ONLY ON AJC: Ciara talks Harvard, her new album, and what’s next

For the AJC
For the AJC

On a bright May day, Ciara, 33, is standing at the edge of the stage in Rumsey Playfield, a section of New York’s famed Central Park that houses performances, such as the high-energy, dance-thick, four-song set Ciara completed seconds ago as the marquee star of today’s installment of Good Morning America’s Summer Concert Series. Despite an impermeable schedule that requires her to soon board a plane to Boston (to attend a lecture at Harvard Business School—more on that later), she insists on stopping everything at this moment. “It’s important for me to always thank you for your love and support over the years,” she says both to the hundreds of fans standing before her that arrived in the pre-sunrise darkness and those around the world, who collectively have sustained her 15-year career, bought 25 million copies of her albums, and streamed her music catalogue over 1 billion times. “It’s been an incredible journey for me,” she continues. “The power of believing in yourself is a real thing.”

For the AJC
For the AJC

Ciara Princess Harris’ belief in herself—and the hit song “Goodies” from her 3x platinum debut album of the same name—catapulted this Fort Hood, Texas-born, but Decatur, Georgia-raised, Riverdale High School graduate into the pop star stratosphere in 2004. Since then, she’s soared higher (a 2006 Grammy win) and fallen lower (her 2015 album Jackie sold less than 100,000 copies). In the same year, her engagement ended with fellow Atlantan and rapper Future—with whom she has a 5-year-old son, Future Zahir, Jr.—over allegations of his infidelity, and, embarrassingly, after she appeared on the cover of Brides magazine months earlier.

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For the AJC

Ciara is now married and celebrated her third wedding anniversary this month with Russell Wilson (the Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, and, with his four-year, $140 million contract, the highest paid player in the NFL), with whom she shares a 2-year-old daughter, Sienna. She recently released her seventh album, Beauty Marks, which features "Girl Gang," a duet with Kelly Rowland, where Ciara sings: "He try to hit it without committing/Tell him no/He asks your favorite position/Tell him CEO." She is practicing what she preaches; the latest album is the first project on her label and imprint, Beauty Marks Entertainment. It's also her first album in four years. Ciara's ride has been a bumpy one—yet, she's thankful for the bruises. "When times are tough, and you don't feel so pretty, embrace those moments," she advises the cheering Central Park crowd. "Those scars are your beauty marks."
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A few weeks later, Ciara spoke candidly during a phone interview , and she shared why Atlanta is responsible for her success, how Seattle has changed her for the better and what she ultimately wants from life.

Ciara performs at 2019 Bud Light Super Bowl Music Festival in Atlanta.
Ciara performs at 2019 Bud Light Super Bowl Music Festival in Atlanta.

With your thriving career, successful husband, and beautiful kids, do you still feel like an underdog?

It’s a blessing. But I feel like I’m just getting started. There’s really so much more to be done and that I know I can do.

So, the good life hasn’t quelled your ambition?

I feel motivated by my success. Also, life remains exciting and fresh because I haven’t seen everything that I could see already. I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had in my whole life and career right now. However, the best is yet to come, truthfully.

Why did you decide to attend the intensive Harvard Business Executive Education Program?

It was a short course, but it will have a long-lasting impact on my life. I wanted to have that tacit experience of attending Harvard while learning how to run my business the most effective way. It was imperative to have that experience and commit to it.

Was Harvard the college experience you missed? Beyoncé expresses a similar sentiment in Homecoming, about always wanting to have had that experience.

Yes, I would always dream about it. I've been able to live vicariously through my sister-in-law, Anna Wilson, who goes to Stanford. I was there with her the first day she was on campus, and it was fun helping set up her dorm. When the opportunity came along, I jumped right in.
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How is your schedule?

Organized chaos. Whether it was landing on campus from a cross-country red-eye and having two hours to nap before class, then hopping on a plane to perform on Good Morning America, where I saw you, it was a whirlwind. I’m one of the few in my immediate family that have had a college experience of any kind.

Your family is still in Atlanta. How does your husband like the city?

Russell loves Atlanta. He’s from Richmond, Virginia, so we share that Southern connection. But Atlanta is a unique and cultural place.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 23: Ciara attends the 2019 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 23, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images for BET)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 23: Ciara attends the 2019 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 23, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images for BET)

Credit: Aaron J. Thornton

Credit: Aaron J. Thornton

How did Atlanta contribute to your point of view as an artist?

Something was refreshing about being an Atlanta girl that had an opportunity to travel abroad at such a young age and being able to come back home to that culture. It gave me a cool perspective on creativity. I’m grateful for the city of Atlanta, but also Georgia, period. I’m thankful for my upbringing.

What do you miss most about Atlanta?

I always miss the food. I try to go to every restaurant I can think of in a matter of days.

You’re not eating any of that comfort food, not with the body that you have! I have seen you at the gym. You are savage!

I love eating, so I try to do things in moderation. I will forever love good food. The cool thing is that I can always go back to Atlanta and I do. It’s not like I’m living on the other side of the world.

NFL player Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, left, and Ciara arrive at the ESPY Awards on Wednesday, July 10, 2019, at the Microsoft . (Photo: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
NFL player Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, left, and Ciara arrive at the ESPY Awards on Wednesday, July 10, 2019, at the Microsoft . (Photo: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Just on the other side of the country. How is Seattle?

It’s stunning. The air is fresh and living on the water is beautiful.

Has living in Seattle changed you?

I was always one of those girls that would say, “I’m not getting in that lake.” However, living in Seattle has pushed me to experiment, try things, and come out of my comfort zone. If my kids are going to swim in the lake, then I must. That’s my rule. My first-time paddle boarding was on Lake Washington with my husband, which was cool, and romantic because he was also teaching me how to do it.

Your husband is the highest paid player in the NFL. How does he handle the pressure?

He is one of the calmest people when pressure rises. When you put in that type of effort, commitment, and dedication that he puts into what he does, I think you’re always going to be prepared for it. I don’t think it’s a concept of looking at the days of success to be any different from the day before or the week before. If you work hard to accomplish and achieve it, you’re ready for it.

What do you want your kids to understand about success, fame, and wealth?

Having their own identity is essential and that they should never feel like they need to be validated by someone else’s opinion. That success is measured by how they see it and knowing who you are is one of the most important things anyone can have.

You co-hosted The Dick Clark Rocking Eve bringing in 2019. What did you envision for yourself this year?

I promised myself to stay on top of my body, my health, and the things that I eat. It’s a performance perspective. What you eat affects your body. What you do to your body affects your mind. Everything else follows.

Your life has changed exponentially over the past three years; you married, had a second child, left a major label, and launched your own entertainment company. Did you decide to be more intentional?

That’s so awesome you asked that because I am intentional. For the first time in my whole career, I’m able to fully express myself and do things exactly the way that I envisioned them.

Is that freedom the most significant difference between being independent versus a major label artist?

Yes. Now, even if I try something and it doesn’t come out quite perfect, it just feels good not having to wait for the traditional process of approval in a major recording system. This new chapter on the business side feels good.

I’ve been working hard for so many years, grinding, sacrificing, and investing in my career, but only being able to have the opportunity to see a small percentage of what I put into it economically.

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For the AJC

What do you want ultimately?

My goal is ownership. I want to make sure that when I lay my head on the pillow at 50 years old that all my time, hard work, and effort that I put into building my brand and career was worth it and I can still enjoy the fruits of my labor.

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