being a mom, but do you feel like you’re where you want to be in your career?
To know that I’ve passed a decade from my first album until now is a huge accomplishment for me. It’s super inspiring because I’ve always believed in myself and to know that I’m actually living my dream–just to know that alone is a huge accomplishment because I could be doing something else. In reference to the next chapter in my life and career, there’s so much more that I want to do and so much that I have yet to do, which makes it exciting because I haven’t reach my peak yet. Truthfully, I really feel like I’m just getting started.
And in that next chapter you mentioned is your spot on NBC’s upcoming show I Can Do That–can you tell us about it?
It’s a variety show and there’s also comedy in the mix as well. Marlon Wayans is the host, myself, [dancer/choreographer] Cheryl Burke [singer] Joe Jonas, [singer] Nicole Scherzinger, [comedian] Jeff Dye, and [actor] Alan Ritchson are all a part of the cast. And every week a different challenge comes on stage of something you think you can do. You have to hope you pick the thing you can actually do because if you don’t you could end up being really bummed out but you end up discovering, “yeah, I can do that.” I feel like a new person because there’s a lot of things that were uncomfortable for me or that I never tried before and then I realized I can do it. What’s great about it is that it allows fans to see you in a different light.
You’ve been through rocky album sales. You’ve switched labels, citing poor promotion and funding. However, you’ve stuck around the music industry for 13 years now–what keeps you going?
I just know that my journey and my life is going to be amazing–I know it with 100% certainty. Even on your most challenging days, you have to stay focused because those are the moments that really define you–it could be a moment where you feel like you want to quit and that could be the moment where everything changes for you. That gives me my motivation to keep working hard every day, to keep doing my part, and keep doing my best because the chips are going to fall where they’re supposed to fall, when they’re supposed to fall in place. And truthfully, I love what I do. Every day I wake up knowing I’m doing exactly what I want to do and there’s no greater feeling or reward than that in life itself.