Step into the Salon: Christina Aguilera's controversial pop legend status

Sony Music

By Gregory Hicks, For the Daily
and Katie Steen, Daily Arts Writer
Published January 25, 2012

For young adults born in the early ’90s, 1999 is the year music began to produce classics for a generation to reminisce about. Disney’s “Mickey Mouse Club” generated enough artists to compose an entire childhood’s worth of pop culture. Though after the success of Britney Spears’s debut album ... Baby One More Time, few would’ve anticipated Christina Aguilera’s path to having the most successful singles of the Disney gang. Aguilera would become one of the most successful artists of all time in her late teens and early twenties.

But does this adolescent Christina Aguilera deserve to be known as one of the greatest artists to ever hit the pop industry? The answer is yes, absolutely. Her self-titled debut, Christina Aguilera (1999), had more chart-topping, iconic singles than almost any other artist to date. “Genie In a Bottle,” “Come On Over (All I Want Is You)” and “What a Girl Wants” all became number one Billboard Hot 100 songs, with another song, “I Turn To You,” peaking at number three. Her second album, Mi Reflejo (2000) — essentially the Spanish version of her first album — held the number one spot on the Billboard Latin chart for a record 20 weeks. These achievements, including winning the Grammy for Best New Artist at the age of 19, are unheard of.

Charts aren’t everything though. The thing that makes Aguilera a package deal is her combination of skills, success and iconic work. By comparison, Britney Spears was unable to achieve the ranks that Aguilera’s singles received. But if you were born in the ’90s and hadn’t heard Spears’s song “Lucky,” people would think you lived under a rock. Why then did this single peak at the rank of 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Aguilera’s “I Turn To You” peak at three? This is where the distinction can be made between something iconic and something successful. The key is the demographic. If everyone between the ages of 8 and 20 is listening to your song 10 times a day, you’ll become an icon. But if everyone between the ages of 8 and 50 likes your song just enough to buy it, you'll have a number one song. Aguilera managed to do both by generating songs that topped charts and became the most memorable tunes of a generation. Her voice and musical content had qualities exceeding the maturity of an average 19-year-old. Her demographic expanded outside children and young adults and her songs became timeless to her younger fans as they aged. Sorry, Britney, but “E-mail My Heart” can only be taken seriously for so long.

Unfortunately, calling Christina Aguilera one of the world’s greatest pop artists only holds true when looking at her a decade ago. Since then, she’s added a failed album, Bionic, and a singing competition to her name, wasting her immense talent. And her song “Beautiful” holds a lot more meaning now than it did in 2002.

It’s better to just pretend she retired after that year.

—GREGORY HICKS

***

I always thought I stopped liking Christina Aguilera because she had become trashy. Seemingly overnight, she reduced her amount of clothing by a few square feet, punched some extra holes into her face and adopted the skin color of a carrot. She began going by Xtina and sang of desires to sweat until her clothes come off in songs like “Dirrty.” That was all it took for me to lump Xtina in with Britney and other tasteless pop stars and completely forget about her.

But in returning to her ’99 music videos, I realized I made an error in judgment. Call her Christina or Xtina, Aguilera has always been a sexual figure in the music industry. I wonder if my parents ever thought it was awkward when I’d blast “Genie in a Bottle” from my boombox, singing along to lyrics pertaining to hormones and wanting to be rubbed.

While songs like “What a Girl Wants” and “Come On Over” stayed in the puppy-love zone, the dances that accompanied them were sensual and underdressed. And then there’s the “Lady Marmalade” music video, in which Christina pranced around stage dressed quite literally as a whore.

I still stand by my original reaction to Christina’s image when she acquired the Xtina persona, and that reaction is, in a word, ick. I’m not typically critical of appearance — I’m drawn to artists with bizarre physical images. I consider pop stars like Katy Perry and Nikki Minaj to be updated versions of Christina in that they might get criticized for being garish or vulgar, but are praised by the masses despite — and also because — of their image.

But these modern singers seem to have a more aesthetic appeal than Christina. Yes, their boobs are about to explode out of their dresses, corsets and cat suits, but there is something artistic about that attire that was lacking in Xtina’s girl-next-door-gone-stripper look.

However, I recently re-watched Christina’s music video for “Beautiful” and instantly hated myself for being such a superficial bastard. I still think she’s wearing too much makeup in the video, but after watching it and listening to the damn song, I’ve realized it doesn’t matter what I think of how Christina looks. Where there is confidence, there is beauty, so people like myself can shut up and listen to her sing already.

She’s had an incredible voice since her “Mickey Mouse Club” days (YouTube it), and while her image may have detracted from my appreciation for the artist — so much so that I never even listened to post-2002 songs like “Candyman” and “Ain’t No Other Man” — the fact remains that Christina Aguilera has always had an amazing voice. Her sound is soulful, lucid and full of passion, exceeding expectations not only in the pop world but in the entire music industry.

—KATIE STEEN