posted by Mickey on 1/23/03
This is a personal view of Christina Aguilera, and what her music has meant to me over the years. Just as a stick insect has a head, a thorax and an abdomen, it seems to me this post should arrange itself naturally into three parts. So, here goes nothing.
One. In which a family frugs happily around a Christmas tree while listening to a Christina Aguilera album.
One of the best things about the birthdays and the Christmas holiday season is the confirmation these occasions never fail to provide that families know nothing about one another. My friend Trish once told me about how when she was a child, she saved up some money to buy her mother a birthday present. With the big day approaching, she went to a department store with her father, and was looking through the records in the MUSIC HI FI section for something she thought her mother might like. She knew at least this much about her mother, that she was really old, and so when she saw an album by the Black and White Minstrels, she thought this might be right up her Mum's alley. Being prudent, however, she thought she had better run the idea past her father.
At this stage the story could still have had a happy ending, if the department store had not been arranged so the MUSIC HI FI section was dangerously close to the hardware section. As it was, however, Trish's father had fallen into an hypnotic state induced by looking at some packets of nails; and when she inquired, "Would Mum like this?" he answered, distractedly, "Eh? Yeah, she'd love it," before turning his attention back to the hardware.
So, when Trish's mother pulled the wrapping off the present, she made a big appalled "O" with her mouth, and didn't say anything for quite a few minutes, until she eventually knelt down and asked Trish, "Honey, how old do you think I am?"
A couple of Christmas's ago, I was hanging around a music shop when I witnessed another purchasing disaster. A couple of well-dressed concerned-looking parents were chatting with a weaselly-looking young female shop assistant.
MOTHER. We were looking for a CD by [consulting note in her hand] Gotterdammerung?
CLERK. We don't have it.
MOTHER. Oh dear. Do you know where we might be able to find one?
[Mother and Father exchange distressed looks with one another, like Joseph and Mary being told there are no vacancies at the last fleapit on the outskirts of Bethlehem]
FATHER [suddenly masterful, as if seeing a way to rescue this situation]: Look here, perhaps you can help us.
FATHER: We want to buy a CD for our son, Tyrone. I wonder if you could recommend something else he might like.
MOTHER [pleadingly]. We've been looking for this Gotterdammerung CD all over the place ... and they don't seem to have it ANYWHERE.
CLERK. I see. How old is your son?
MOTHER: He's just turned 16. His birthday is a few days before Christmas.
CLERK: 16, eh. [Thinks]. He'd probably like Christina Aguilera.
FATHER: Christina Alig ... ?
CLERK.[Leading the unhappy parents towards a gondola-ful of Christina Aguilera CDs] Yes, indeed. Christina Aguilera. She's very popular. With 16 year olds. Does you son like music with Latin rhythms.
MOTHER. [Uncertainly] The sort of music he likes is very loud.
CLERK [As if this settles it]: Well, I should think Christina Aguilera would be right up his alley. [Leading them towards the sales desk, as the parents fall over themselves in thanking the sales clerk for the $29.95 worth of wise counsel with which she has been able to provide them].
Watching this scene, I couldn't help but prophecy darkly that Christmas Day at the Tyrone household would not necessarily as joyful as the parents, at this stage, might have anticipated. I know very well there are 16 year old boys with bright outgoing personalities. For some reason, I did not picture Tyrone as fitting this demographic. At the risk of projecting elements of my own 16 year old self onto him, I imaged him as a sullen young man inhabiting a personal hell, who had probably spent most of the last couple of months in the same black tee-shirt and drug-induced fog of semi-oblivion to his surroundings. I couldn't imagine that being presented with an album containing "Genie in a Bottle" would do a lot to bring sunshine to parts of his outlook that had previously been shrouded in darkness. The way I imagined Tyrone, the parents would have been better off asking, "Well, what have you got with parental warning stickers all over it?" rather than leaving it up to the sales clerk. The way I imagined Tyrone, the very best his parents could hope for was that Tyrone might deign to perform a series of onanistic episodes while looking at the picture on the cover, and even this would depend on whether or not he found something titillating about looking at a death's head in a fright wig. The worst case scenario would be ... but, hey, I don't even want to go into the possible worst case scenarios. I could be wrong, and in this case, I obviously hope I was wrong. I have probably imagined Tyrone with zero accuracy. He probably was really happy to get the album, and may have even frugged with his parents around the Christmas tree to the strains of whatever the hell songs are on that album, whatever it is called (the one with "Genie in a Bottle" on it). And let's just leave them there, a happy family, on that dance floor of polished wood, lightly sprinkled with brown pine needles.
