The eye-catching peak of Double Dutchess: Seeing Double, Fergie‘s new visual album, is a short film helmed by A-list video director Jonas Åkerlund that tackles, among other things, the singer’s previous addiction to crystal meth and her resulting, semi-debilitating paranoia. At one point, Fergie wanders through a war-torn no man’s land in a psych-ward straitjacket-dress as soldiers scramble around her and shells explode on all sides.
“The levels of crazy, right?” says Fergie, when asked about the clip. “It was great to have that world of cinema, have pyro, a battlefield. It’s all about the battle in your mind. Trippy, bro!”
Double Dutchess marks Fergie’s return as a solo artist, 11 years after stepping out on her own with The Dutchess and almost seven years since her group the Black Eyed Peas released its latest album. That’s a long time away for one of the most successful pop stars of the 2000s: The Dutchess spawned five Top Five singles in the U.S. – including three Number Ones in the sleek, thumping “Glamorous,” the uplift-playlist staple “Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal),” and the brassy, sing-song-y “London Bridge.” The only act to come close to matching The Dutchess‘ chart achievement in that decade was the Peas themselves, who earned five Top 10s from their 2009 album The E.N.D.
“I always knew I would make a second album, I just didn’t know when,” Fergie tells Rolling Stone. Black Eyed Peas commitments lasted through 2011, when the group went on hiatus; the singer gave birth to her son Axl two years later. During this time, “a brain-gasm would happen, and I’d just jot it down in my journal, record a voice note on my phone,” Fergie explains. She commenced working on her record in earnest a year after Axl was born.
She plotted the album as a continuation of The Dutchess, both in terms of lyrical honesty and musical variety. “Dutchess introduced who I was as a person,” Fergie says. “In Black Eyed Peas, I’m just the girl in Black Eyed Peas; Dutchess was a way to let you in a bit. On this record, I was able to go even deeper, to go straight to the emotions.” Those emotions are given the most exposure on ballads like “Save It Til Morning,” which transforms the “never go to bed angry” precept into soft rock, and “Love Is Pain,” a stormy, guitar-slathered number. Both were penned with help from Toby Gad, who co-wrote “Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal)” as well as Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy” and John Legend’s “All of Me.” “Fergie’s range is incredible, her tone is incredible, and she’s really invested in every note she sings,” says Gad.
The album’s forthright discussions of troubled romance are easy to dig into – especially in light of the singer’s recent split with husband Josh Duhamel – but they are just one facet of a kaleidoscopic album that incorporates pummeling trap (“Hungry”), bass-popping disco (“Tension”), the “tropical” sound that permeated the Top 40 last year (“Life Goes On”) and old-school, Lyn Collins–sampling house music (“You Already Know,” featuring Nicki Minaj). “I get bored with one type of music,” Fergie says. “I want new and exciting surprises everywhere you turn.”
Functioning for the first time as her own executive producer – and releasing a record for the first time through her own label, Dutchess Music, an imprint of BMG – Fergie figured the album-making process wouldn’t take more than a year. She put out “L.A. Love,” a Top 40 single with a beat from then-ascendant producer DJ Mustard, in 2014, assuming that her LP would follow. “I really thought I was going to come with that song and have the album right afterwards,” she explains. “It just wasn’t ready. I didn’t realize how long things take – especially having a kid, I’ve never done this before. But I wasn’t proud of it yet.”
“It’s like building a house,” she continues. “You can do it fast and cheap, but it’s not gonna be good. I’m not trying to act like I’m not trying on this one. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”
As a sort of consolation prize for the delay – “to make it worth the wait” – she also decided to add to her workload by creating a video for every song. She recruited famous directors, including Åkerlund (whose résumé includes clips for Beyoncé and Metallica) and Alek Keshishian (Madonna, Bobby Brown), and high-powered pals – Kim Kardashian, Ciara and Chrissy Teigen in “M.I.L.F. $”; Kendall Jenner in “Enchanté (Carine)” – for help.
But one of the most arresting visuals has no humans at all: For “Love Is Blind,” Fergie and director Chris Ullens made a cheerfully murderous cartoon clip in which Fergie’s protagonist kills off unsuitable romantic partners while the deep reggae track drifts lazily through the background. The singer originally wanted the video to be filled with cartoon puppies – a joke on the other “bitches” she dismisses in “Love Is Blind” – but Ullens came with idea of something more in line with “Gone Girl, Fatal Attraction and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, except doing it with these dolls and making them spill out pink goo.”
This video stays with you, though it can’t match the overwhelming force of Åkerlund’s “A Little Work” clip. The idea to dramatize Fergie’s previous experience with addiction, which she discussed in an Oprah interview in 2012, came after Åkerlund conducted an in-depth conversation with the singer about her life. “I’m just like an open vessel,” she says. “It was very interesting, the idea of wanting to play that out in cinema – and not only that, but make it larger than life, make it grand.”
Cue the pyro, the hectic battlefield, scenes of Fergie imprisoned in a padded cell, and a swat team symbolizing her old drug demons. “It’s like beautiful insanity,” she decides. “Or glorious insanity – whichever one you like.”