Last Friday, after much speculation and weeks of hype, Christina Aguilera’s new single “Your Body” was officially released. It’s a fun club track that showcases her trademark pipes and vocal runs. It’s a decent song and it’s good to hear new material from her. She also announced that her new album, Lotus, will be released November 13th.
Christina’s career has been a curious one. During the first half, she was one of the biggest pop stars in the world, while she was a caricature of a failing pop star during the second half. Each letdown was worse than the last. I firmly believe that, had she played her cards right, she would have icon status like that of Beyoncé: current, innovative and untouchable. Instead we see a has-been pop star trying to work her way back to the top. When Christina’s main focus is putting out great music, she never disappoints. However, the problem with Christina Aguilera is when she and her team focus too heavily on her look and sound, she becomes so painfully ‘on-trend’ that by the time the material is released, she’s already out of style. We find ourselves once again at the dawn of a new era for Christina, and my hope is that her focus is putting out the great music she was once known for.
We all remember Christina upon her debut. The, small, innocent “Genie In a Bottle” songstress that was the Anti-Britney immediately distinguished herself from Spears with her undeniable vocal ability. While Brit was grabbing headlines with her oversexed image, Christina needed to rely only on her talent, which landed her the Grammy for Best New Artist. A pop star that could actually sing! She was off to a good start.
And then came Stripped, an album that I maintain is one of the top 10 modern pop albums of all time, if not top five. Though she came out of the gate in assless chaps with messy hair extensions and a slew of new piercings in her video for the lead single “Dirrty,” the album was less about shock value and more about the pop star taking the reigns of her career. She had a much bigger hand in co-writing the songs, hand-picking producers such as hit makers like Scott Storch and Linda Perry, and calling the shots with the overall look and feel of the record. As an album, Stripped has the timeless factor that many other pop albums lack (Baby One More Time, anyone?). All 20 tracks are as good today as they were 10 years ago, because they came from a genuine place. Even in the pop world, honesty never goes out of style.
During the Stripped era, when Christina was reborn as an edgier “Xtina,” she met music marketing executive Jordan Bratman, a man who would soften her around the edges and eventually become her husband. They would marry in late 2005.
While Christina was busy living her life, I was impatiently waiting for her next album. By mid 2006, she released Back to Basics. The album took a ton of risks — it was a two disc set, a long awaited follow-up to a wildly successful album, and scariest of all, a concept album.
Back to Basics was a throwback to the 20s, 30s and 40s blues and jazz scenes with a pop sensibility. The album was a success, though the main criticism was its length. Her label had cautioned her against a two-disc set, but after the overwhelming success of Stripped, Christina could pretty much do whatever she wanted. The record was solid, but at times repetitive. Had she cut the fat and streamlined the 23 tracks into one succinct body of work, it would have been a killer album. But if that’s the worst criticism, then things could be worse. The lead single, “Ain’t No Other Man,” went on to win her the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal.
And then there was Bionic. Here’s where things get messy. In 2010, the buzz about a new album from Christina began. With an unbeatable arsenal of producers and collaborations with M.I.A., Santigold, Peaches and the formerly under the radar Nicki Minaj, we were all excited. And then she described the upcoming project as “futuristic.” “NO, CHRISTINA!” I howled. “Futuristic” is a word that should be saved for shit like, I don’t know, space travel or something — not pop music. Especially when you’re talented enough to not need a gimmick. Just record a great album! The last thing we need is another “concept.”
If you blinked, you probably missed the Bionic era, because it ended as quickly as it started. The album was overproduced, noisy, unfocused, and robotic. When you’ve got a voice like Christina Aguilera, the last thing you need is autotune, but her producers seemed to disagree. The album suffered embarrassingly poor sales, a cancelled tour due to disappointing ticket sales, and almost worst of all, the tarnishing of the reputation of one of the biggest pop stars in the world. Even Britney was able to churn out what is arguably the best album of her career, Blackout, when she was mid-breakdown. Christina had a massive flop on her hands when she should have been at the top her game.
She wasn’t exactly concerned with making any friends while promoting this album either. She adopted a diva attitude in interviews that seemed like more of a persona than anything else, almost like she was immediately on the defense when talking about an album that was being reamed by critics. And then came the Lady Gaga controversy, when Christina ran her mouth about the “new comer” to OUT Magazine. Say what you want about the polarizing pop star, but of all places to talk shit about a budding gay icon, OUT Magazine was not the place to do it. Then there was footage of her throwing her chewed gum into the audience during a performance at the Today Show. Not the best way to promote an album, I’d say.
Things weren’t going so well for her personally, either. She and Jordan divorced in 2010. Rarely am I interested in the personal lives of celebrities, but this divorce broke my heart. Jordan found her at her darkest times, edgy and crazy during Stripped, and saved her from herself (as referenced by her song “Save Me From Myself”). Now she was on her own again.
And let’s just briefly touch on Burlesque. I mean, when I heard that Christina was starring in a movie-musical alongside Cher about a small town girl becoming a burlesque dancer, I wasn’t exactly expecting a blockbuster, more like a cult classic, a modern day Showgirls starring two icons. But after an embarrassment of an album, a failed tour and a less than loveable public persona, people weren’t exactly flocking to the theaters.
After a disastrous year, Christina laid low for a while, focusing all of her attention on being a mom and wearing tight leggings. In 2011, she signed on to be a judge on a new television singling competition The Voice. A smart move by Aguilera and her team because it made her a household name again, if only by forcing her into people’s households once a week. It was a seemingly odd choice, taking a pop star who had just had a joke of an album and making her a judge on a singing show, but she was a name and a reputation. We were shown less of Christina’s vocal talent, and more of her (SASSY) personality. Alongside Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, Cee-Lo Green, and that one guy who sings country music whose name I refuse to remember, she brought some fun to the boy’s club with her entertaining banter with Levine and the other men. Though she was sometimes seemingly intoxicated and almost always wearing a questionable hat, I’m not sure the show would have been successful without her.
Whether we liked it or not, we were getting a weekly dose of Xtina, and it seems she started a trend of popstars with actual careers becoming judges on singing competitions, what with Mariah and possibly Nicki Minaj on American Idol (don’t get me started) while Britney does whatever it is she’s doing over on X Factor.
And finally, we’ve been blessed with a new single and an upcoming album. Now that she’s already forced her way back onto America’s radar, can her new music keep her there? The sound of her new single is decent — nothing groundbreaking, but it’s fun, which is really all pop music needs to be. It’s even better after a couple of cocktails (but what isn’t?).
I really hope that Christina has a hit on her hands this time around, because it’s a shame that stars (“stars”) like that “Call Me Maybe” girl are taking up so much of our time when vocalists with established careers are ending up in the clearance bins. Hopefully she’s learned from her missteps in the past and is ready to come out again right where she belongs, on top.