There are a few things that I admire about Christina Aguilera—her ability to just not care what her detractors say, how she parades her eensy frame around in those high-high-high Christian Louboutins, and those everlovin’ pipes.
Then I saw Aguilera doing James Brown on the Grammys—“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” In case you missed it, she brought the house down. Soulful, smart, classy. I think it was one of the best tributes in the days after his death. I embarked on my pop adventure in an extremely optimistic mood.
The highlight for me was the opener. A true child of the ’80s, Aguilera bit right from Michael Jackson’s style. A video of Aguilera played while the band began, and as the video ended and the screen pulled up, a set of lighted stairs slid forward. Dressed in a three-piece white suit, white fedora, and white Louboutins, she danced up and down the stairs as she launched into “Back to Basics” and “Ain’t No Other Man.”
I’m not sure what happened early on in the set, but there was definitely a problem. Aguilera was either a full beat ahead of or behind the backup singers and band. Judging by her fingers in her ear I’d guess a monitor malfunction. Aguilera and crew were back on track by the end of the song and didn’t derail, or even lose steam, until the last note was sung in the entire show.
She changed wardrobe at least eight times, different iterations of her suit, some with skirts over, or robes trimmed in marabou, but also got right down to the bodysuit underneath. I have to give her (and her crew) credit for the quick changes. She has one hot body—but unlike many of her pop cohorts, and more like Madonna, she seems completely self-possessed. She’s no object.
The problematic stuff were the grouping of the songs and the frenzy of the production. It was too schizophrenic. The exemplar was the juxtaposition of the songs “Oh Mother” and “Enter the Circus.” Before the song, she spoke of the domestic violence in her childhood home, and how she turned it into something that made her stronger—and thanking her mother for leaving the abuser, Aguilera’s father. Then, “Enter the Circus” was literally a circus freak show, with a male audience member up on stage, Christina suddenly dressed as a dominatrix, suggesting rather graphic acts. Um, what? I thought. You kiss your mother with that mouth? Had “Oh Mother” been somewhere else on the set list, it would have worked better.
If the show’s production had been stripped down (pardon the pun) just even a bit, she would have been even better. Despite her powerhouse vocals, she sometimes got lost among the many band members, dancers, and music. She doesn’t need so much glitz—her four-octave voice can carry it.
Still, she successfully used her trademark melisma through some of her past hits, including an empowering version of “Beautiful,” a revved-up “Dirrty,” a wink to “Come On Over”, a vicious “Fighter,” and a sexy “Lady Marmalade,” with the signature Christina yowl. (I wasn’t so huge on the reggae version of “What a Girl Wants.”)
Aguilera is tiny, but she is a powerhouse. She’s a savvy businesswoman, receiving writing and producing credits on all her songs on the ’20s-’40s revival album Back to Basics, and her vocals are unmatched by other pop stars at this point. (I dare you to hate the Andrews Sisters-esque “Candyman.” Or at least not get it stuck in your head.) I love her for her ability to crank out those midrange power-soul notes, saving the Mariah Careyesque ones for just the right moment—they’re not her bread and butter. The soul sister thing works much better for her.
And they said Britney was the next Madonna . . .