Two. In which Christina Aguilera confounds an ancient curse.
Whatever you say about Christina Aguilera, she has done something probably no other artist in the history of entertainment has ever done ie. her career has gone on to bigger and better things after she appeared at the Peach Pit After Dark on televisions's "Beverly Hills 90210".
The final season of "Beverly Hills 90210" pulled no punches! It was non-stop excitement and drama. But some things about the show remained universal and comforting, like the shots of girls in bikinis rollerskating through the montage that always followed the opening credits, and, more to the point, the cleverly edited shots of a lot of morons at the After Dark tapping their feet and nodding their heads at some godawful band or another whose career had either already gone down the gurgler, or was about to. Honestly, for any musician, an offer to appear on 90210 must have appeared like a kiss of death. For instance, just when it looked like Babyface was about to dominate the 1990s the way The Beatles dominated the 1960s, his promoter (Kari Wuhrer) got him a gig on 90210, and that was the end of his career. Just when it looked the Goo-Goo Dolls were about to become a supergroup to rival U2, they came unstuck in exactly the same way. The list is endless. Basically, for a musician to step onto the stage of the After Dark involved him or her taking the same journey, in career terms, as a French aristocrat stepping onto the platform of the Guillotine at the height of the Terror.
I can remember moments from the final season of 90210 with startling clarity. Kelly, who went through so much in the course of the show (rape, parental breakup, cocaine addiction, being a member of a religious cult, being horribly scarred in a fire, nearly being married to Brandon, being shot at, suffering a miscarriage, pulling the plug on Grandpa when he was nearly dead from emphysema and having a louse for a father, to name just a few of her misfortunes) had just decided to add murder to her C.V. by slaying the guy who raped her, leaving his creepy John Sears rape-O blood all over a couple of garments that subsequently remained in the sales bin of Now Wear This for several weeks. Now clearly this was a pretty traumatic moment for poor squeaky old Kelly, and the gang, feeling she was in need of some therapy, arranged for a sunset beach party. Consequently, the closing shot of some episode or another of 90210 was a long shot of the gang arranged in silhouette around a bonfire. Roll credits. The next day I was talking about the all the exciting events that had happened in last night's episode with a friend, when she said, "Guess who is going to be playing the Peach Pit After Dark on next week's show? You'll never be able to guess."
I couldn't guess.
"Someone absolutely huge."
My mind was a blank.
"Eminem doing a rap battle with David Silver?"
"Umm, I don't know."
"C'mon, who is the hugest person you can think of?"
My friend's face was lit-up with anticipation at the revelation she was about to make. Actually, she had made it pretty easy. At that particular time and place there was a person on the cultural landscape who pretty much blotted out the sun with her barely post-pubescent glamour.
"Not Britney Spears?"
"Ooo-ooo. Close. Close. You're so close."
It is pretty difficult to keep the suspense up here, because I think every single one of my readers will know by now that the guest artist in question was none other than Britney's fellow alumni from the Mickey Mouse club, Ms Christina Aguilera.
Unfortunately, at just that point, Channel 10 decided to pull the plug on "Beverly Hills 90210" with much the same ruthlessness as Kelly displayed towards her Gramp and for a long time, it looked as if that shot of the gang on the beach was going to be the last sight of them on Australian television. It was only after months of waiting in sick blank numb anxiety and in the wake of an email campaign of perhaps unrivalled ferocity (to my certain knowledge, Channel 10 received representations from myself, my sister, la Paz, and my friend, Alison; and that is only the people I know about) that Bevers returned to free to air television, albeit at about 2.00 AM in the morning, where it was accompanied by advertisements for psychic hotlines, sex chatlines and pills to improve your memory and concentration. But Christina Aguilera got to do her stuff, at last, and the Peach Pit morons duly tapped their feet, and nodded their heads, and no doubt thought to themselves, "Well, that is the last that will ever be heard of Christina Aguilera," not knowing that here was the breakthrough artist who would create showbiz history by continuing to have a career past their appreciative applause at the end of the song.
