From her beginnings as a teen-pop sensation with ‘Genie in a Bottle’, to her maturity on the UK million seller Stripped and her comeback as a soul diva on Back to Basics, she’s not easily definable. Her latest song, ‘Telepathy’, from the soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix show,The Get Down, is arguably one of the best songs of the year.
With that in mind, and with scarce news of Xtina’s sixth English-language album, we’ve decided to delve into the singer’s back catalogue to unearth the surprising stories behind her biggest hits.
1. ‘Genie in a Bottle’ wasn’t the musical direction that Christina wanted to go down…
Like both Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera made her start on Disney’sMickey Mouse Club TV show. However, it wasn’t until the star signed a record deal and started making waves as a popstar that she became a household name.
The instantly catchy and lustful ‘Genie in a Bottle’ caught the attention of the masses. Despite this, Christina wasn’t originally too keen on the track. «To tell you the truth,» she admitted to MTV News back in the day, «Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I really didn’t want ‘Genie in a Bottle’ to be my first single.»
Expanding on this, Christina recalled how A&R man Ron Fair had called her to tell her that he’d come across a song that he thought was amazing, originally called ‘If You Wanna Be With Me’. «He said that it had good potential and thought it would be a smash,» Christina said. «So I heard it, but I actually wasn’t too crazy about it.»
She decided to record the song anyway. «Once I got to the mic and worked on it,» she explained, «it became something else. I’m really proud of the results.»
At the time, Christina was fairly new to the music industry, so she didn’t quite get how song-writing credits worked. Thus, while initially she said she didn’t co-write any of the material on her debut self-titled album, it transpired that the singer did actually have a hand in the creation of her sound.
2. ‘Dirrty’ was a risky one…
It was clear that Christina Aguilera wasn’t the artist that RCA Records wanted her to be. While she fit into the mould for her debut album (as well as a Spanish-language album and a Christmas record), she wanted to distance herself from the manufactured pop image. Enter 2002’s Stripped.
The album’s lead single couldn’t have been further from the well-behaved pop image. Sex was on the menu, and it wasn’t subtle.
Having worked with Christina on ‘Lady Marmalade’, producer Rockwilder was curious about what else this burgeoning young popstar had to offer. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, he recalled how, when Christina was starting work on Stripped, she wanted it to be «down and dirty».
Rockwilder had previously worked on a hip-hop track called ‘Let’s Get Dirty’ with the rapper Redman, who featured on Christina’s track, and he thought that he might be able to shift the track into the pop sphere. «I figured since ‘Let’s Get Dirty’ was a hip-hop song, flipping the song for a pop artist would be whole different situation – and it was. It woke the song right up,» he said.
Dealing overtly with themes of sex and sexuality, ‘Dirrty’ was a risk, as was its raunchy video. «It’s just me being me, that’s all it is,» Christina told ABC News. «I’m always going to be changing and evolving. I think it scares people when a woman is comfortable with her body, comfortable with herself, her sexuality.»
Linda Perry, who has worked extensively with Christina throughout her career, at the time voiced her concerns that the singer’s talent would become overshadowed by the controversy surrounding her new image. «I just looked at Christina and said: ‘Are you high? This is annoying. Why are you doing this?'»
Replying to this, Christina acknowledged that it was a bold move. «I knew a lot of people would not be ready for it,» she said. «The great thing is that everyone, whether you loved it or hated it, had an opinion about that song and everybody talked about it.»
When quizzed later by MTV about why she decided to add an extra «r» to the song’s title, Christina explained that she wanted to «personalise» it. «I felt like having two r’s, kind of like grrr, like when you say it you want to go, ‘Dirrrty,’ ’cause that’s how it’s supposed to be. Gritty, like the video, [with] underground, illegal stuff going on,» she said. She also revealed that she contemplated the titles ‘Dirtee’ and ‘Dirrdy’. Yikes!
Despite being wildly successful in the UK – the track reached number one on the Official Singles Chart – ‘Dirrty’ never even cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, landing just outside at number 48. It seems that conservative America just wasn’t ready to sweat until their clothes came off.
3. ‘Beautiful’ might be all heart, but it’s got a big backstory…
‘Beautiful’ has become Christina’s career-defining song, and it’s often cited as her best. However, despite the song’s sentiments of acceptance and self-love, there’s a bit of a bitchy backstory.
Linda Perry worked with Pink on her 2001 album Missundaztood, and played the track to her during some recording sessions.
Perry was then introduced to Christina. «When Christina came over to my house to start working, she asked me to play some songs to break the ice,» Perry recalled in an interview with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. «I played ‘Beautiful’ for her, and she comes over by the piano and she’s like, ‘Can you demo that for me and write the lyrics out? Because I want it.'»
Perry then recalled how her heart sank as she really wanted the personal track for her own solo project. «I had a long conversation with my manager about it,» she said. «We both decided to hear Christina sing it. We demoed the song with her singing it, and I was like, ‘Wow.'»
The fact that Perry had given Christina ‘Beautiful’ didn’t impress Pink. «I took it really personally when [Perry] started working with other artists, particularly artists I didn’t like,» Pink said. «I don’t think imitation is the highest form of flattery, I think it’s annoying… We had a falling-out and I took it personally.»
Perry recalls the spat in a similar fashion. «[Pink] kinda left me on my own and I resented her for that. We never have been the same since then,» she said.
4. ‘Ain’t No Other Man’ formed part of an experimental album that was all about #throwbacks…
Christina’s third record, Back to Basics, was a success, as was its lead single ‘Ain’t No Other Man’. A record of two parts, BTB was separated by two different concepts. The first «disc» (it was actually spread across two separate CDs) was songs inspired by Christina’s favourite artists and soul legends. The tracks were modern, however, filled with numerous samples, hip-hop drums and cutting-edge production.
With ‘Ain’t No Other Man’, Christina teamed up with DJ Premier, who has produced almost exclusively hip-hop songs. «I was surprised I got that call ’cause of our differences in the audiences we hit,» the producer revealed to MTV. «She described what her album is about and then she sent me some CDs of what type of stuff’s been inspiring her to make the record, and it happened to be a lot of stuff that I grew up… Once I saw that’s the vibe she wanted, I still had to make it sound like the way my beats thump and stuff but still give her the atmosphere she’s trying to bring out.»