Christina Aguilera was having a terrible 2011 for a while. Once known as pop's brightest talent, with the voice of a Mariah Carey and the bombshell appeal of Britney Spears, her star began to sink last year, with one lousy event after another. Album Bionic's electric hype disappeared last year once the record short-circuited. Burlesque might not have been as mocked as Mariah's Glitter or Jennifer Lopez's Gigli, but a soft, cushioned flop is still a flop. There was the divorce from husband Jordan Bratman, ending a marriage seen to be one of pop's strongest (granted, that's a low bar to clear), that National Anthem screwup, the arrest for public intoxication that drew P!nk's mockery.
But like J. Lo, Aguilera may well saved her career by swallowing her pride, cashing a fat paycheck, and becoming a reality-TV star. With her role as de facto lead judge/coach on NBC's new hit singing competition The Voice, Aguilera has found a prime platform to show millions of people that she's really not a train wreck, and to remind them that she still possesses a world-class voice (and that such things still matter). She's even dropping generalities about a new album as if nothing bad happened this year. Wait, maybe that's a low. Who can keep them straight anymore?
We can! In the spirit of Popdust's Jennifer Lopez feature back in April, we've put together a comprehensive guide to the ups and down of Xtina's career, from her "Genie" genius to the "Dirrty" sludge that smeared her image, up to Back to Basics retro dominance, the killer futuristic album that never was, and more.
For Part 1: THE TEEN POP YEARS, click NEXT.
PART I: THE TEEN POP YEARS
Growing up amid domestic violence: 1980-1990
It's easy to forget, two decades after the fact, that Aguilera had a really rough childhood. Her now-estranged father, Fausto Aguilera, was physically and emotionally violent both to Christina and to her mother. In a 2000 interview, Aguilera said:
"People don't know domestic abuse unless they're in it. It's not only physical abuse, but there's damage inside - mental abuse. It's a sad thing to go through and watch. They play with your mind and make you feel bad about yourself."
Aguilera no longer speaks to her father, despite multiple attempts on his part at a reunion. She's ascribed her drive for music to her difficult childhood, but that of course excuses nothing. After all, the same interview has Christina saying "this business has made me very cynical" while barely into her career. People tend to forget that.
TV stardom: 1990-1994
All roads to teen stardom in the late '90s led back to one place: the Mickey Mouse Club. The variety show launched the careers of stars-to-be Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, actors like Keri Russell and Ryan Gosling, and assorted other girl- and boy-band fillers.
And then there was Christina. Her first big TV gig wasn't the Mouseketeers—that'd beStar Search in 1990—but the Mickey Mouse Club was her true ticket to fame. It's not really surprising that Christina could sing in her tween years-- YouTube is littered with clips of celebrities' big-voiced childhoods. What's remarkable is how much she sounds like Christina, how much she's already formed her signature brass and melisma. Change tabs and let this play in the background, and there's absolutely nothing to date it vocally.
The high E.
That one note— high E above middle C—might not sound remarkable today, since scores of divas including Aguilera herself have belted higher. But that note got Christina a gig singing "Reflection" for the Disney hit Mulan. "Reflection" wasn't her first solo single—that would be "All I Wanna Do," a duet with Japanese singer Keizo Nakanishi that you've never heard of. But that tinny, dated song is mainly good these days for "she's 14!" novelty value.
Not "Reflection." Lea Salonga's version of the song may have soundtracked Mulan's inner transformation, but Christina's version became her first iconic vocal moment. It's since found a new lease on life as the go-to song for every under-18 contestant in any American Idol-like singing competition. Not bad for someone without a debut yet!
Christina Aguilera and a Grammy victory: 1999
More than a decade later, "Genie in a Bottle" is still great, combining plinky pianos and stop-start-shuffle production with lyrics that while not as meme-worthy as "…Baby One More Time" nevertheless ring truer to real-life teen relationships than most singles of or past its time. So are the plucky "What a Girl Wants," "Come on Over" in its high- and low-raunch versions, and "I Turn to You," the Diane Warren-penned soundtrack of every last dance at every high-school function.
The Grammys thought so too, giving Aguilera the Best New Artist nod over fellow Mouseketeer Britney Spears (more on her later). The choice isn't surprising in retrospect, as the Grammys tend to reward traditional vocal chops like Christina's over anything Britney had to offer.
The Britney Spears/Carson Daly/Fred Durst feuds: 1999-2000
It's no coincidence that we bring up Britney. Pop music loves a false dichotomy—think last year's Taylor Swift vs. Ke$ha, Demented-Universe Taylor Swift, or this year's dueling Real Adele vs. Fake Gaga or Chaste Adele vs. Porny Rihanna narratives.
This wasn't any less true a decade ago. The turn of the century had four undisputed pop princesses. But it worked out: while Mandy Moore and Jessica Simpson traded off third and fourth place, Britney and Christina were pitted against each other for just about everything: chart dominance, sexual attitudes (compare Britney's abstinent-until-marriage public stance to Christina's lyrics that mention hormones and sexuality), fashion, quality of vocals. It's still not clear how much of this feud was real and how much existed in the minds of fans and pages of tabloids—the two have denied any rivalry and say they're friends now, but it sure seemed inescapable at the time.
Not that Christina was lacking in drama otherwise. Allow us to quote a typically charming Eminem lyric: "Christina Aguilera better switch me chairs, so I can sit next to Carson Daly and Fred Durst and hear them argue over who she gave head to first." That pretty much sums up the sort of discourse there.
For Part 2: THE DIRRTY YEARS, click NEXT.
PART 2: THE DIRRTY YEARS
"Lady Marmalade" At The Moulin Rouge: 2001
For this Moulin Rouge tie-in, Christina joined Mya, P!nk and Li'l Kim for a retro-hooker Labelle cover that, perhaps not coincidentally, foreshadowed both Xtina's Back to Basics and Burlesque outings. Sure, the video's got nothing to do with the actual Moulin Rouge, or the movie for that matter, but those costumes! That hair! Those vocals!
Xtina's vocals, that is. She was the clear standout of the four, given a bridge all to her showy self and singing about an octave and twenty decibels above any of the rest. Think about it: when you're singing along to "Lady Marmalade"—and we know you are, right this second—whose part do you most want to sing?
Too "Dirrty" For Fans: 2002
When Christina became Xtina (which happened right around now), she brought along a pair of chaps, then made that her entire image. We will defend "Dirrty" as a song. But the video, set in a club full of cages, icky water pits and bodybuilders punching furries that'd make Ke$ha take a Listerine shower, turned a lot of viewers off. So did Xtina's new look of oil-slick highlights, piercings, various bras and micro-miniskirts with "NASTY" on the rear. Oh, and the chaps. All it took was one pair of assless pants to turn Aguilera from a singer into a punchline.
A "Beautiful" Comeback: 2002-2003
How to redeem an image too "Dirrty" for comfort? Release a ballad that doubles down on your powerhouse vocals and has a message that demands attention. "Beautiful" was the precursor to all today's It Gets Better anthems, and the video, touching on bullying, anorexia and body image, and gay and transgender issues, makes subsequent versions like Katy Perry's "Firework" seem tardy and cheesy. Even more crucially, "Beautiful" showcased Aguilera's voice, downplayed throughout the "Dirrty" mini-era. The same went for "Fighter," Xtina's sorely missed rock move with a video gruesome as spiderwebs, and "Can't Hold Us Down," a Li'l Kim-assisted foray into feminism.
Maxim Hot 100 shoot: 2003
What's the natural end for all this Dirrty-ness? Maxim, of course, who slotted the singer as No. 1 on their 2003 Hot 100 list. It's Maxim, so this is really a list of whoever the staff found attractive that week. But Xtina's career has gone stronger than No. 2 Shania Twain and No. 3 Kristanna Loken combined, so that's something.
A third wheel at the VMAs: 2003
Aguilera and Britney Spears paid tribute to Madonna at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2003. Dressed in updated, sexy lingerie á la the Material Girl's "Like a Virgin" days, the two danced with Madge, then made male fans' heads explode when they engaged in brief games of tonsil hockey with their idol (Spears first, Aguilera second).
And just like that, the world was never the same again. Whether or not you think shamelessly calculated PDA is distasteful, the fleeting moment put the women on the cover of magazines and made them the topic of conversation for weeks to come. But while it turned out to be a perfectly executed publicity stunt for Spears, few remember Aguilera's smooch that followed. Sloppy seconds to Britney once again.
For Part 3: BACK TO BASICS, click NEXT.
PART 3: BACK TO BASICS
Happily married to Jordan Bratman: November 19, 2005
Rather than follow her Mickey Mousemates and shack up with a fellow pop star--not that it worked out too well for Britney and Justin—Aguilera began dating music marketing executive Jordan Bratman in 2002. The two were engaged in February 2005 and married in November 2005.
And it keeps getting better: the couple's first child, Max Liron Bratman, was born January 12, 2008 with People paying a reported $1.5 million for photos.
Back to Basics: 2006
After a four-year post-Stripped hiatus, Aguilera lost the facial piercings and went back to a single hair color for her sixth studio album, Back to Basics. The results worked in her favor, as the cleaner-cut homage to '30s and '40s jazz and soul was a hit with fans, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 after selling 345,000 in its first week.
The songs were good, too. Singles like "Ain't No Other Man" and the sexed-up "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" takeoff "Candyman" helped show Aguilera's artistic growth, and working with producers like Linda Perry and Mark Ronson helped to give herself a throwback sound that still seemed fresh to 21st-century ears.
Dallas Austin controversy: 2007
The producer got personal when he claimed that Aguilera and Joss Stone were some of the female artists who would trade sexual favors for coveted tracks with male producers. As he put it: "All these bitches fucking for tracks." Austin later apologized for his statements, but his words still didn't erase the feeling by some that Aguilera's "Dirrty" was inspired by actual events. Not that it hurt her career much.
Keeps Gettin' Better: A Decade of Hits: 2008
Hard to imagine that Aguilera was old enough in 2008 to get people excited about a disc of old songs, but lo and behold, her greatest hits album amassed 14 tracks, 12 of which were from the diva's past. The album put her career in a bit of perspective as well as alongside impressive company like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. There was a single, too: title track "Keeps Gettin' Better," a synthy song that wasn't a smash but still foreshadowed Bionic's sound.
