Christina Aguilera first burst into UK consciousness in 1999 when Genie in a Bottle went straight to the top of the charts. Following on from fellow Mouseketeer, Britney Spears, it was clear pretty much instantly that there was something more edgy than the girl-next-door image. It was probably Lady Marmalade that showed the first signs of rebellion as we saw Christina caked in make up and sending up her diva image by sweeping all her products off her make up stand.
For anyone in doubt that a true artist lived in Aguilera, Dirrty was about to blow their minds. The raunchy, hip-hop inspired track with its seedy kickboxing video complete with a chap wearing Christina (rebranded as Xtina) told the world the sugary sweet pop star was no more. Dirrty hit the top spot in the UK (although stalled at 48 in the more conservative US) and was swiftly followed by the empowering ballad Beautiful which also went to Number 1. Parent album Stripped received rave reviews and is easily Christina’s most successful album having been certified 6x Platinum in the UK.
As her fans, keenly waited for the follow up, Christina surprised us with Back to Basics, changing up her sound to incorporate influences from 1920 -1950s jazz and soul, but with modern production. It was a brave step and the right thing to do, rather than churn out Stripped part 2, but although successful didn’t reach the level of success Stripped achieved.
In 2008, Lady Gaga emerged on to the scene and with her peroxide hair, she was instantly drawing comparisons with Christina. Unfortunately, Xtina may have damaged herself by innocently telling LA Times, “I’m not quite sure who this person is, to be honest. I don’t know if it is a man or a woman. I just wasn’t sure. I really don’t spend any time on the Internet, so I guess I live a little under a rock in that respect.” The world read that as a huge dis to Lady Gaga who’s star was ascending at a rate of knots.
In 2009, a best of album is released to celebrate 10 years in the music industry with the new single and title track Keeps Gettin’ Better. It seemed a little premature to be releasing a Greatest Hits collection but it did boast 12 Top 20 hits including 4 Number 1s. Bizarrely it didn’t include all the hits she’d had up to that point.
And so we arrive at Spring 2010 and an announcement is made that the lead single from Christina’s new album will be premiered on 30th March. That song was Not Myself Tonight and came with a very sexual video which sees Christina pay homage to Madonna’s Express Yourself and Human Nature videos as she goes full out on the raunchy stakes with S&M references galore.
It was clear that Christina and her team were trying to recapture the magic of Dirrty and this track does come close but for me, doesn’t represent the album and I think they should’ve had more belief in serving a new sound rather than trying to recapture former glories. The single was Christina’s first lead single from an album not to hit the Top 10 in the UK, stalling at 12 and spending just three weeks inside the Top 40.
Ahead of the album release Christina described the album as a unique mix of many genres and styles of music, “I was able to explore and create a fresh, sexy feel using both electronic and organic elements with subject matter ranging from playful to introspective. I am so excited for my fans to hear the new sound. It is something I don’t think anyone will expect.”
The singles strategy then gets a bit murky with the Nicki Minaj introducing track Woohoo getting a digital only release in the UK and no video or radio support. It reached 79 on the Billboard Charts. The track was again another overtly sexual track, this time about cunnilingus.
On 7th June 2010, Bionic was released in the UK with the standard version containing 18 tracks (3 of which were interludes) and the special edition having a further 4 new tracks and a stripped back version of one of the standard version tracks, I Am. It went straight in to the Number 1 spot on the UK albums chart but unfortunately fell to 29 in its second week.
The list of writers and producers included Sia, Santigold, MIA, Tricky Stewart, Linda Perry, Le Tigre, Ladytron, Cathy Dennis and more. Christina commented, “Working on this album with so many talented artists and producers that I admire was really an amazing experience. The artists I chose to work with added so many unique sonic layers to Bionic. My intention was to step into their world and what they do combined with my own vision and sound. The results were magic.”
For the second single proper, we’d have to wait til the end of June when the gorgeous ballad You Lost Me was released. Written with Sia (before she became a household name in the UK) and London producer Samuel Dixon (who’d worked with Sia on her solo material) the track sees Christina using a much softer side of her voice as she tells the story of heartbreak and being cheated on. For me this is Top 5 all-time Christina. It’s just sublime and she sounds absolutely gorgeous on the track, unfortunately the record-buying public didn’t agree and the song failed to chart in the UK.
That was to be the last of the promotion for Bionic in the UK, although Australia and New Zealand would get the glam rock, girl power anthem I Hate Boys as a pseudo single release.
So why then does Bionic hold such a special place in hearts of many pop fans? The answer is in the fact that it was a very experimental album in places and Christina not only played with genres but also in how she used her voice. On slower tracks like I Am and All I Need her vunerability is more than apparent, but so is her strength. Electro-clash on Elastic Love (written with MIA) gives us a style we’ve not heard from Xtina before.
There’s also the more familiar Christina sound with songs like Glam, Prima Madonna and Desnudate all serving fierceness amongst R&B/Hip Hop/Pop beats. There’s also the cheeky side of Christina where she declares ‘I’m not cocky, I just love myself’ on Vanity and works with Peaches on the female empowering My Girls.
For me some of the best tracks are on the special edition. Cathy Dennis and Ladytron worked with Christina to deliver the trippy electro pop track Birds of Prey that feels like it could’ve been on Kylie’s Fever or Madonna’s Ray of Light albums. Monday Morning is a certified bop with co-writers including Santigold, yet feels very distinctly Christina. Finally, there’s the song that is perhaps too novelty to have been a single but is catchy as hell – Bobblehead – Xtina’s attack on a culture where girls are encouraged to be dumb but pretty.
After listening back to Bionic as it’s about to celebrate it’s 10th birthday, it does feel perhaps less coherent than I remember and there are some tracks I’d happily skip such as Sex for Breakfast and Lift Me Up (but that’s personal choice). I think maybe Not Myself Tonight was too obvious a first single too, but You Lost Me definitely needed single treatment so maybe that should’ve been the lead track with Not Myself Tonight or even Birds of Prey or Elastic Love as second single.
Which tracks would you have liked to see as singles? How do you think Bionic has held up? Tell us @Entfocusmusic