For someone innovative enough to popularise the word dirrty and all of its dissolute connotations, Christina Aguilera is remembered as decidedly bromidic in the pop world. Or maybe I just wanted to use "bromidic" in a review. Throughout her three years of mass popularity, she was constantly playing second-fiddle to former friend and Mickey Mouse Club member Britney Spears. Spears may have had a perceived edge in the early years. Sure, she was more popular, sold more records, concert tickets. She dated pop deity Justin Timberlake, Christina only managed to snag a backup dancer. Spears married a potential rap superstar, Aguilera married a no-name music executive in November, 2005. Spears even starred in a movie
. Spears' supposed triumphs aside, she was lacking something. Hard to place a finger on, but by the time Spears sang her first note, something nagged on the music mind. Oh right, talent. Christina had her fair share. She likely had Britney's share, too.
In 1999, teen pop was massively popular. Nsync, the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears flooded the airwaves with their bubblegum pop goodness. Did American radio really need another aesthetically pleasing but musically unchallenging artist? Before the question could even be pondered, blonde newcomer songstress Christina Aguilera came blazing up the charts with "Genie in a Bottle". While the song itself was pleasant but unremarkable, it was Aguilera's soaring voice which brought the young artist to the forefront of the pop scene along with the aforementioned acts. Britney Spears was one of the those artists whose videos were watched on mute, whose concerts were attended by earplug-sporting "fans", whose magazine pictures were gazed at for hours on end in teenaged boys' rooms but whose words went ignored. Christina Aguilera was different. Her voice was pleasant, powerful, and it demanded attention. On her debut album, Aguilera takes familiar musical sounds from a trite genre arguably past its due date even in 1999, but delivers them with such an arresting voice that one can't help but listen.
To start with the faults, Aguilera's eponymous debut does have some laughably bad songs. On the pathetic ballad "Blessed", it is difficult to judge whether I'm listening to a parody song by SNL's Gemini's Twin or an actual pop song on an actual pop album by an actual pop artist. It's the only track that could be considered a major misstep that even Aguilera's voice could not bring some semblance of interest to. "Obvious", another lacklustre ballad, features a beautiful soaring Aguilera vocal track but the song itself is bland and not deserving of her effort. The closing track is a Fruity-Loopseque remix of hit ballad "I Turn to You", ridiculously unnecessary and seldom worth listening to.
Like most pop albums, Christina Aguilera
features lyrics worthy of a 9th grade poetry assignment on elementary rhyming. It seems to be a common weakness present when the songs and lyrics are written by overweight, balding Swedish men. They seem to have difficulty truly reflecting how the 19-year-old Aguilera feels, and it is a wonder she is able to deliver the vocal melody so convincingly. Christina Aguilera donates no lyrics or musical ideas to the album, an unfortunate practice in late 90s teen pop. The lyrics fortunately surpass the laughably bad level, but they could never be mentioned as a positive aspect of this album.
Weaknesses aside, there are some truly well-made pop songs on the album. Singles (debut single "Genie in a Bottle", middle-of-the-road "What a Girl Wants", ballad "I Turn to You" and up-tempo "Come on Over (All I Want Is You)") are all catchy pop songs worthy of joining the likes of "Bye Bye Bye" or "Oops! I Did it Again" in the annals of pop history. While the songs do feature the cheesy keyboards, chiming percussion and misplaced wah guitar that plague so many songs of the period, they are for the most part well-composed and expertly arranged pop songs that serve their purpose. Without over-emphasising the point, Aguilera is a truly gifted singer who brings these songs, entertaining in their own right, to a new level. She brings personality and effort to even the blandest and least-deserving pieces. Whereas Britney Spears shaded her weak voice with distorters and other various effects, made heavy use of autotune in the studio and perhaps heavier use of uh, not singing
in concert, Aguilera and her handlers knew that her voice was her strongest point and as such it was the unequalled focal point of the album. With ballads "I Turn To You" and "Reflection" (also featured on the Mulan
soundtrack), the music plays a diminished role and Aguilera's voice is allowed to soar and shine moreso than on any of the other tracks. On the more danceable numbers, the focus remains on melody but the instrumentation provides proficient backing for the vocal line. "Love For All Seasons" and "Love Will Find A Way" are entrancing pop songs which could very well have been popular singles.
isn't an album worthy of comparison to Revolver
or Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road
, but it is
an album that is highly representative of the better aspects of the teen pop movement of the late 90s. It should be noted she won a Grammy in 2000 as Best New Artist, an appropriate rewarding of her talent. Aguilera has publicly stated she dislikes the bubblegum pop music on this album and the clean-cut image she was forced to adopt in order to sell it. But is highly superior to Aguilera's "artistically independent" full-length effort Stripped
(2002), which featured a hyper-sexual theme, disastrously allowing it to overshadowed her voice and catastrophically allowing her new-found raunchy image to supersede her talent. In 1999 Aguilera was a truly talented singer with unlimited potential. By 2002, she had squandered it all and has yet to recover. But for all of her wasted potential and missteps taken in the name of artistic freedom, at least she isn't married to Kevin Federline. She may have lost the commercial success battle, but for the love of all that is dirrty she won the war.