Saturday, December 10, 2011

Album UnderRATED: Stripped by Christina Aguilera


Say what you want about her - I'll probably agree. She's definitely an artist who I'd never ever everrr want to meet due to her unbearable narcissism. However, it's worth noting that Christina's attitude only covers up her acute self-consciousness, which is also her most relatable characteristic.

I loved her music from the very beginning. The hits off of her self-titled debut, Genie in a Bottle, What a Girl Wants, I Turn To You, and Come On Over (All I Want Is You), were super-shiny and infectious bubblegum teen-pop, with a side of soul. Still, to be honest, I preferred Britney's irresistible tunes and dancing, which was of Jackson- (as in Michael and Janet - Ms. Jackson if you're nasty) - quality at the time. Britney dominated POP culturally, then and now. That era will always be defined by Ms. Spears.

Luckily, Christina made some changes. With the Stripped record, which came out in October of 2002, she truly made a name for herself and finally stood out from under Britney's shadow.  She was no longer a poor man's Spears (albeit one with a booming voice). For the first (& only) time, she became even more culturally relevant than her fellow Mousketeer.  Britney may have released three albums before Stripped saw the light of day, but it was worth the wait.  EVERYONE was talking about X-Tina's Dirrtyness when the unabashedly grimy dance/R&B/POP single hit the airwaves.  This sound is what Rihanna tried to create on some of Talk That Talk, but her attempts were never as successful. Christina was the first teenybopper to take control of her own music and image. She even co-wrote most of the record's songs, which is far from writing solo, but still a step ahead of the pack. Also, I can't deny that I LOVED her look for this record. It was GAYtastic.  Leather a$$less chaps, chains, high heel boots, and fishnet gloves?  Hair that transitioned from blonde dreads and cornrose to jet black? We hadn't seen this much dominatrix since Madonna's Human Nature video.

Topically, Stripped was ahead of it's time. Christina addressed social issues that Britney and the boy bands never touched on, and she did it in a very Madonna/Janet like fashion. What I like about Dirrty is that Christina is the sexually dominant female in the song and video. People were hating on her, calling her slutty and every other misogynist term without realizing the positives. In the track, Christina is not a Slave 4 U or to anyone else. She is the one in charge. While overt sexuality is not necessarily a topic that little girls should be introduced to, if they are going to be exposed to it, then it should be presented in a positive and empowering way.  They should at least see a woman embracing her sexuality for her own fulfillment, rather than for a man's. That's something that I find so admirable about Christina: she didn't care what you thought of her, and she didn't care what people expected of her. She stayed true to herself. Her sexuality was not a marketing ploy, which is probably why she was able to express it in such an empowering way, rather than singing, "Oops...I Did It Again." Christina was in the driver's seat at the age of 21, so I give her major props.

As a whole, the album was completely empowering.  It provided a positivity to young women (and gay men) at a time when music was lacking in that department. Christina taught us not to doubt ourselves in trying times by listening to The Voice Within. She helped bring out the Fighter in us all, preaching that we ought not to take any B/S from anyone. Meanwhile, Britney's music was focused inward, expressing her times as a sheltered and Overprotected teen (sorry Brit, but we can't all relate to having bodyguards, being chased by the paparazzi, getting free designer clothes, and having $100 million in the bank).  Christina's music was universal and relatable.

The most inspirational songs on Stripped are Can't Hold Us Down featuring Lil' Kim and Beautiful. I speak for both Minna and myself when I say that I am so proud of Christina for Can't Hold Us Down. Packaging a profound social message into a POP track has the power to positively impact our world - if, of course, the artist and record label are willing to dupe it out with radio conglomerates to play something progressive on the airwaves. I cannot think of a single song since No Doubt's Just A Girl that featured such a strong feminist message and addressed gender inequality so directly.  Moreover, Beautiful, written by Linda Perry, is Christina's anthem. In the song, the POP star addressed the hopeless and disenfranchised, all those who never fit the mold, aesthetically, socially, or otherwise. The video, directed by Jonas Ã…kerlund, showed those who don't meet society's beauty standards, including a severely underweight girl who likely has an eating disorder, a scrawny boy, and a goth. The video solidified Christina's status as a gay icon and won her a GLAAD award by featuring a transgender woman getting dressed and a gay couple kissing, avoiding the negative stares of those around them. This video is iconic and was the most popular video on MTV at its height, which, once again, goes to show how effective messages of social justice can be when wrapped inside a beautiful, melodic package.

I'm OK is Stripped's most introspective track. In it, Christina sings about the physical abuse she and her mother suffered at the hands of her father. It's so honest and heartbreaking that she recorded it in tears while lying down. Her emotions flow right through you as she sings. It's that powerful. When I listen to it, I feel like hot apple cider is running through my veins. This honesty and vulnerability is what I adore in Christina.

Considering how much I viewed Christina as a progressive, introspective, and honest POP artist, when I heard that she called Kelly Osbourne fat for years, I was hurt as a fan. That type of behavior completely goes against the message of Beautiful and the theme of Stripped, which was all about embracing the parts of you that others label as flawed. I find this sort of hypocrisy particularly disturbing. Christina took everything she hated about herself, all of her insecurities and doubts, and turned them outward onto people like Kelly. If only she had continued to pour her pain into her music, she could have made another great record and prevented herself from almost reaching irrelevance (she should be thanking the producers of The Voice like they're Mother Theresa bringing her water in a drought). Stripped is a ballsy, adventurous masterpiece filled with soul, rock, R&B, Latin, and POP sounds surrounding an array of messages that are as relevant today as when the record was released. Stripped is timeless. Girl, when you pour your soul into your music, the results ain't bad! So pretty please, instead of acting like a bratty diva, make another great record and prove that you deserve a spot among today's reigning POPsters. Inspire us all over again! 



P.S. Check out two of the album's most underrated tracks: The soulful ballad of woman scorned, Walk Away, and a danceable Latina-POP version of the same story, Infatuation.

1 comment:

  1. This was a very important album to me. It might have had something to do with it coming out right before I did.


Please comment!