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Even before the question is posed, she makes clear the essence of her sound. “I’m a soul singer,” she says, with much pride and little hesitation. That’s who she is, at her core, and no matter the song she sings, her spirit seems to resonate from the speakers along with her voice. That’s the magic that Fantasia brings, every time.
At first listen, Side Effects of You might sound like an album about heartbreak and the process of piecing oneself back together. That’s true, in part, but if you have her tell it, there’s much more there. While the Grammy-winning singer has certainly enjoyed chart-topping, triple-platinum and multi-platform success since winning season three of American Idol, she, like everybody, has made some mistakes, too. Though she has never shied away from being transparent in her music, she wasn’t necessarily thinking about putting her words into song when she picked up a pen and her blank notebook two years ago.
“When I started writing in my book, I had a bittersweet taste in my mouth,” Fantasia says of how she was feeling – professionally, personally, emotionally – after putting in a decade’s worth of hard work. “I’d been doing one-off shows and not really recording, but when my doctor put me on bed rest, I decided to use that time to start writing down some of the things that were on my mind. If I was able to get to the grocery store, people would stop me in my Hoveround chair and tell me what they were going through, so I wrote about that, too.” It was only after she met (and vibed with) London-bred producer, Harmony Samuels, that she realized it might be time to get back in the studio. With her trusted notebook by her side, she would eventually co-write seven of the 13 songs that comprise Side Effects of You. “I’ve always wanted to collaborate with someone the way Michael Jackson did with Quincy Jones,” she says of joining forces with Harmony, who serves as album producer. “As soon as I heard the song, ‘Supernatural Love,’ I knew he was the one.”
Crafting this, her fourth album, was like a dream come true for Fantasia as she made it her mission to tap into the music that has inspired her over the years. “When I was growing up, we listened to so many different types of music in my house,” she remembers. “It started with gospel and then the blues because my grandfather loved B.B. King. Of course I loved listening to my girls Monica, Brandy, TLC and SWV, but I also played Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, Elton John, Ella Fitzgerald, Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, Bonnie Raitt and Queen. You can listen to any of those artists today because their music still stands and that’s what I wanted to do with this project. I want my music to be timeless.”
Leading the album out of the gate is “Lose to Win,” which she co-wrote alongside Andrea Martin over a sample of The Commodores’ classic, “Nightshift.” “This is my testimony,” Fantasia says of this ode to the power of understanding when to hold, and fold. “Andrea and I really connected and I wanted to deliver this song for her. She allowed me to switch a few things up, but we were both able to put our feelings into the song.” Fantasia followed up with the slow-bounce club banger, “Without Me,” featuring Kelly Rowland and Missy Elliott. The song, which she co-wrote with Al Sherrod Lambert, Kyle Stewart and Missy, set the blogosphere and urban radio ablaze in record time. She sings of the moment that the veil is lifted on an unbalanced relationship. Once Kelly and Missy chime in, there’s no avoiding their burning question – “Where’d you be, without me?” “I always love working with Missy and it broke my heart that she wasn’t a part of my last album. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity this time. And Kelly? She killed her verse!”
“End of Me” is a song so moving that it literally sweeps you off your feet. Co-written with Lambert and Amber Streeter, Fantasia sings of the type of love that is absolutely no good, but keeps calling you back, over and over again. Who hasn’t been there? On “Change Your Mind,” co-written with Lambert, Fantasia tips her hat to the late Whitney Houston. When she sings, “Come home to me, baby, I’ll be good to you, darling,” it’s so very reminiscent of Whitney’s 1990 hit, “I’m Your Baby Tonight” and that’s exactly how she wanted it.
Two words come to mind when she talks about “Get It Right” – rock soul. “When I say ‘rock,’ I’m thinking of Tina Turner and when I say ‘soul,’ it’s all about Aretha Franklin,” she says of the high-octane track which she co-wrote with Streeter and Lambert. “With the live instruments, you get a Tina Turner/James Brown feeling and maybe even a little bit of Andre’ 3000’s ‘Hey Ya.’ When we were recording, I ran and grabbed everybody in the studio to sing with me. I love this song!” Then there’s the album’s title track. Produced by Naughty Boy and written by Emeli Sande’, Shahid Khan, Claudia Bryant and Ben Harrison, “Side Effects of You” is as haunting as it is vivid when it comes to the business of releasing someone who has wreaked havoc on you. “This song is the truth,” Fantasia says, “but it’s also kind of tricky because it’s about a man and medication. At first, I’m singing about him like he’s what I needed, but in the end, I flip it like he was actually the drug.” As for choosing this ballad as the title track, she explains that the song’s sentiments also relate to life, in general. “Everybody’s been hurt and the pain can be caused by family, friends and in my case, the industry, too. When I sing this song, I’m telling everybody who has ever done or said anything to hurt me that these are the side effects of you. Yes, this song is the truth!”
Back in 2004, on the night of May 26, a then-19-year-old Fantasia Barrino stepped onto the American Idol stage and won top honors. After wowing television audiences with her vocal talent, the North Carolina native released her debut album, Free Yourself, which featured as its first single, “I Believe,” a song that made her the first artist in Billboard history to debut at #1 on the Hot 100 chart. Her second single, “Truth Is,” would later hold the #1 spot on the charts for 14 weeks. During 2006, she released her New York Times bestselling memoir, Life Is Not a Fairytale, starred as her younger self in the Lifetime movie of the same name and by year’s end, released her second album, entitled, simply, Fantasia, which included the hit single, “When I See U.” What followed were the coveted role of Celie in Broadway’s The Color Purple (for which she won a Theater World Award), a guest spot on The Simpsons and a two-season run of the VH1 reality series, Fantasia For Real. During the summer of 2011, she released her third album, Back to Me, which featured the Grammy-winning single, “Bittersweet.” To date, she’s sold nearly three million records and 1.5 million digital tracks, domestically. Looking toward the near future, she will expand her musical repertoire even further when she joins classical singer, Andrea Bocelli, for his world tour in summer 2013.
Each of her experiences have contributed to who she is as an artist and also, as an inspiration to the next generation of performers whom are listening to each note she hits and watching her ascension. As she continues on her creative journey, she’s still has more learning and growing to do and many more songs to sing. What remains constant is that she loves music, she knows music, and she always sings from her heart, with all of her soul.
So, how does she feel about her latest work now that it’s out in the world, for all to hear?
“I know that every artist says that their albums are like their babies, but Side Effects of You really is my baby,” Fantasia says with a laugh. “Besides the music, this album means so much to me because it represents the amazing creative relationships I made and the thoughts and ideas that were spoken into my life during the recording process. This project came together right in the nick of time.”