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Ciara on Her New Album, Basic Instinct, and Why She Steers Clear of Beefs

For her long-delayed fourth album, Basic Instinct, that came out today, Ciara Princess Harris bares more than her legs. The new CD finds Ciara, 25, confidently rapping, addressing “haters,” and showcasing a fresh comfort in her sexuality with a potent mix of sensual lyricism and synth-heavy production by The-Dream and Tricky Stewart. Vulture talked to the Atlanta-raised singer about Basic Instinct, her evolving image, and why she’s on Team Willow.

Your image has changed compared to the beginning of your career. Were you advised to be more glamorous or influenced to do so?
To be honest with you, fashion [is] something I’ve always loved. I’ve been very fortunate over the past few years to be invited to be a part of really cool things within the world of fashion; whether shooting French Vogue with Givenchy [designer] Ricardo Tisci or doing W magazine and [having] him bring me out and embrace me. I’ve been able to grow and learn within fashion by actually having a tangible experience with it in many ways. When it comes to my music, I looked younger when I began, [but] now I’m a woman. I can talk about a lot of things that I probably wouldn’t have talked about before. It’s something that happens with growth.

Speaking of glam and being sexy, a lot of female R&B artists have recently been critiqued on the content in their videos, like Keri Hilson’s recent video for “The Way You Love Me.” What’s too sexy for you? When does one cross the line from sexy to raunchy?
Each person has his or her own limit on what they feel is too sexy and what isn’t. When I get to the point where something feels uncomfortable, that’s when [I] stop. Whenever I feel like I’m sharing my sensual side and being vulnerable in that way, [if] I feel, “Hmmm, this might be a little too uncomfortable. I’m sharing too much,” then I say, “Let’s not go that route.”

Do you consider what people may say, or do you just go with how you feel?
At this point, especially, I don’t want to do anything that when I look back at it I’m going to feel like I compromised myself. I just want to make sure everything I do I can be sure of. If I am going to show my sensual side, I want to be sure. My “Ride” video unfortunately was banned from BET, but at the same time it did bring a lot of attention to the video. I did show a bit of my sensual side, but I felt very proud of the video. I don’t think it’s ever necessary for me to try something that’s very risky just for a response, either. It’s all about balance.

There are many girls starting their music career at a young age, as you did. Take Willow Smith. Do you think it’s wise to start so young?
If you can do it and have a great set of parents and a solid home, then I definitely think it’s something that can be okay, especially within entertainment. In our world [of entertainment], you literally can get lost in your own world and sometimes don’t have complete clarity or insight on what normal life is. I’m enjoying the Willow movement. I remember hanging with her before I knew she was putting out a song. Will [Smith] and his family had invited me to the after-party of the premiere for Karate Kid. I remember going, “Wow, this little girl is a star.” … There’s this other side of me that wonders about a person’s sanity and how a person is able to see things when they are exposed to this world at such a young age.

In October, you and Keri Hilson went on UStream to clear rumors of there being beef between the two of you. Do you think that females in the music industry shouldn’t have beefs in the way that men do?
As a woman, it can be challenging sometimes for us to succeed in this business. I think the last thing that we should be doing is tearing each other down.

So what are your thoughts on the beef between Nicki Minaj and Lil Kim?
I love both women. I think that Lil Kim is truly one of a kind. Her moment that she had in music was amazing. I loved the aggressiveness of Kim’s music, as well. It was very authentic. Nicki Minaj, I love her. I like her movement, energy, style. I like that she’s being bold. She’s breaking barriers and beyond. She’s a female rapper but also has pop appeal. I think that’s beautiful when any woman is able to do that. I’m not really a big fan of women not being able to get along in our music world, and in general. But I can still say a lot of great things about both ladies.

What’s one thing people will learn about you on Basic Instinct that they don’t know yet?
I think they’ll know that I stand for something. I stand for what I am. From listening to the [album’s title] track “Basic Instinct,” I don’t think fans would ever [have] expected to hear me speak that way. I wanted to be able to talk to them, for them to hear my voice and know how I feel. I was able to address the haters. What I’ve been able to do over the years wasn’t built out of nothing. It takes a lot of strength, focus, drive, ambition to keep on going in our industry. I’m not going to let any person take that joy away from me. My fans [are] going to feel, “Ciara really does have a voice.”

Ciara on Her New Album, Basic Instinct, and Why She Steers Clear of Beefs