“Who are you here to see?” the concierge at The Peninsula Hong Kong asks as he checks my backpack in at the front desk.
“Ciara,” I jokingly reply. “Though she obviously won’t be checked in under that name.”
“What’s her family name?” he demands as, much to my surprise, he scribbles “Ciara” on my visitor’s card.
And that’s when I realise I don’t know. The question has never crossed my mind. Does Ciara even have a last name? Like Madonna, Kylie or Beyoncé, she’s known only by one. She’s just Ciara, and that’s always been enough.
A quick Google search reveals that she’s legally called Ciara Princess Harris. But it didn’t take long for her to drop the last two, because she signed her first record deal at the age of just 16. Two years later she released her debut single, “Goodies”, which hit number one in the US and shot her to overnight fame as the new queen of R&B. She sang, she rapped, she danced and her first album, also called Goodies, was nominated for four Grammys. By that point, only one name seemed necessary.
Now, six albums later, and after periods in and out of the spotlight, Ciara is once again making headlines. In 2015 she released her latest album, Jackie, completed the first leg of a stadium tour in the States and now, at the tail end of the year, has been flown to Hong Kong to perform at the re-opening of nightclub Play.
“It’s my first time in Hong Kong,” Ciara says, taking a quick sip from her water bottle. “It’s so beautiful here – the landscape is insane, the whole city is breathtaking. And Play looks really, really cool.”
Ciara is planning to perform a string of her hits for the VIPs invited to the club’s reopening, including singles from Jackie. “The Jackie album is my favourite that I’ve made to date,” she explains. “I think the biggest difference is the life changes I’ve been through up to this point in my life. I’m super proud of Jackie. I was able to express myself exactly how I wanted to in every way that I envisioned on this record, down to the production, sonically what you hear through your speakers, lyrically the things I talk about – all of it was my true vision for the project.”
The “changes” that Ciara is referring to really boil down to one major event in her life. “Having my child,” Ciara recounts with a smile. “He is the most special part of this new chapter of my life. Becoming a mother has really changed me for the better. Having my child has allowed me to be a bit more balanced and a bit more grounded. I know that when I make decisions I’m not only making them for myself anymore, I’m making them for him, too. I think that helps me put a lot of things into perspective.”
Her son is, at the time of writing, nearly two years old. Ciara split from his father, hip-hop star Future, a few months after he was born, which led to a period of intense press speculation about her personal life. “He cheated on her,” The Daily Mail declared. “Is Ciara’s new song about her ex-fiancé Future?” Us Magazine wondered.
But, Ciara claims, she refuses to let the scrutiny get to her. “Attention comes with the territory,” she confesses. “You can’t have this job that I have and not expect attention. I think it’s very interesting how nowadays social media just makes everything more dramatic, because one thing is multiplied, by like, a hundred. A message travels faster and people enjoy drama. It’s interesting to see how people fabricate things on a daily basis. But I was born to do what I do, so in a sense I’m built for it.”
Social media has exploded over the course of Ciara’s career. She released her first album in 2004, the year that Facebook was founded (but was yet to make it big) and before either Twitter or Instagram were on the scene. Now she’s a prolific user of all three – she has more than 13 million fans on Facebook, 9.8 million followers on Instagram and another 6 million on Twitter.
“I do use it a lot,” Ciara admits. “Social media has given me the opportunity to connect more with my fans. I think that one of the greatest strengths you can have as an artist is being able to engage with your fans. Just building up a connection to them, because they really are the reason why I’m still here – six albums later, 13 years after I released my first album.
“You also,” she continues, “get to say your message exactly how you want to. You’ve just got to hope that you don’t press the send button too early! You want to make sure you have your message clear before you hit send. But it does allow you to tell your story how you want to.”
Ciara’s own story has grown beyond making music. She’s ventured into acting (in films such as All You’ve Got and That’s My Boy, as well as in TV show The Game) and is a favourite muse of fashion designers. She’s a long-time friend of Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci and was recruited by Roberto Cavalli’s Creative Director Peter Dundas to appear in the brand’s autumn/winter 2015 campaign. Topshop tycoon Sir Philip Green also recently enlisted her as an ambassador for the high-street chain, and Ciara has hosted several exclusive events for the label.
Aside from more work with Topshop, Ciara has plenty of other projects in the pipeline. “I’ve got the second leg of my tour coming up,” she says. “I can’t tell you the surprises, but I always want to give my all. I’m just looking forward to making every performance a memorable night, not only for myself, but for my fans. I feel like I go harder every time, so I’m looking forward to experiencing it again. There’s a lot of cool things in store that I’m super excited about. My fans hate it when I say stay tuned, but stay tuned!”