Reinvention can be a tricky thing.
The Bionic campaign began with the promise of a pop superstar’s futuristic return to the scene after an extended love affair with ’20s and ’30′s-inspired vintage sound. On the way back (to the future, if you will), Christina Aguilera would confront setback after setback in trying to properly relaunch herself.
In looking back at the campaign’s early stages, there’s little doubt that the Iamamiwhoami viral videos–now all but confirmed to be a project created by Swedish singer Jonna Lee–largely contributed to the initial deconstruction of the Bionic campaign’s magic.
For those unfamiliar, the mysterious web series first cropped up on the web in late 2009 as a series of two or three minute clips uploaded on YouTube. The videos featured an unidentifiable blonde frolicking around in the forest licking trees, rolling in mud–and generally just being weird–as lovely, lush electronica music played in the background.
While warped video and sound effects veiled the singer’s voice and face, early screen-shots from the clips all stubbornly pointed to the same source: Christina Aguilera.
At some point, most people began to believe–or at the very least, wanted to believe–that the “proof” photographs that circled the blogosphere did indeed come from Aguilera’s camp.
After all, the album was newly titled Bionic (which sounded forward-thinking), she was flying below the radar (filming Burlesque with Cher, as it turned out), and her album’s growing collaborator list was comprised of avant garde, left-of-center artists and producers like Ladytron, Hill & Switch, and Le Tigre.
So when the preview of the radio-friendly lead single “Not Myself Tonight” finally premiered on Aguilera’s website back in March, the hope that one of pop’s princesses was going deep underground quickly and definitively deflated.
“Not Myself Tonight,” too, was another major strike against Bionic. Production wise, the song sounded as though it were recorded in 2002; a by-the-numbers club banger that was neither bad nor particularly innovative. For a comeback track after an extended absence from the pop scene, however, the decision to release the song as the first single was devastating. The song’s final chart positions only further solidified proof of the folly, peaking at a modest #23 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The final blow against Aguilera came in the form of a new-found rival pitted against her in the media: Lady Gaga. Almost immediately after revealing the cover art and album title for Bionic (and truly, ever since her masked VMA performance in 2008), Aguilera continued to battle sharp, inaccurate criticism for allegedly lifting Gaga’s future-pop styling, eventually leading her to write a formal response to the drama on her website.
Yet anyone that truly understands pop should know that there’s no real style swiping between Gaga and Christina. They’re two blondes operating within the confines of the mainstream pop industry and both happen to hone excellent voices. Beyond that, there’s are few comparisons to make.
Their sounds are entirely separate, and as far as their artistry is concerned, Christina had been exploring issues of sexuality and dabbling in exotic fashions long before the name Lady Gaga ever hit the ears of most critics now lashing out against the singer. In fact, Gaga is probably one of the only artists that Christina doesn’t sound like on Bionic.
To be fair, the video for “Not Myself Tonight” did no favors in building a case for Christina as an artist in her own right. Scenes featured within the video depicted Aguilera in various states of undress and bondage, as well as shot-by-shot homages to Madonna‘s early ’90′s work including “Express Yourself,” “Human Nature,” and “Erotica.” While clearly out of reverence rather than unoriginality, the decision to release a video based on the work of another artist was ill-timed at best.
And so, at long last, comes Bionic–a record four years in the making, produced by the artists and producers that Aguilera admires, written to express her thoughts on womanhood, sexuality, and lifestyle.
Kicking off the new record comes its dubstep-laden title track “Bionic” which, while an excellent number, sounds as though it were lifted straight from the recording sessions of Santigold’s debut album back in 2008. It’s hardly surprising, given that the producers of the song are the very same who first worked with Santigold, but the general expectation behind an artist-producer collaboration is a creative middle ground that sounds entirely new (in theory, anyway).
“Many times imitated, not duplicated / Can’t be replaced,” Aguilera sings on top of the stuttering, grinding beats, she sings during the song’s second verse. Yet herein lies the problem with Bionic: It does sound duplicated.
One of the singer’s greatest weaknesses here is a propensity toward sounding like a mimic. From lifting Sia‘s warbling delivery style on “I Am,” to the dead-on imitation of M.I.A.‘s monotone delivery on “Elastic Love,” the singer seems to be so lost in the shuffle of talent that I can’t help but wonder if “Not Myself Tonight” would have made for a far more fitting title for the record.
