Since Christina Aguilera released “Back to Basics”, a 20s, 30s, and 40s-style jazz and soul-inspired record in 2006, she has become a wife, mother, and apparently time traveled a few decades to record her self-proclaimed “futuristic” fourth album, “Bionic”. Unfortunately, this process took four years and all but made Christina Aguilera an afterthought in the world of pop music.
Sure, she had done it before. She released her last studio effort, “Back to Basics”, four years after her sophomore hit, “Stripped”. However, “Stripped” went 4x Platinum and spawned six successful singles, including the international smash, “Beautiful”. “Back to Basics” only generated one moderate hit, followed by a string of disappointing single releases. I understand the need to build anticipation and hype between projects, but “Back to Basics” simply wasn’t successful enough to keep her momentum going for another four years.
Have artists rebounded from even longer hiatuses? Of course, but the material needs to be equally strong, if not stronger, than their previous releases and also their current contemporaries. I knew things weren’t going well when “Not Myself Tonight” was recorded and being tacked on to an already finished body of work and being released as the first single. While this is a somewhat common practice, it indicates two things: the album does not contain any hits and the first single is a quick, cheap attempt to push a radio-friendly song that does not necessarily reveal the direction of the entire album. My indication was right.
“Not Myself Tonight” sounded like the same dance-tinged music dominating pop radio at the moment, but without anything to truly make it “special.” While I don’t necessarily like that literally everything and everyone is being compared to Lady GaGa at the moment, Christina, more than anyone, really needed to come out with something to set her apart from GaGa. They are both platinum-blonde pop stars known for both their voices and tendency to go against the grain. However, GaGa out Christina-ed Christina in the less than two years, and unfortunately Chirstina did nothing to retaliate except release a watered down retread with an uninspired, overly provocative video to match. Everything surrounding “Not Myself Tonight” screamed for attention and resulted in her looking more desperate, than innovative.
Before the release of “Bionic”, it was evident RCA was scrambling to salvage the era. Christina made her promotional rounds, singing a variety of songs from the album, once again proving the lack of surefire hits. After waiting almost two months for “Not Myself Tonight” to plummet down the charts, RCA finally announced, “You Lost Me” as the second single. On one hand, I understand the choice. It returned the focus to Christina’s voice and offered no Lady GaGa comparisons. However, it’s July. Radio is not going to touch a dreary, almost old-fashioned ballad in the middle of the summer. I honestly don’t even know if it would have worked in the fall or winter. While it’s not a bad song, it lacks the universal theme of most successful ballads and is certainly no “Beautiful”.
Throughout the promotion of “Bionic”, Christina constantly reminded us that she had been in the business for over a decade. However, I still don’t know who Christina Aguilera is. While I do appreciate a consistent theme throughout an album era, Christina Aguilera first jumped from wholesome teenybopper, to “dirrty” girl X-Tina, then to flapper-esque Baby Jane, and finally to a bondage-loving, bionic space alien. So, what will be Aguilera’s next incarnation? I’m not sure, but I suspect it won’t take another four years, and she will be working with some guaranteed hit makers this time around.