POP-ED: Christina Aguilera

POP-ED: Christina Aguilera

We spoke to Xtina about her new album and forthcoming tour, which is to be her first in 10 years.



We spoke to Xtina about her new album and forthcoming tour, which is to be her first in 10 years.

Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG

In our new column, Digital Editor Mathias Rosenzweig writes portraits of individuals who've shifted popular culture as we know it today. 

A couple of weeks ago, Christina Aguilera emerged with a new look. The Internet went absolutely mental. Headlines repeatedly called her “unrecognizable.” Minimal makeup and unkempt, tousled hair revealed a softer side of the singer that most of us had never seen. The aesthetic contrasted with Aguilera’s previous style phases, which were colorful and nearly as loud as her iconic voice itself. Learning that she has a face full of freckles was somewhat shocking for those who know her (or thought they did)—a fair chunk of millennials living in the western world. Realizing that a pop fixture like Aguilera doesn’t actually look the way the public thought she did carried an important message in an age dominated by oversharing—we only get to see what people want us to see, and perhaps we don’t really know much about anyone.

“I am one for change, and being completely stripped back and revealing my freckles for the first time goes along with the thread of what I’m doing on the album,” says Aguilera. She’s discussing Liberation, which drops today and is her first album in six years. She laughs a few times as soon as she gets on the phone, just as one would when talking to an old friend. It makes me feel as if we’ve met several times, which obviously isn’t the case. “It’s great that it’s been so well received,” she continues, with another laugh. “Especially when you feel so naked without your makeup and your ability to play a character.”

From the outside, it may look as if Aguilera has played several characters over the past few decades. There was the little girl with the prodigal voice on The Mickey Mouse Club House. Much later, in 1999, came the “Genie In a Bottle” phase, complete with platinum blond hair, bejeweled skin and enough crop tops to make your head spin. After assuming creative control of her 4th studio album Stripped, Aguilera emerged as an anti-Disney pop princess—dark, defiant, and well versed with a hair crimper. One era replaced another—“Lady Marmalade”, the electronic phase, the classic Hollywood glamour of Back to Basics, etc. But of course, these weren’t characters; they were real moments in Aguilera’s evolving artistry. Alongside the aesthetics, the music was evolving as well. With this album, the singer is aiming for depth.

“It may take longer for me to get my music out, but it’s really important for me that I create songs of substance and that I have messages that can inspire other people,” she says about Liberation. Aguilera talks about her music with a sense of mortality, knowing that popularity doesn’t always equate a legacy—or at least one she would want. “It’s about getting back to the love of it before it’s a business, per se, quote unquote. I’m trying to de-machine it as much as possible…It’s about getting back to my truth. Not chasing a chart, but rather doing things that will have a long-lasting impression after I’m no longer here,” she explains. “I want to make music that will be of substance and will be something that lasts longer than just an in-the-moment fad.”

When it comes to commercialism, Aguilera obviously dabbles, but with caution. “I’ve experienced the super highs of having successful, commercially-driven records, from working with Pitbull and Adam [Levine] to ‘Genie in a Bottle” and “What a Girl Wants” in the beginning of my career…even being on a hit TV show,” Aguilera says. “But in all actuality, the most commercialized things that I feel lack substance are sometimes the most popular and well received.” Referring to her recent performance with Demi Lovato at the Billboard Awards, she adds: “It’s really great to come out on stage and have lyrics that have a message and can hopefully inspire other young girls.” She’s referring to the lyrics of the song the duo performed together, “Fall in Line”, which advises little girls that they don’t belong to anyone but themselves.

As for the new album, it doesn’t feel as if Aguilera has had do much adjusting to make sense in the realm of “woke pop.” After all, she’s been a major player in female empowerment since early in her career. A voice like hers will always be too powerful and idiosyncratic to not take center stage on a recording. Still, certain tracks like the South African House-infused “Right Moves” provide equally compelling instrumentation. The album’s most prominent theme is a soulful take on r&b that feels both old-school and modern at the same time—something that should resonate with Xtina fans who were there on day one.

In terms of the album’s aesthetic, it will be interesting to see how visuals pan out during Aguilera’s upcoming tour—her first in 10 years. No matter how she chooses to visually manifest herself, it feels important to remember this: it is not the face of the girl behind “Dirrty” or “Beautiful” whose face we are now finally able to see clearly. 37-year-old Aguilera is a different person, revealing herself as she wants to in this moment. But whether it was in her days of heavy makeup and hair extensions or nearly nothing at all, Aguilera has been presenting her true self ever since she gained creative control over her own career. We’re not seeing her true colors for the first time; rather, we’re just seeing what they look like today.

“When I made Stripped, I didn’t care anymore if I sold one or one million records or more. I have to do me—I have to speak my truth,” she says. “And from then on, I really never looked back.”

By Milan Zrnic

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