Christina Aguilera Reclaims The Fame
By Joshua David Stein
If you haven't met her, disliking Christina Aguilera isn't difficult. The blonde nymph whose midriff defies coverage has stood for crass pop culture since 1999 when she sang 'I'm a genie in a bottle / You gotta rub me the right way, honey.' But the song spread like an 88 bpm contagion, engulfing clubs and bars, cabs and cars as it raged toward platinum, then double platinum, then triple, all the way to sextuple platinum. Our bodies were saying let's go, but our hearts were saying no, and when the dust settled and dawn came, we dismissed the song and the singer with the zeal of the shamed. But to dismiss Aguilera as a trifle is to do away with a serious, courageous artist. To refuse to listen to her out of contemptuous music snobbery is to deprive oneself of one of pop's greatest voices.
Aguilera's pool house is no cabin in the woods. Not by nature a songwriter, Aguilera is largely dependent on others such as Sia, Perry, and a small cottage industry of modern day West Coast Tin Pan Alley men to furnish the words and melodic armature of her voice. Much of the success and failure of her work rests not so much on her own voice -- which emerged when she was 6 years old fully formed, a combination of gymnastic ability, rich amber tone, and sexiness obscenely beyond her years -- but on how her voice is used and on what she says with it.
In her eponymous debut album, when Aguilera was green, new to Los Angeles, and with little agency, her voice was chained to inane easy-to-hum hooks. 'Genie in a Bottle' and 'What a Girl Wants' made her a star, but her virtuosic range was often offloaded into ballads or brief overdubs that left her voice exposed, awkward, and off-putting. In her follow-up album, Stripped, Aguilera repudiates the pop sausage machine that had ground her into a girl sex genie. 'On that first album, I was creatively stifled,' she says. 'On Stripped I was like, I don't give a fuck.' With its shades of 'Dear Prudence' and a message that diverged from the wish-granting fantasy, 'Beautiful' was all 'Genie in a Bottle' wasn't: a song that set Aguilera free.
Knowing her media savvy and her checkered past, it's easy to dismiss her claim, 'I'm kissing all the boys and the girls,' made in the single 'Not Myself Tonight,' as just another entry into the ledger of inevitable lesbian confessions made by every young pop star. After all, it was Aguilera herself, accompanied by Britney Spears, who initiated the trend, French-kissing Madonna back in 2003 at the Video Music Awards. Later, Katy Perry kissed a girl and sang about it. Gaga slobbered all over a female bodybuilder in her recent music video, 'Telephone.'
'I don't get to kiss all the girls and the boys,' Aguilera says, 'but my husband knows that I get into girls. I think it's fun to be open and play. The line is real to me. My husband and I check in with each other, but I definitely love women. I think they're more attractive to the naked eye,' she says before adding, 'I don't think I could ever really be with a woman because that's a lot of'what do you call it? Guys have testosterone, girls have'' Estrogen? 'Yeah, there's a lot of estrogen and I'm a lot to deal with when it's that time of the month, so I can't imagine it times two.' Aguilera pauses and then shakes her head. 'And you know, I love dick. To be honest, that I cannot live without.' She sucks her Ricola with a vengeance.
Though it could be said that behind every great pop star is a gay cadre, often it's there in the capacity of courtiers, not collaborators. But in Aguilera's case nearly every one of her artistic triumphs was born from a gay relationship, or at least a relationship with a gay: Perry's 'Beautiful'; Ricky Martin, with whom Aguilera recorded 'Nobody Wants to be Lonely'; on this album, Sia and her girlfriend, JD Samson of Le Tigre. 'I feel like Christina's probably supporting the majority of the lesbian scene in Los Angeles because she really only works with gaylords, like her dog walker, her personal trainer, her cowriters,' jokes Sia, but it's not far from the truth. Bisexual or not, Aguilera is queer in the word's most literal sense.