Three. In which Christina Aguilera tells the world that if you ain't dirrty, then you ain't here to party.
Looking over what I have written, I would have to admit that as a tribute to Christina Aguilera, my piece probably suffers from being a little light on stuff that is actually Christina Aguilera-related. This is probably because I have never been much of a fan of what I have heard of her work. In fact, apart from her involvement in "Lady Marmalade" (deconstructed elsewhere on this site in a post with a somewhat legendary status), I think I would have struggled to name what any of her actual songs were before "Dirrty" was released, and its semi-pornographic video clip became the talk of the internet for a week or so.
So, this would be the part of the post where I talk about how Christina Aguilera is a skanky ugly poorly-dressed anorexic crack-whore no-talent. Right? Well, no, because regardless of whether or not some of those adjectives might be truly applied to her, it would not be true to say Christina Aguilera is a no-talent. The strength of her voice has always been apparent, even when she was singing insipid over-strident songs like "Genie in a Bottle". As a vocalist, Christina puts to shame poor Britney Spears and most of the other young female singers who try to bump and grind their way out of their hipsters across "Video Hits" (or whatever "Video Hits" is called in your part of the world) every Saturday morning while you are trying to recover from your hangover. On the other hand, vocal technique is not everything. Mariah Carey has a voice capable of reaching high notes that could shatter the glass in all the windows from a skyscraper, but she would probably be performing more of a service to the entertainment industry if she actually went around doing just that, instead of singing the songs with which she favors us between her visits to the strait-jacket and the padded cell.
When "Dirrty" came out, I saw the video clip for it perhaps a half-dozen times before I heard the song on the radio, and was naturally interested in it from a sociological point of view. It was, however, only when I first listened to the song on the radio that I realized, for the first time, "Hey, this song is fanf'ntastic."
In fact, I think so highly of this song, I would say it bears comparison with "Lady Marmalade" (ie. La Belle's original "Lady Marmalade", not the Moulin Rougue "Lady Marmalade") in terms of being a sexy, funky, chthonic anthem. The best pop music is a guilty pleasure. "Dirrty" isn't going to stand on its own as a piece of literature, or even as a classic example of the craft of songwriting, but as a sonic experience, after the song kicks in with a beat like the amplified heartthrob of someone who has just snorted half a bottle of amyl nitrate, there is something about the way Christina moans her way around the lyric ("tight hip huggers/ low to show/ shake a little something/on the floor") and soars through a lot of high wordless grunting and groaning, while the distorted guitars grind away, that suggests the strange rending tension then dissolution of an erotic release that everyone involved might regret the next morning when the stains on the sheets have to be dealt with, but is an awful lot of fun at the moment during which it is experienced. My prediction is that not only will "Dirrty" instantly become an evergreen in pole dancing clubs, but that in 10 years' time it will be turning up on every compilation of the quintessential songs of the decade.
As for the rest of "Stripped" (yeah, I bought it), well, it's OK. All right, I have played "Dirrty" in a ratio of about 150:1 with the rest of the album, so I would have been a lot better off just purchasing the single, but there you have it, I am a fool. "Stripped" is probably best considered as a single with 19 b-sides, but that is in the great tradition of pop music. I don't care if I never see the video clip again.
The new single, "Beautiful" is nothing to write home about, so unless you are in the habit of writing home only when Christina Aguilera releases a new single, maintain postal silence. It should have been called "Cllean".
So, that's Christina Aguilera. She breaks down the morbid hormone-driven alienation of teen-aged angst and depression and brings families together to dance with one another (as least suppositionally); she faced down a threat to her career more mysterious and potent than the curse of the pharaohs and lived to tell the tale; and she has released 1 good song (albeit a song I am kind of embarrassed to admit to liking). Those are her accomplishments, and
I salute her for them.