Poor Christina Aguilera.
2010 was supposed to be her star, comeback year after disappearing for more than 4 years. She had been hailed as having one of the best voices in pop music, and she was also one of the sexiest for a while. For months there had been buzz about the release of “Bionic”–it had been hyped for months due to the amount of collaborators Aguilera would be working with and because it would be her return to the music scene. With a list of producers like M.I.A., Peaches, Sia, and Nicki Minaj, it seemed like Aguilera would at least have an interesting album to return with.
Then “Not Myself Tonight” was released.
The video showed Aguilera in a number of fetish-inspired outfits, dousing herself in ink, chained up, tied up and singing about “kissing all the boys and the girls.” There were obvious similarities between Madonna’s “Human Nature” and Gaga’s “Bad Romance” videos, and there seemed to be no cohesive theme or concept to the clip. Every other second featured Aguilera in a new bondage-type situation and even dancing in a church. It was certainly trashy, but in my opinion, it was also fun. It fit in with the “fuck you” she growled in the song.
The public was not as kind.
Since it’s release the video has been voted as the worst video of the year and most of the attacks have come from Aguilera’s overt use of sexuality and how similar the sound and looks are to what Gaga has been perfecting for the past year. While Aguilera has never been a stranger to pissing people off for being too sexual, she has never come so under fire for “not being herself.” As Entertainment Weekly said in a scathing review:
The worst part about Xtina’s video, beyond the rather unabashed unoriginality of it, is the sad stink of I’ve-been-gone-forever-had-a-baby-and-now-want-to-be-relevant-again desperation. Cue: the girl-on-girl makeout sessions! Text messaging! Fire balls! When watching, there’s wasn’t a moment where I didn’t feel like Aguilera was clawing for relevancy, in a crazy, far beyond, post-Aguilera world.
It wasn’t so much the sex that annoyed people, it was the smell of desperation Aguilera supposedly gave off.
It didn’t help that Aguilera was letting her ego get the better of her in some interviews. When asked about Gaga in a cover story interview with Out Magazine, Aguilera brushed it off saying sarcastically, “Oh, the newcomer? She’s fun to look at.”
Aguilera in a shoot by Ellen von Unwerth for Out magazine
Dissing one of the biggest pop stars of the moment only helped to make the public hate Aguilera more. By the time Bionic was released, Aguilera found herself defending herself in nearly interview. Questions about her feud with Gaga and if she felt like there was still a place for her in the current gaunt of pop stars were a constant, and the press seemed to be out for blood.
Bionic was released June 8th and debuted to dismal record sales (coming in at number 3 on Billboard) and even worse reviews. “Vanity’ says it all,” wrote Rob Sheffield in his 2 and a half star review of the album in Rolling Stone. “Especially when the backup chorus chants the wedding march as Christina vows, “I take myself to be my lawful-wedded bitch.” Cheers to the happy couple.” Most reviews followed accordingly in the same tone. The press began using a loving nickname for Aguilera when referring to her: Floptina.
When listening to the album with an open mind though, it’s actually quite excellent. The main problem that Aguilera faces is the length. At eighteen songs, it could have easily lost four or five tracks and still be a great album. In fact the most boring ones “Lift Me Up”, “Sex for Breakfast” and the embarrassingly immature “I Hate Boys” are the only ones I immediately disliked upon first listen. But when she’s experimenting with a new sound or intriguing lyrics, she succeeds in great ways.
Take “Elastic Love”–a track produced by M.I.A. where the lyrics compare a lover to a rubber band that keeps leaving and coming back to her at random. From the hard-edged beginning to the electro-infused chorus, it’s unlike most anything on the radio right now and has smarter lyrics than most top 40 pop songs from this year. The beautiful and ethereal “I Am” is probably one of the most raw and stunning songs to emerge from the album, and possibly from any pop-star this year. And then there’s “You Lost Me”–the biggest stunner on the album, and the one most fans say should have carried the tone of the whole album. Aguilera’s voice is on full display here and she controls and uses it with great skill. Even “Vanity” has it’s charm. Aguilera is obviously not taking herself seriously when she demands everyone to bow down to her, but its great fun to listen to. Why, I wonder, did the gays not accept this song instantly? It’s exactly the type of song I would want to dance to at a gay club, and it’s tartly funny.
It didn’t take long for critics to pan “Bionic” as one of the worst albums of the summer, and later, of the year. It’s here where I have to completely disagree. While it does feel like Aguilera is trying on a few different musical hats, “Bionic” is by no means a bad album. In fact, it’s a pretty brave and creative album from an artist who will constantly be plagued with Gaga comparisons as long as she keeps up with the electro-music.
Things didn’t get better for Aguilera when “Burlesque”, her first feature film starring Cher, was released. Universally panned by critics and coming in at a dismal number three position in the US Box Office, one critic snidely remarked, “Anne Hathaway won’t have to worry about her dayjob.” “Burlesque” was like the final nail in the coffin for critics to bash Aguilera. News of her divorce didn’t help matters. By December, most critics gleefully started writing catty articles about everything from Aguilera’s recent “weight gain” to if she will ever be able to regain the career she once had. Rolling Stone declared her as having one of the worst years for pop singers. Yahoo news wondered if her turning thirty would mean she was doomed to grow into middle age in embarrassment. Entertainment Weekly called “Bionic” one of the worst albums of the year. And then “Burlesque” was nominated for best picture at the Golden Globes and became a laughing stock.
Aguilera in Burlesque.
And this is where I find the biggest faults with the crucifixion of Aguliera: Are we as a society just looking for a strong woman to rip apart, spit out and proclaim is the biggest piece of shit to re-emerge this year, and become a scapegoat if you will, or are we being fair in our criticism of Aguilera this year? Obviously, the press (and public) is looking for a scapegoat. Everyone loves a trainwreck, and the one thing that scares America more than a girl out of control is one who is clearly going through life with a “fuck you” attitude and has a large amount of confidence. When men display arrogance or faith in their work–or even depict sexuality–no one flinches. But if a woman does it, and even shows the slightest sense of “desperation”, she will immediately be ripped apart. The exception, for now, is Gaga. You could argue the same for Aguilera eight years ago. It’s amazing to me that we can’t have two blonde singers enjoying the same amount of success. Or why critics seem to be joyfully jumping to their laptops to include Aguilera at number one in their “worst of” lists. You can almost be certain that she’ll garner a Razzie award next year. After a while, it becomes less about the work the person has put out and more about how much of an easy target they can become for us to drag them down.
Aguilera put out a damn good album with “Bionic”, and while “Burlesque” wasn’t great it was still fun to watch. No matter how much she defends herself or keeps her head up the public won’t accept that. They’ve made up their mind. Aguilera is finished. So what did she do, America, besides speaking her mind and wearing dominatrix outfits that pissed you off so much? Until her public incarceration is lifted, expect to find “Bionic” and “Burlesque” on more worst-of lists, and to find more articles written about the demise of Aguilera’s career. But don’t expect to find the same for Chris Brown or Mel Gibson–both openly homophobic, abusive, and racist. And that, is truly disgusting.
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