Imitation aside however, there’s no denying that a great deal of Bionic is actually quite good.
Despite her reinvention into robot territory, Christina’s still found plenty of time to entertain her lady region (as with Back to Basics‘ “Still Dirrty”), including the booty-popping “Woohoo,” featuring Nicki Minaj, which finds the singer doling out instructions on how to navigate below the belt. “You don’t even need a plate, just your face, ha,” she offers during the instructional chorus.
There’s also the Latin-tinged “Desnudate,” a romping, stomping burst of breathy desires being purred into the listener’s ears. Further on, the tempo drops for a coo-heavy, Janet-esque offering with “Sex for Breakfast.”
Then there’s just plain self-indulgence, as with the album’s final moment, “Vanity,” a wonderfully cocky electro-pop ride through tongue-in-cheek lyricism. “Mirror mirror, on the wall / Who’s the flyest bitch of them all? / Never mind, I am,” Christina taunts off the top of the track before calling on her queens and launching into a flurry of bratty boasts.
Given all the controversy surrounding Christina’s pop star status in 2010 however, the irony sort of just writes itself in the final seconds of the song: “And the legacy lives on, going strong / Let us not forget who owns the throne,” Aguilera pompously declares. “You do, mommy,” baby Max responds. Crickets.
And while the gorgeous Linda Perry-penned ballad “Lift Me Up” is the next best candidate to follow Aguilera’s already established classics, “Beautiful” and “Hurt,” there’s little debate as to the album’s true shining moment(s), which comes in the shape of three Sia ballads: “I Am,” “You Lost Me,” and “All I Need.”
These songs aren’t just torch tracks–they’re the kind of next level balladry we’ve come to expect to come from the Australian singer-songwriter responsible for “Breathe Me.” Here is where Christina truly shines, delivering a wealth of vulnerability and control when needed and a signature yelp when it’s time to truly unleash.
At the same time, the album also suffers from a fair share of filler, including the noisy, childish chant of “I Hate Boys” and the needless noodling found on the rather unspectacular “Prima Donna.” “Glam” is another dud that, while initially promising, ultimately fails to inspire enough energy in the chorus to prove itself as fierce as the lyrics imply.
As one may gather from the song descriptions, the main issue with Bionic is that it lacks any solid musical identity, as well as any real sense of cohesion.
Perhaps if the album had been separated into a more logical two-disc process–a side for serious contemplation and sophisticated pop such as “Birds of Prey,” “Monday Morning,” (both of which having been unfairly ousted onto the second disc) “Bionic” and all of the killer ballads–as well as a side for the best of the sex-drenched club jams (“Vanity,” “Woohoo,” “Desnudate”), the package itself would be more appealing.
As it stands, Bionic is a convoluted set of semi-working parts that could use some serious rewiring. But while the machinery included within isn’t necessarily pieced together properly or as cutting edge as promised, there’s still good enough reason to invest in Aguilera’s latest reboot.
Well, this performance surely deserves its own post.
Here we have Christina Aguilera performing “You Lost Me,” one of the Sia-penned ballads off of her upcoming studio album, Bionic.
An honest, incredibly solid vocal delivery.
Say what you will about her ability to establish her own identity as an artist (which seems to be costing her gravely as her album release date draws closer), but Christina will always have an incredible voice.
Let this be a remembrance of that fact.
MuuMuse Approved Tracks for the Week of May 9, 2010
5. Sia – Bring Night
Sometimes I forget how insatiably good this song actually is, and then I play it once again and remember. The anthem for many dance parties to come.
4. Paradiso Girls – Boys Go Crazy
Their debut is still permanently on hold, but I’ll be damned if I don’t listen to their leaks on the daily. SHE A BAD BITCH.
3. Usher – OMG (ft. Will.I.Am)
It’s currently burning up the charts, and rightfully so. The song falls in line with the surge of urban-dance as of late (Oh hay, Taio Cruz!), but remains a cut above for its clever construction and arena sound.
2. Nicki Minaj – Your Love
The final mix is circulating, and Nicki’s tweets about the song seem to suggest that it’s lined up as the next single. Judging by the swing-and-a-miss of “Massive Attack,” I sure hope she’s back on track with this one. Her debut is destined for greatness.
1. Kelly Rowland – Commander
Guess which song is still just as amazing this week as it was last week? Smash the clubs wide open, Kelly.
