Let the Christina Aguilera Backlash Begin
By John Mitchell Posted Jun 8th 2010 01:33PM
Christina Aguilera is used to applause. A performer since childhood, Aguilera has sold nearly 50 million albums worldwide and won four Grammys -- one for each of her three studio albums and a group performance prize for her participation in the hit 'Lady Marmalade.'
Of late, however, Aguilera has been the subject of some rather vicious criticism. Her fourth album, 'Bionic,' hits stores today, and the record and Aguilera's promotion of it have put the 29-year-old singer in the media cross-hairs. It seems she can't do much of anything right; early reviews for 'Bionic' have been mostly tepid, her first single tanked and she can't even get dressed without being accused of ripping off other artists -- Lady Gaga and Madonna, in particular.
(While media critics aren't too keen on it, fans who have already heard the album are giving it a 7.6 rating out of 10 on Metacritic.)
The contempt has been so intense that when Aguilera canceled her summer tour, citing her commitments to promoting the album and her forthcoming film, 'Burlesque,' critics immediately called foul. Though tickets had barely gone on sale, the blogosphere lit up with speculation that sales had been weak, causing Aguilera and Live Nation, the tour's promoter, to pull the plug before things got embarrassing.
In a sometimes-savage critique of Aguilera's performance at this weekend's MTV Movie Awards, the New York Post said, "The most upsetting thing about that performance wasn't the heart shaped box (although, ew), but the fact that Christina has seemingly given up on everything that made her a star in the first place. This is a woman who built her career on the strength of her vocals. She was a singer first and foremost, but I didn't see much singing going on last night. What I did see was a tired rehash of everything the industry has been churning out for the last two years." Watch Her MTV Movie Awards Performance
Watch Christina Perform on 'Today'This complaint, that her most recent work represents a "rehash" of already stale music trends, has dominated the discussion of Aguilera and her new album.
The most prevalent criticism of 'Bionic' has been that it tries too hard to be everything all at once -- one part Gaga-esque Euro disco, one part traditional ballad-driven pop -- but doesn't end up being enough of either to be satisfying. According to NME, "It's as if the mighty Xtina has been reanimated as a slightly confused cyborg with levers and LEDs where the leather chaps used to be."
In a dismissive review, the New York Times writes, "On her new album, 'Bionic,' how has she decided to present herself? Mostly as a sexbot: a one-dimensional hot chick chanting come-ons to club beats ... For Ms. Aguilera, 29, it's an artistic swerve, turning away from the soul-flavored songs on her two previous albums, 'Stripped' and 'Back to Basics,' to visit the electronic realm. But the choice makes her sound as peer-pressured as a pop singer can be. This is the way to ring tone sales and radio play, until the next sexbot struts off the assembly line."
The Post is already writing 'Bionic' off, saying that Christina's medley of three of the disc's tracks at the MTV awards felt "less like a showcase and more like a pet store's going out of business sale. Everything was put on display in hopes that at least one item would catch someones eye and prevent euthanization."
And the reviews are just the beginning.
'Not Myself Tonight,' the first single from 'Bionic,' topped out at No. 23 on the Billboard chart and has already fallen to No. 95. The over-the-top video for the single has been eaten alive by bloggers and fans alike, all claiming that, in addition to being crass, it hews too closely to themes and images already addressed by Lady Gaga and, in particular, Madonna. Aguilera herself has admitted that the video is something of a homage to the Material Girl's 'Express Yourself' video.
In other words, Aguilera, who with all her success should be above it, often seems to be appropriating what other artists have already done in order to, as they say, keep up with the Joneses. This is creating resentment among fans who turn to Aguilera for a breather from the Auto-Tuned pop landscape. And as the Associated Press notes, "By moving into territory already crowded with the likes of Ke$ha, Katy Perry and, yes, Gaga, Aguilera risks losing her edge, her niche." To fans, Aguilera's voice is the star of the show, and no one really knows why she feels the need to distract from it with pop spectacle and manufactured controversy.
In her commentary on the 'Not Myself' video, PopEater's own Michelle Ruiz, noted observantly that "sex does sell, after all, but it isn't terribly original."
But few doubt her powerhouse, multi-octave voice. In 2008, Rolling Stone magazine ranked her at 53 on its list of the 100 greatest singers ever. She was the youngest artist -- and the only one under the age of 30 -- to make the list. And when she applies her celebrated voice to a ballad or a mid-tempo pop number, she often strikes gold.
For example, in 2002, she released the song and video for 'Dirrty,' and was met with public resistance. With the single, Aguilera was hoping to mature her image by presenting herself as a sexually-aggressive young adult -- a far cry from the chaste teen who came on the scene just a few years earlier with 'Genie in a Bottle.' As with 'Not Myself Tonight,' the song was a commercial misfire, reaching only No. 48 on the Billboard chart. Despite generally good reviews, without a hit lead single, Aguilera's album 'Stripped' did not open to major numbers. However, the disc's second single, 'Beautiful,' inspired a commercial turnaround. The song reached No. 2 on the charts, won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and helped 'Stripped' move more than 4 million copies in the U.S.
It's when she attempts to move too far from the 'Beautiful' mold that she tends to get into trouble.
As for her tour, she says it will launch in 2011, after she finishes up her promotional obligations to 'Burlesque,' in which she co-stars with Cher and Stanley Tucci. "I put on a big show. I create sets, costumes. There's major choreography and dance numbers. All of that goes along with a huge production," the singer has said. "And I started to feel this is not the right time. It'll be a much better and bigger show when I have time to properly plan."
Christina Aguilera Snapshots
Christina Aguilera is seen here strolling down a New York City street with her son Max in tow.
Which is all well and good, but in today's environment, tours have become central to album promotion, if not the music industry itself. How exactly is she promoting the album by not touring behind it? This disparity has not gone unnoticed by fans and detractors alike, who have speculated that low tickets sales were really to blame for the tour's cancellation. Over half of the comments left on PopEater's story about the tour's postponement said as much.
Discussing the video for 'Not Myself Tonight,' PopEater commenter Giselle perhaps best summed up fan reaction to Aguilera's most recent reinvention: "Nothing wrong with being sexy, but she's really trying way too hard. This video reeks of desperation. Instead of doing something different and leading the pack, she falls into the same old thing over and over again: SEX. How boring ... These 'artists' need to understand that shock value only lasts so long." (And that was one of the nice ones!) It's a refrain being echoed across the Internet whenever the subject turns to Aguilera.
Only time will tell if Christina's shopworn bag of tricks will help her move albums, but the reaction to her single and its video are less than promising. Rather than follow 'Not Myself' with a redemptive ballad -- a la 'Beautiful' -- Aguilera has chosen the upbeat 'Woohoo' featuring Nicki Minja. Would she have been smarter to play to her skill set and release the haunting 'Lift Me Up,' which she performed at the 'Hope For Haiti Now' telethon? Give it a listen and let us know in the comments.
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