The Grammys! They’re happening Sunday! As part of our team coverage in the week leading up to music’s big celebration, Popdust’s Maura Johnston will chat with noted pop-watcher Chris Molanphy about the artists and entities who might be a little more on edge than their black-tie-wearing compatriots—whether it’s because they have a lot to gain from a killer performance or a surprise win, or a bit to lose from not measuring up to expectations. Today's topic: Christina Aguilera, who's not nominated, but who's on the night's performer slate.
Maura Johnston: So what about Christina Aguilera, who's singing as part of a big Aretha tribute on Sunday night? And who isn't nominated? She is coming off what might be called a very rough year.
Chris Molanphy: Capped by the Anthem imbroglio.
MJ: It kind of sucks that she's shoved in with so many other people, although I guess the overstuffedness makes it similar to Bionic.
CM: Well, the lineup is like a VH1 Divas Live! redo, right?
CM: "Yolanda Adams, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride, and Florence Welch will join forces to honor the 'Queen of Soul,' Aretha Franklin, at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards."
CM: Man, I would not want to compete with Yolanda Adams in that lineup.
CM: There's something a little morbid about the whole thing, given Aretha's recent cancer scare (if it even was just a "scare," Re-Re's protestations notwithstanding). It's like someone at NARAS said, "We better get one last tribute to her while she's still upright." She's in that pantheon of Grammy perennials like Stevie or Quincy or Paul Simon. She's practically a fixture on the show.
CM: She had this ridiculous/amazing streak of Grammy consistency in the late '60s-early '70s where she won Best Female R&B Vocal for eight years straight, from 1968 to 1975.
MJ: So is Christina asking for further flogging from the public by holding herself up against Aretha?
CM: I mean, the Anthem controversy is still SO fresh.
MJ: Especially in the new everything-sticks-around news cycle.
CM: This is gonna sound weird—and unfair of me, really—but y'know what it reminds me of? The, like, 2-3 week gap between Sinead's Pope-rip-on-SNL incident and that Bob Dylan tribute concert where she got booed off the stage.
CM: This is not nearly that dangerous for Christina, certainly, but...
CM: Similar detractors, similar accusations of treason, etc. The point is the closeness of the first incident and the second. If I were her publicist (or...hell, Irving Azoff, right?) I'd be nervous about the proximity
CM: I mean, my opinion, of course, is that what she did was a friggin' accident and people need to cool the F out, but...
MJ: That's the thing! Most people fuck up the actual singing. Her voice sounded great.
CM: So I guess the key question is, what is the goal of Christina's Grammy appearance?
CM: The album is long-dead.
MJ: She's not nominated for anything.
CM: She's not on tour.
MJ: Burlesque is dead in the water.
CM: To the point where even Cher and Diane Warren got dissed by the Oscars!
CM: So I have to say, I officially don't get it. I would lay low for a few months if I were her.
CM: The worst thing she can be accused of over the last year is making a Gaga-indebted, overproduced album. Everything else that happened is either not her fault or overblown in consequence.
CM: But she still has those pipes. And unlike Whitney, she's not going to be fool enough to let them go to rot.
MJ: I think she should collaborate with Sia and Linda Perry. The Sia songs were standouts on Bionic; really simple, although you could totally tell that she was singing along with sia's guide track and bending her voice in a different way.
MJ: She has this great voice.
MJ: She's never going to be as much of a supernova as Britney, which is a blessing and a curse.
CM: Right. If anything, rather than Britney or Gaga, her career model right now should probably be Pink.
MJ: Hello, "Beautiful."
MJ: Which is still the standard-bearer for the "it gets better" movement, despite being written years prior.
CM: Someone pointed out last week that with "Fuckin' Perfect" about to ascend to No. 1 on the Hot 100, Pink is now officially the most successful act from that 2001 Moulin Rouge collabo single, outdistancing not just Mya and Lil Kim (natch) but Christina. Which, as recently as 2007, seemed unthinkable
CM: Pink has handled her late-'00s/early '10s career brilliantly, while Christina started to go off the rails after 'Back to Basics.' And unlike Britney, she didn't do it in spectacular, flameout fashion; she just quietly, gradually lost her mojo.
CM: Maybe we should return to something we were discussing the other day—her 2000 BNA Grammy win. Again, the calculus at the time was Christina = Britney + voice. I think there's a fondness for Aguilera at NARAS.
MJ: Because she has chops? Now I'm reminded of four years ago, when she did "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" on the Grammys.
CM: Right. It's entirely possible that they invited her to the Aretha tribute lineup because they just (gasp!) love her, full stop.
CM: I mean, I don't mean to be glib—it is worth asking what they and she each get out of her appearance. Especially her, especially now.
CM: But let's not forget that for a decade, winning awards or not, Christina has been a Grammy-show fixture.