Peniston’s breakout hit, featured on the singer’s 1992 debut album of the same name, catapulted the then-21-year-old to the top of Billboard’s Dance/Club songs chart, and peaked at No. 5 on Billboard’s Top 100 singles chart.
Over two decades since her meteoric rise in the music world, Peniston has launched her own publishing company, CeCe Pen Inc., and is currently recording two new solo studio projects, as well as developing an as-yet-untitled reality show.
In celebration of her forthcoming nationwide tour commemorating the 25th anniversary of “Finally,” Peniston spoke to The Huffington Post about the song’s success, taking control of her music, and the significance of becoming the first foreign female entertainer to perform in post-apartheid South Africa.
Congratulations on the 25th anniversary of “Finally.” How does it feel to commemorate the song’s success?
It feels really good, and we’re definitely going all out. I finally put back on the “Finally” hat from 25 years ago on the album cover. Not everybody gets a classic. Sometimes people get songs on the radio, but to have a song that stands 25 years. All over the world, I’m traveling and I still hear it. Just to have that one classic that people want to hear all over again, it’s definitely a blessing and truly feels epic for me.
What was the inspiration for writing the song at age 21?
I was in college and I started writing poetry as a way to express myself. And while I was in college I wasn’t dating that much and I was like, “I don’t have a man, what would I say if I found him, finally? And what would he look like?” And I just put in the description of what he would look like to me. And it’s funny how that happened. So the inspiration was a real-life experience for me being in college and not having somebody and just saying what I would say.
Following the song’s release, did you finally meet your man?
I did, sweetie. [Laughs] I did meet him afterwards, and we ended up getting married. We were married for about a year. I started traveling around the world and sometimes that’s weird when you’re young and trying to travel the world. And being married, that’s a whole new experience. But yeah, I found him for a little bit. [Laughs]
Through the years, you’ve remained active in music by releasing a string of dance singles. However, your last full-length solo album was released in 1996. What has prompted your decision to record singles instead of an album?
I just think that people get bored. Because sometimes, there’s so many projects. For instance, I’m working on a Christmas project, which probably won’t be done until May, but the single route is easier. I have another live project that I’m working on and then I have my own dance music. So between putting out too many albums at one time and just doing singles and doing things that you like to do, you never know what’s gonna hit. And it prevents me from having to be in a box. And also, I’ve been on different labels where they’ll say, “Hey, we’ll just put out a single here and a single there,” and you’re in different places putting out singles.
Now, I’m doing stuff myself ― independently, paying for stuff, putting out my own music, getting my own publishing. Everything. When you own stuff it makes it a lot different than having to get permission from somebody else. So those are the things that I’m doing this year, as I take charge of my business.
What are your thoughts on some of today’s R&B/pop artists, such as Rihanna and Usher, recording dance music, in comparison to the ‘90s?
I just think that the beats are different. I think the tone and the format has changed. When we were doing dance music [in the ‘90s], you had a verse, a chorus, a verse, a chorus, a bridge, and your outro. Now, you may have the chorus, say 20 times, whereas we had a different format. We didn’t do a lot of extra singing. Sometimes people don’t like a lot of extra singing, especially on EDM [electronic dance music] songs, they want it easy and as singsongy as possible, because that’s what people remember the most.
Who are some of your favorite artists that have successfully transitioned from R&B to dance music?
Well, if you look at how Chris Brown and Usher transitioned from R&B to do some of the dance music, some of the beats that they have are like that. I feel like it’s hard to choose a favorite, because with us [during the early ‘90s] it was clear-cut [dance songs]. Right now they don’t have a real genre. Like Jamie xx, he does a lot of funky stuff that’s different. Drake has beats that’s like that. People don’t know this, but Travis Scott sampled my song “Finally” for his song “Whole Lotta Lovin.’”
Have you experienced any challenges adapting to today’s era of music?
What I try to do is listen to what’s out there. And I probably have some of it. I just released a song called “Believe” last year that did well on the Billboard charts and another called “Nothing Can Stop Me Now,” so there’s some EDM stuff in there. But I just feel like I don’t like to put myself in a box and limit myself.
When people tell me I can’t do something, I just say, “OK, I hear you. I’m still gonna do what I want to do.” And so, I just let the people decide, because they’re definitely gonna decide if they like it or not.
In 1994 you became the first foreign female entertainer to perform in post-apartheid South Africa. Talk about the historical significance of the performance.
When I went over there it was like, “Oh, my God, I’m in the motherland. Where everything started. It’s our history.” I just looked out at the crowd and when I was performing I just got goose bumps on my skin off the fact that I was over in Africa and I was one of the first women, historically, to be able to come over to Africa ― right after apartheid when people felt beaten down ― and feel the depression and the sadness of what’s been going on in the world.
I got to go bring a piece of heaven to them, and bring the gift of song and be able to experience things after that happening. So I felt honored to go over there and do that.