Liberation – Christina Aguilera
American pop singer Christina Aguilera spun a late-’90s breakthrough into an evolving and genre-hopping career that focused on uplifting ballads and sexually liberated anthems delivered with her iconic voice. A leader in the parade of Mickey Mouse Club veterans who stormed pop music at the turn of the millennium, Christina Aguilera was the brassy diva of the bunch — the Rolling Stones to Britney Spears’ Beatles, as it were. Initially, it was difficult to see Christina outside of the prism of Britney, whose 1999 success launched the new millennium’s teen pop boom, but Christina’s big hits of 1999 — “Genie in a Bottle,” “What a Girl Wants,” “Come on Over” — more than held their own with “…Baby One More Time,” while revealing a vocalist with considerably more power and range than her erstwhile rival. Soon, Aguilera distanced herself from the rest of the pack, beginning with her carnal sophomore set, Stripped, a heavy R&B album from 2002 that found its greatest success with the ballad “Beautiful.” Christina may have emphasized her sexual side with Stripped singles like “Dirrtty,” but by the time of 2006’s Back to Basics, it was clear that Aguilera was the most musically ambitious, and reliable, pop diva of the boom.
Born on Staten Island on December 18, 1980, Aguilera spent her early childhood in Rochester and Wexford, Pennsylvania, suburban towns just outside of Pittsburgh. At age six, she began performing regularly in local talent shows, working her way up to an appearance on the nationally televised competition Star Search. This was the true beginning of Aguilera’s professional career, leading her to joining the Disney Channel’s reboot of The Mickey Mouse Club in 1992. Aguilera joined a cast that also featured future stars Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, and Keri Russell. The New Mickey Mouse Club lasted for two years and after its cancellation, Aguilera began working behind the scenes of the pop industry, cutting a duet with Japanese pop singer Keizo Nakanishi called “All I Wanna Do,” then representing the U.S. three years later in the Golden Stag International Festival. Her first big break arrived in 1998, when she recorded “Reflection” for the soundtrack of Disney’s Mulan, a performance that led to a contract with RCA Records.
RCA released the album Christina Aguilera late in the summer of 1999, several months after Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” began the teen pop boom. Aguilera’s debut reached the top of the U.S. charts on the momentum of the number one single “Genie in a Bottle,” which was followed in short order by another chart-topper in “What a Girl Wants” (the latter happened to be the first number one of 2000). Aguilera racked up recognition in a number of ways, playing the Super Bowl half-time show and winning the Grammy for Best New Artist, as “Come on Over Baby (All I Want Is You)” gave her a third number one single. Aguilera kept new music flowing, too, releasing the Spanish-language Mi Reflejo — she didn’t speak the language, so she learned the lyrics phonetically — and My Kind of Christmas by the end of the year, while other labels attempted to cash in on her success via an unauthorized collection of old demos called Just Be Free. She stayed in the spotlight in 2001 via her participation of a remake of Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” the chart-topping hit from the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge that also recruited P!nk, Mya, and Lil’ Kim.
When Aguilera resurfaced with new material in 2002, she began using the appellation Xtina, which was not the only “X” on her sophomore effort, Stripped. A carnal collection of risqué R&B largely produced by Scott Storch, Stripped was a defiant break from her teenybopper past, and Aguilera promoted it by flashing lots of skin on the covers of her album, Rolling Stone, and Maxim. Such striking sexuality was evident on Stripped’s lead single, the Redman-featuring “Dirrty,” but the album’s biggest hit was “Beautiful,” a Linda Perry-penned ballad that turned into an anthem and peaked at number two on the Top 100.
Aguilera took another left turn for her next album, 2006’s Back to Basics. The title suggested something simple but the album was anything but, spilling out over two discs and running the gamut from brassy swing to modern dance. Its lead single, “Ain’t No Other Man,” was another blockbuster and Grammy winner for Aguilera, and the tour was her most ambitious to date. In 2008, she released her first hits collection, Keeps Gettin’ Better, which featured two unreleased songs and newly recorded electropop versions of her two biggest singles (“Genie 2.0” and “You Are What You Are [Beautiful]”). The futuristic vibe from those reworkings hinted at the direction of her next effort, which arrived the following year.
After a four-year break, Aguilera returned with her fourth album, Bionic, in the spring of 2010. The electronic-heavy Bionic debuted at three in the U.S. and number one in the U.K., with its first single, “Not Myself Tonight,” peaking at 22 on the Billboard charts. The album featured appearances by Nicki Minaj and Peaches, as well as songwriting by M.I.A., Sia, Le Tigre, Ladytron, and Linda Perry. Next up was Burlesque, Aguilera’s first starring role on the big screen, which was accompanied by a soundtrack featuring original music by Christina and her co-star Cher.
In the spring of 2011, Aguilera signed onto NBC’s televised singing competition The Voice. As one of the four celebrity judges — the others being Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton, and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine — Christina found herself on a hit show that elevated her profile and gave her another hit single as Levine’s duet partner on Maroon 5’s 2011 chart-topper “Moves Like Jagger.” The Voice retained its popularity in its second season in early 2012, and Aguilera spent much of the year prepping her fifth album, Lotus, which was released in November 2012. Lotus peaked at seven on the Billboard charts; its lead single, “Your Body,” peaked at 34 in the Top 40. She scored a hit in late 2013 with A Great Big World’s “Say Something.” The aching duet topped multiple charts and was certified multi-platinum around the globe.
Aguilera took a leave from The Voice in 2014 and 2015, concentrating on working on her eighth studio album; she also began a recurring role on ABC’s prime-time soap Nashville. In 2016, she released “Change” — a charity single for the families of the victims of a tragic shooting in an Orlando nightclub — and sang “Telepathy” for Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix series The Get Down. In 2018, Aguilera returned with her eighth album, Liberation, which included the single “Accelerate” featuring 2 Chainz, Ty Dolla $ign, and production by Kanye West. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine