Ciara is not known for her vocal prowess. That's no secret. She has made a career off of being a booty-popper with a cute face and a pleasant tone. And as a self-professed music snob, I have been known to throw shade at those who careers follow similar scripts (Hi J-Lo and Cassie!) But her new single “I Bet” flirts with a magic that has me undeniably mesmerized.
I never saw it coming. It's like walking into a spider web and standing no chance of ever getting rid of all the silky threads. But then kinda liking it. That is what all pop music is meant to be, ear-catching tunes that bury themselves in your psyche until your mind mistakes their omnipresence for enjoyment. But “I Bet” does it so well, it transcends that basic pop label. Believe me, Ciara has accomplished something major that most (read: I) never thought could be done.
She opens the song with airy "na nas" that don't build any confidence in the track that is about to follow. But then the beat drops, and she rides it like she's at a rodeo. Who cares if she is doubling her vocals over the entire chorus to make herself sound more robust? Nobody. Does it really matter that she talks more than she sings on the verses? Nope. Her swag on this record is contagious, and I've caught the sickness.
The song is not without faults, the most egregious being pre-recorded hype man Theron Thomas from the production duo Rock City. He serves as the remedial translator, repeating lyrics in the most ignorant way possible, just like Future (Ciara’s ex-fiance/baby-daddy) but under a different name. His efforts are appreciated, but nobody, not even Future himself, can do what Future does well.
Speaking of Future, he is to blame for this. Though not confirmed, it’s pretty obvious that “I Bet” is a rudimentary diss track sent out to her ex. Ciara already let the whole world know that if you were looking for her cookies she was keeping them in a jar. So then he impregnates her and gets caught with his hand in another cookie jar? No sir. Now she is a woman scorned. If nothing else was going to light a fire under her ass, that sequence of events definitely would.
Ciara has a track record of releases like this, mid-tempo songs meant to in some way show that Ciara can "actually sing.” But there is no need to convince people that Ciara should be taken seriously as a singer. She shouldn’t be. Prior songs "And I," “Promise,” and "Body Party" attempted to prove that, and the results were inconclusive. Thankfully, she embraces the truth on “I Bet”: her voice is paper thin, just one notch higher on the volume scale than Janet Jackson's. And that’s ok. When wielded correctly, featherweight voices can be potent too.
Just listen to her "glory note" in the bridge. We all know that range is not a weapon in her arsenal, but an open-throated, full-voiced Ciara is as rare and awe-inspiring as level-headedness and tact on a reality TV show. We have to savor these moments.
There was a time when singers had to really sing. Talent dictated their career. Now, vocal talent is no longer a prerequisite thanks to studio effects and crafty marketing plans, and that simple fact boils me to my core. Which is why my infatuation and unmitigated (dare I say it) love for “I Bet” has me completely perplexed.
I like my music to have sangin’ and substance. I ride hard for Jazmine Sullivan, Jill Scott, and Luke James, and I tend to turn my nose up at whatever manufactured mess is topping the charts. So, maybe Cici caught me in a weak moment. Maybe the similarities to “U Got It Bad” are pulling at my 8701 Usher nostalgia. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for a good "you're gonna miss me when I'm gone" song. Either way, don't judge me. We all deserve our guilty pleasures.
Daren W. Jackson is a writer, cultural critic, and anthology of all things music and pop culture. When he's not feverishly working on his novel, he co-runs WaterCoolerConvos.com, a web magazine for blerds and millennials of color. Challenging him in Super Smash Bros, Super Mario Kart, or HALO is futile. You've been warned.