"At this point in my career, I'm in a place where I'm like, 'This is me,'" says Ciara.
This place of personal and musical acceptance hasn't been particularly easy to reach, acknowledges the singer. From a red-hot beginning with chart-topping, multi-platinum 2004 debut "Goodies" to the lukewarm response to her 2009-2010 releases Fantasy Ride and Basic Instinct, Ciara has seemingly struggled to find her identity among today's pop/R&B divas.
There have definitely been some "bumps and bruises," the 27-year-old star confessed during a recent telephone interview. Even after requesting -- and receiving -- her release from now-defunct Jive Records and making the jump to Epic, where she was returned to mentor L.A. Reid, Ciara's journey of self-discovery continued.
The singer-turned-actress kicked off promotion for her much-anticipated fifth studio set, initially titled One Woman Army, with three unofficial singles -- "Sweat," "Sorry" and "Got Me Good" -- in 2012. None gained significant traction. Then, earlier this year, she scrapped the album's title, citing a different musical direction.
While the decision might have seemed abrupt to fans, the artist argues it was "seamless" behind the scenes. The redirected sound of the now self-titled album, hitting retail on Friday, July 5, became obvious, she says, during recording.
"It wasn't a bad thing," she says of the pre-release changes.
"As I started working with new people, I discovered new energy," Ciara says. "When you're making an album, sometimes you may start one way, but as you keep creating, you keep experimenting and coming up with new sounds. It just starts to take its own shape."
Ciara rejoins the singer and heavyweight Rodney Jerkins, who helped guide her early success. It also includes credits for hit-makers such as Nicki Minaj, The Underdogs, Wynter Gordon and more.
Initial reception for the disc's official lead single "Body Party" bodes well for the release. Cowritten by Ciara's boyfriend, rapper Future, and sampling '90s hit "My Boo" by Ghost Town DJs, the track has been the star's first Top 40 pop hit since 2009, climbed into the R&B Top 10 and broke the Top 20 on dance charts.
"More than anything, I wanted people to feel something -- and that's how I feel when I listen to this album," Ciara shares. And, she says, "hitting the reset button" appears to have changed how she feels about this effort.
"I actually listen to this album, as a fan, and I haven't actually listened to my music in years," she relates. "After completing an album, I don't like listening to it until I have to prepare for performances, but this album I can put on from time-to-time and mode out to it."
Whether or not she returns to the heights of Goodies, she says, is out of her hands. And Ciara refuses to allow undue pressure -- whether from others or herself -- to make that the only gauge of success for this new record.
"I feel really good," she says. "I can rest my eyes knowing I put my all into [this album]. I had the most fun I've ever had making an album. I'm having fun.
"I'm living my life right now for me," Ciara concludes, "That feels really good."
Watch the "Body Party" video