This is my head penis!
As a massive cloth banner sporting the singer’s name was hoisted into the air, strange alien noises began overlapping and spewing into the speakers. “We are born, we are born,” they began to disjointedly chant, hastening and finally meeting in a frenzied rally cry.
At once, Sia pranced out with her band from behind stage wearing a red-and-white striped gown and a glowing light piece attached to her forehead, looking not unlike a glorious technicolor unicorn. “This is my head penis!” she announced while pointing at the contraption. The crowd cheered in approval, thus propelling her into the first of many Woody Woodpecker-like giggle fits.
Last Saturday, Sia arrived in Boston for the American leg of her We Meaning You Tour, a tour to promote her upcoming release, We Are Born, due out on June 7.
As the singer formally known best for her more solemn, downtempo work with Zero 7 or her classic ballad “Breathe Me,” Sia has certainly had an image reversal as of late: Saturday’s show was, if nothing else, a bubbly affair (literally!), complete with crocheted set design and colorful patterns.
On stage, the microphones and instruments were wrapped in fabrics and yarn. Even the amps were covered in fuzzy knits, making the show look a bit like it were an impromptu performance inside of a Mexican souvenir shop. As if to purposely counteract the rather dreary ambiance of her last few efforts, tonight was a spunky celebration of color and dance-ready pop tunes.
Sia herself is an effortless, understated powerhouse of a performer. Standing barefoot at center stage, the singer playfully twitched around–doing robot-inspired dances and playing with the fringes of dress–while effortlessly belting out some of the toughest, scale-heavy numbers from her discography including “Little Black Sandals,” “The Girl You Lost to Cocaine” and her brilliant cover of Madonna‘s “Oh Father.” Literally, these were studio-ready vocals (if not better than the original recordings!) being produced as though it were no big thing.
Aside from “Breathe Me,” the most celebrated songs of the night also happened to be the newest ones, especially the new single, “Clap Your Hands.” It seems no concertgoer, no matter how dedicated or ambivalent, can resist such a dirty bass groove as the one in her latest single. The entire audience seemed to sway and clap in unison to the song’s impossibly massive disco beat. “Bring Night” and “You’ve Changed” were equally beloved by the crowd, only further emphasizing the very real fact that a happy Sia is just as wonderful as a downtempo Sia.
Later on, after the “fake encore” (as she referred to her intial exit from the stage), the Aussie songstress returned to the stage with a set of colorful plastic wheel wings attached to her back. Yes friends, it was time for bubbles! From behind the singer, a machine began spinning the wings on Sia’s back, resulting in flurries of bubbles that carried across the venue. “This is the first time it’s worked the way I want it to!” she announced giddily, doing a quick victory dance before rounding out the concert with a moving rendition of “Soon You’ll Be Found,” complete with accompanying sign language.
As has come to be the custom at the Sia show, the singer was showered in a bunch of gifts from her fans, about half-way in (though she accepted gifts throughout the show), including a Barbie, a new purse, handerpants (no really, educate yourselves about that one), CD’s and more.
“Who wants to do some more heckling?” she would ask a few times throughout the show. As the crowd would begin to cheer, choice members of the audience threw out their best, silliest ‘insults’–or whatever was on their mind, really. “Your girlfriend is hot!” shouted one. “Thanks, I’ll tell her you said that!” she responded gleefully. “Your drummer is hot!” shouted another. Not exactly the jeers she was expecting perhaps, but silly nonetheless.
While there were no costume changes or major video installations, the singer kept the crowd engaged with her adorably off-kilter anecdotes and interactions with the audience. It’s hard to believe that the bouncy, effervescent character dancing around onstage is the same one soulfully belting out her songs like some of the best songstresses of the last century. But then again, you’d have to see it happen live to truly understand.
And now some random bits from the tour, courtesy of my camera. Prepare for shoddy video and audio! Apologies.
Well, it’s just all fun and games for Sia these days, now isn’t it?!
Above is the video premiere for the singer’s joyous new Greg Kurstin-produced single, “Clap Your Hands.” Not only is it hilariously campy, colorful and muppet-tastic, but it’s incredibly crafted as well. I can only imagine how long this took to put together!
Which one is your favorite character? This is mine, hands down:
“Clap Your Hands” will be released on May 25, with We Are Born to follow on June 22.