When Aguilera first debuted with her self-titled album in 1999, she was just another run-of-the-mill pop princess whose only unique call to fame was her powerhouse vocal cords. To escape the catchy yet mindless dribble of “Genie in a Bottle” and “Come on Over,” Aguilera premiered the new Xtina image with 2002’s Stripped. In it she releases her “stripped” down emotions, from her sexual liberation as a young adult to her recovery from the emotional trauma sustained from her abusive father as a child. In 2006, Aguilera abandoned the black ‘do and went back to her blonde roots. Similarly, 2006’s Back to Basics focused more on Aguilera’s appreciation for the roots of her musical inspiration.
So here we are in 2010. Aguilera is a new mommy, which spurred the inspiration for Bionic. In a May 7, 2010, interview with Oprah, Aguilera states that she feels superhuman, even bionic, having experienced the fullest capabilities of her own body during and after pregnancy.
In Bionic, Aguilera employs the musical genius of electronica artists Goldfrapp, Sia, Le Tigre, and Santigold, as well as a plethora of other experienced producers, including bringing back Linda Perry of Stripped‘s “Beautiful.”
Strong Points: You have to admit that it’s a pretty bold move for Aguilera to revive the Xtina persona for this album. Yet this time, Xtina is more grown up, with a finer-tuned sexual liberation. This time she knows what she wants and who she is.
Immediately she floods your ears with the fast-paced “Bionic” and then takes you on a ride through the mindset of the grown-up Xtina. Pro-feminism is a definite overarching theme throughout Bionic, fully demonstrated by titles such as “Woohoo,” a cleverly titled single about cunnilingus and “Prima Donna,” in which Aguilera clearly states that she “can rule the world.” It even goes as far as the cheerleader-esque “I Hate Boys” and a cutesy collaboration with Peaches titled “My Girls.”
As was expected, the three ballads on this album never cease to tug at your heartstrings. Each bringing a different emotion to the table, listeners experience the raw emotion of Back to Basics‘s “Hurt.” Namely, “I Am” captures the beauty of having a lover to run to, even through the toughest moments of every day life. This song in particular is new and unique material that should greatly be considered as a single.
One of the best things about Bionic is that Aguilera finally addresses what has been somewhat of a problem for her during her career. She is sometimes known for over-singing, belting out long runs that, though heartfully projected, don’t always sound the best. Producer Linda Perry, in a 2008 interview with Entertainmet Weekly, says she sometimes has to remind Aguilera to stay away from what she calls “hoo-ha.” This album does just that: it puts Aguilera to the test to limit control of her voice so that it works with the music, rather than overshadow it. In addition, she plays with her voice in new ways, such as in the chorus of “You Lost Me.”
Most importantly, however, this album demonstrates Aguilera’s control over her own image. With the exception of a few tracks obviously catered to mainstream radio play, this is music you can tell Aguilera actually enjoys herself. Rather than calling on the help of big-time, chart-topping mainstream producers with cookie-cutter ideas, she pulls in the artists of the music she actually listens to, making the music more about what she wants rather than what the current pop media wants. In the deluxe edition of Bionic, songs “Birds of Prey” and “Stronger than Ever” appeal to this idea.
Areas of Improvement: Despite the fine mix of both synthetic beats and raw, organic emotion, I still believe there are a few areas of improvement.
The first of these problems is the opening single, “Not Myself Tonight.” Though I greatly admire her for paying homage to Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” et al, in the video, the song itself still sounds somewhat cheap. The beats and the “1, 2, 3, 4” in the song all sound familiar, as if producer Polow da Don had used them before or took them from another producer. Though “Not Myself Tonight” is still an enjoyable and clubworthy hit, it provides little indication of the true essence of Bionic, much like “Dirrty” did for Stripped.
As I mentioned above, this album is very pro-feminist, with intention to empower female listeners. Yet the impression I got from other bloggers and reviewers is that it comes off as overconfidence and cockiness, even despite the opening of “Vanity:” “I’m not cocky. I just love myself.” Along with this is the overuse of the word “bitch.” As empowering as it may be for Aguilera to openly use this word, it occurs a little too often.
Final Thoughts: Much like Rihanna’s Rated R, this album pushes the abilities and image of a great artist. It’s a high-risk album that challenges the mainstream pop culture to look at music from a different perspective. Bionic will either break the mold of pop or get swept under the rug with other good music that the mainstream media refuses to accept.
Despite its route in the pop world, I will forever and always be a fan of this album and Xtina. All I can say is, I cannot wait until 2011 when the pop diva goes on tour.
***Please note: There was no mention of Lady Gaga in this entire review. This is because Gaga has been mainstream since 2008, whereas Christina Aguilera has been on the radio for over a decade. They are two separate people with separate motivations, inspirations, and musical styles. To compare these two is like comparing apples to zucchini.
Just as Aguilera has said she will not discuss this outrageously ignorant comparison, neither will I. Any comment comparing the two, especially claims of copycatting, will be deleted.