For Part 4: BIONIC BOMBS, click NEXT.
PART 4: BIONIC BOMBS
Bionic, the hype: early 2010
Aguilera's new disc was highly anticipated, with many assuming that motherhood and marriage would inspire a slew of great songs, and became even more hyped after people heard that the likes of the Neptunes, Le Tigre, Ladytron, Santigold, DJ Premier and Linda Perry were involved.
Add in the mystery behind the "IamamiwhoamI" clips Aguilera was rumored to be involved in (it turned out to be Swedish singer-songwriter Jonna Lee, crushing books' worth of speculation) and her forthcoming new sound had both Xtina fans and music bloggers salivating for much of early 2010.
Bionic, the reality: later 2010
When June 8 came and went, Aguilera's anticipated album was released with little result, as its only two singles—"Not Myself Tonight" and "You Lost Me"—failed to make waves with fans and media, and many of the rumored collaborations were either cut or put on the bonus disc. It didn't help that the "Not Myself Tonight" video recalled Lady Gaga in all the most obvious ways. Entertainment Weekly named Bionic their fifth-worst album of the year, and it only managed to go gold.
And weeks before the album dropped, Aguilera canceled her summer tour, citing the need to prepare for her film role in Burlesque. This only added to the already-mounting backlash.
Divorce filing: October 2010
After five years of marriage, Aguilera and Bratman's seemingly strong relationship crumbled amidst rumors that Aguilera's ambition to become an actress and work on the set of Burlesque was getting in the way. The singer filed for divorce last fall, and things were finalized in April 2011.
Burlesque bombs: November 2010
While Aguilera had starred in Disney skits alongside Britney and Justin on The Mickey Mouse Club, she had yet to make her adult acting debut (not that kind) until the musical romp Burlesque, which saw her work alongside Stanley Tucci, Eric Dane, Kristen Bell and Academy Award winner-cum-all-around-diva, Cher.
While this may sound like the perfect foray to launch a film career (Dreamgirls, another musical, worked for Beyonce), Burlesque was met with a lukewarm response from both critics and fans at the box-office. Yet, Aguilera can still say she was part of an award-winning film—Burlesque won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. But it was also a year where Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp's The Tourist was nominated for one as well, so: wash.
For Part 5: ROCK BOTTOM, click NEXT.
PART 5: ROCK BOTTOM
National Anthem lyric-gate: February 2011
Singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl is an American tradition, and a huge compliment to artists given the game's large stage. 2011's match between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers was no exception, when Wexford, PA's own Aguilera was given the honors to serenade her country. Would Aguilera bring the crowd to its feet with a goosebump-inducing performance a la Whitney Houston in 1991?
Not quite. Rather than blow people away with her powerful pipes, she jumbled the words after forgetting some of the lyrics. (We know "ramparts" might not be in your everyday speech, but it's a pretty significant part of the song.) True, Aguilera never stopped singing, but it was enough of a flub to enrage football-loving, beer-drinking patriots everywhere, forcing her to make a public apology attesting to her love for her country.
Rebound romance ruined by public intoxication and arrest: March 2011
Following her divorce from Bratman, Christina began making more and more public appearances on the arm of new beau Matt Rutler. Embracing her new singledom and romance with rounds of drinks is perfectly acceptable, but date nights that end in public intoxication citations are probably not stories to tell your grandkids. Even P!nk disapproved—and there weren't even any painted horses involved!
Naked picture almost-controversy: still March 2011
Like every pop star during a career tailspin, things got worse when RadarOnline reported the discovery of inappropriate photos that featured Aguilera in bed with Rutler and Nicole Richie—said to have been taken around Richie's bachelorette party in the fall of 2010. Sordid details (chocolate-covered bananas and simulated oral sex) were published, yet the photos have yet to be leaked, much to the future relief of her son Max.
For Part 6: THE VOICE TO THE RESCUE, click NEXT.
PART 6: THE VOICE TO THE RESCUE
The Voice: April 2011-present
NBC's new music competition show may have sounded like a ripoff of American Idol, X Factor, or one the plethora of others out there, but it's turned out to be a major hit for the network—over 14 million viewers to date—and just what Aguilera needed during this time of successive flops.
Along with her fellow coaches Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton and host Carson Daly, Aguilera has been getting positive reviews for her mentoring techniques and gets to enjoy watching young hopefuls fawn over how much "Beautiful" changed their lives. Not to mention: She gets to flaunt her newfound curves and increased cup size on national television. (Thanks, motherhood!)
Things have gone so well that Aguilera's already starting her new-album talks without Bionic even being a topic of conversation, and The Voice is already on the schedule for the coveted post-Super Bowl time slot for 2012. Starting practicing the National Anthem now, Xtina. Just in case!
What do you think, Xtina fans? Do you prefer Christina in a bottle or down and dirrty on the dancefloor? Happy to see her finding her "voice" again, or are you looking to laugh at another terrible tabloid cover sometime soon? Sound off in the comments, below.