Maybe I come late in this discussion, but it always intrigued me how splendid artists end up in the gutter. It looked like a tremendous effort to destroy everything that you have worked for and reintroduce yourself as a “train wreck”.
Today’s example is Christina Aguilera. When she first came out in 1999 she was second to Britney, but first in my heart. Her styling – especially her makeup – was horrendous. Her songs epitomised generic pop. However, something about her hinted great promise. She had what the Britneys of this world lack, a voice and a personality. At that time I was not a big fan. Actually, during that time I was listening to nu-metal so little did I care about planet pop.
When she came back in 2002 she was a totally different person. In planet pop not having released an album in three years was suicidal. Britney, also a newcomer in 1999, was at the time in the studio recording her fourth album. Stripped was a splashing hit. It brought the butt-naked pants, the piercings, the sexy kitten talk and the childhood abuse revelations. Christina Aguilera had a personality and she was selling it hard. Linda Perry penned Beautiful, which quickly became Christina’s anthem. Can’t Bring Us Down and Dirrty kept her fanbase dancing. Fighter showed that she had some short of creative vision and a stupendous vocal power. Other songs, not released, such as Infatuation, Walk Away and Loving Me 4 Me. She took the cove of Rolling Stone twice and went on tour with Justin Timberlake. The sky was the limit. However, even back then, some of her issues started showing: the album, despite its quality and excellent production had too many songs, some of which sounded like unnecessary fillers. Her “girl power” message and ego wasn’t appreciated by other artists, like Pink and her over-sexualized image made many people wonder what exactly she was trying to achieve.
In 2006 she came back once again as a changed woman. That time it was a Marilyn Monroe-inspired transformation. Now married to a man described as a “good stable guy”, she was once again the Anti-Britney, this time for all the right reasons. She had married a working man who seemed to genuinely adore her. Her music was inspired this time by music from previous decades, jazz, blues and soul. The result was quite impressive because she had the lungs to pull it off. Back to Basics was a double album, once again suffering from the “too many songs” syndrome, but with a few diamonds among the rest. She was also willing to present herself as sexy, but settled and conformable in her own womanhood. Songs inspired by her marriage such as Save Me From Myself and Hurt showed her vulnerability and showcased once more what an amazing singer she is. The circus-inspired world tour was equally spectacular, even though at times she seemed to try too hard, screaming too much and putting unnecessary strain into her voice. It was not the first time that she would do this, but it seemed quite clear at that moment.
Her love for experimentation – or her lack of identity as some critics would say – drove her to record Bionic. The pop-dance album was released in 2010 receiving an unprecedented backlash due to her fed with Lady Gaga and her over-sexualised, BDSM image. Many rushed to judge the album as of low quality and the artist as scared of having lost her fanbase due to the break she took after the birth of her son. However, looking closely to that record, it can be clearly seen that there had been a clash between two strong parties: the main album is a comfortably pop album with little surprises to offer and quite a few fillers. However, listening to the bonus songs it becomes quite clear that the album originally had a very different direction, that included experimental and darker sounds. In other words, it seems like Christina wanted to create her own Ray of Light and she was simply not allowed to do so. The record label asked for Not Myself Tonight, a song that originally was not even destined to make the cut, to be the lead single. The album tanked. The label released a low-quality video for the excellent ballad You Lost Me. And then let the album’s promotion die a quick death.
Then came a commercially so-so movie, Burlesque, the cancellation of a world tour, Golden Globes nominations for the movie surrounded by tons of controversy, her every-inflating figure, her divorce and the cheap gossip stories. The spotlight was back on her with a position as a judge in the reality show The Voice. A woman who should be mesmerizing concert goers is “mentoring” young talent on prime-time television and is walking around in dreadful clothes, yellow fake hair and tons of makeup.
She is due to release a new album in 2012. However, little anticipation surrounds the event. Once upon a time, it would have been followed by gasping sounds of fans waiting for the new surprises that the singer has in store. She seemed perfect, in control, flawless, powerful. However, somewhere along the way, somewhere between the long breaks, the troubled private life and the other personal issues, a little bit of her myth was taken away. Her management team also doesn’t seem to have an action plan. Maybe that’s why singers need to stay away from television shows: when you give too much away from yourself, the audience sees you as human, not as a superstar. And superstar you must be if you want to eventually become a legend.