There are a few great things about getting older, especially for women. The wisdom and self-confidence that comes with age are two of them. It sounded like bullshit to me when I used to hear it from my mom, but I know now that it’s real. That’s what Ciara’s seventh album, Beauty Marks, is about - figuring it out and learning to love herself. Her fairytale romance with her husband, Russell Wilson, has also given her plenty to sing about.
Before the album even dropped, Ciara scored two jams-turned-memes. The first came from “Level Up,” whose thigh-driven choreography and impressive footwork offered both a challenge an impressive look at what “winning, like on another level” of pop athleticism. The second, “Dose,” offered her visual and aural take on Beychella, invoking that marching band/HBCU vibe, while reclaiming several of Ariana Grande’s vocal tics. Throughout the album, Ciara is at her strongest when she’s making bangers; “Girl Gang” with Kelly Rowland is another standout, whose lazy beat and embrace of ‘00s slang makes it feel nostalgic and anthemic. “Thinkin Bout You” offers a bit of ‘80s tinged flavor, reminiscent of Janet Jackson’s early, breathy delivery, while “Set” seems aimed at anyone who wants to tap into that regal Serena Williams vibe.
Overall, the LP is filled with themes of self-acceptance and encouragement for women to be in that “feelin’ myself” place. There is an obvious debt to how Beyoncé has changed the music landscape in this decade, and the ways in which she’s raised the bar for representing Black women. Ciara mixes Black girl magic-adjacent lyrics with themes of empowerment without stepping out to specifically address feminism or inequality. On the album’s title track, she sings about a relationship that helped her love herself (“Baby, when you take my hand /You show me that my scars are beauty marks") in a way that’s sincere but also amplifies an idea centering hetero-romantic love — it’s something she echoes on “Greatest Love,” “Trust Myself,” “Na Na,” and, of course, “Freak Me.” It’s enjoyable, but the plethora of this sentiment keeps her from truly leveling up with this album. If Ciara wants to step out from the pack for more than a song or two, she’s going to have to start taking some real chances.