Christina Aguilera first broke into the UK consciousness in 1999 when her debut single ‘Genie in a Bottle’ shot straight to No.1 on the Official Singles Chart in October of that year. Due to her having found fame in America through Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club alongside a certain Britney Spears, the comparisons came thick and fast. Christina’s voice was clearly a huge asset for her and whereas Britney seemed sweet and innocent, Christina was definitely a little edgier from the get go.
Although a further three Top 20 singles followed from her eponymous debut album, that album never actually rose beyond Number 14; in fact, it only ever spent one week inside the UK Top 20 Official Albums Chart. Despite the chart position the album did go Gold relatively quickly and several years later has now hit Platinum sales status.
It was after the end of this album campaign that Christina’s popstar persona and aesthetic started to change. First, she looked like a super glamourous Barbie doll to Ricky Martin’s Ken in their duet ‘Nobody Wants to be Lonely’, but the real shock was her look for the ‘Lady Marmalade’ collaboration. The lead song from Baz Luhrman’s musical film ‘Moulin Rouge’ saw Christina team up with P!nk, Mya, Lil Kim and Missy Elliott to reinterpret the 70s Labelle banger. Christina went full diva in not only her riffs and runs, but in her make up and hair choices for the video. As the gals took it in turns to belt out their own verses, they all wore corsets and lingerie, and gone was the sweet little girl from the ‘I Turn To You’ video and here was a young woman coming in to her own.
Where Britney was still seen as the girl-next-door, Christina was in a hurry to show the world she was growing up. This couldn’t have been more evident than in the first video for the lead single from her second album ‘Stripped’. Now sporting the moniker Xtina, the video for ‘Dirrty’ takes us to an underground world of illegal kickboxing and sees Christina sporting leather bottomless chaps and a skimpy bikini. Like the title of the song, everything about the look and video was a bit mucky..in more ways than one. Christina was back with a bang and telling everyone in no unsubtle terms that she was taking control of her career and doing whatever the hell she pleased.
The track remains an absolute classic and was inspired by rapper Redman’s ‘Let’s Get Dirty’ who Christina managed to get to include a rap on her song. It’s one of pop’s biggest transformation moments and the video was everywhere, helping the song shoot straight to Number 1 in the UK. Interestingly in the US where Christina was a bigger star, this track stalled at 50 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Christina released the album ‘Stripped’ a week later and it was a slow start, peaking at Number 19 in release week and spending just three weeks inside the UK Top 40. However, things were about to change with the release of the second single, a low-key empowering ballad called ‘Beautiful’.
The track was co-written with 4 Non Blondes’ singer/songwriter Linda Perry who told American Songwriter that the song just came out when she was sat a piano. When she got to ‘I am beautiful’ she stopped and didn’t think she would ever say that because she didn’t believe it; she was insecure. When Christina came to her studio she asked Linda to sing something to break the ice and so she played ‘Beautiful’ and Christina told her she wanted it for her record and went away to work on it. She also reveals that the whispered ‘Don’t Look at me’ was Christina showing her vulnerability and in fact despite Linda thinking this young woman had the world at her feet, she too had her insecurities.
The track gave Christina her fourth UK Number 1 and turned the fortunes of the album around when it climbed back up the charts to a peak of Number 2. The video for ‘Beautiful’ was another statement piece from Christina showing a variety of typically underdog characters learning to love themselves. It also included two men kissing which was still seen as controversial in some quarters back in 2003 and has led to the track becoming something of a gay anthem.
Next came the rocking ‘Fighter’ which reached Number 3 in June of 2003 on the Official UK Singles Chart. In this video, Christina literally transforms from a cocoon into a mothlike creature as she deals with turning negatives into positives, and becoming stronger.
For the fourth single, Christina swapped her peroxide blond locks for jet black hair and slapped on the fake tan. ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’ reunited Christina with her Lady Marmalade pal, Lil Kim for a female empowerment song that questions the male grip on society. With lines like ‘thinking that women should be seen not heard’ it’s a funky but rousing anthem that fires shots at the patriarch. It earned Christina a fourth Top 10 UK hit in a row from the same album.
In September 2003, Christina toured Europe to promote the album and in December a fifth and final single ‘The Voice Within’ was released. Taking the tempo back to balladry, it’s another empowering song about having belief in yourself.
Outside of the singles, the album ‘Stripped’ opens and later reprises with two different, but complimentary interludes. In these Christina makes no apologies for being who she is…well she may sing ‘sorry I’m not a slut’ and more , but it’s all very “sorry, not sorry.”
Christina worked with Alicia Keys on the piano led, ‘Impossible’ which the pair recorded at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in New York. Christina was actually a little sick on the day of recording, but you wouldn’t notice from the vocal she delivered. Christina loved the soul and vocals of Alicia’s ‘Fallin’ and wanted to work with her. The pair swapped vocal warm up exercises in preparation for the recording. The end result is a sweeping piano-ballad that builds and builds; could certainly have been a contender for a single.
Another album highlight is the bluesy, jazz of ‘Walk Away’. This sultry, slinky track seduces as it deals with being in a bad relationship that you need to get out of, but just find yourself pulled back to.
At 20 tracks long (four of which are interludes), there is something for everyone as Christina effortlessly hops from balladry to R&B, pop to jazz, rock to latin. Lyrically this is Christina becoming empowered and being the artist she wants to be; no one’s puppet. Christina co-wrote all but one of the tracks and deals with some personal themes as well such as her relationship with her father and her childhood on ‘I’m OK’.
‘Stripped’ remains Christina’s biggest selling album in the UK, certified multi-platinum and spending 112 non-consecutive weeks in the UK Top 100.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, ‘Stripped’will be reissued digitally and on vinyl.
Revisit some other classic pop albums:
Kylie Minogue – ‘Kylie’, ‘Aphrodite‘ and ‘Impossible Princess‘
Christina Aguilera – ‘Bionic‘
Dannii Minogue – ‘Neon Nights‘ and ‘Love and Kisses’
Madonna – ‘Music’
Sonia – ‘Everybody Knows‘
Eternal – ‘Always & Forever‘