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Christina Aguilera

   Christina Aguilera (RCA, 1999)
    Stripped (RCA, 2002)
     Back To Basics (RCA, 2006)
    Keeps Gettin' Better: A Decade of Hits (RCA, 2008)

Of all the teen divas who revived bubblegum in the late Nineties, Christina Aguilera had the distinction of being the one who could "really sing" —meaning she did better impressions of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey than anybody else did. Groomed for showbiz from the time her teeth first sparkled, she appeared on "Star Search" at age eight (she sang "The Greatest Love of All," and lost) and, like Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, was a cast member on Disney's "The New Mickey Mouse Club." By the time she recorded her debut album at eighteen, she was a fully formed hitmaker. Christina Aguilera has two alluring anthems of pop femininity, "Genie in a Bottle" and "What a Girl Wants," but the remainder is generic Top Forty pop that sounds like she had not quite outgrown the sexless Disney mindset. In that she lost market share to Spears, who from the start exuded a vampishness that appealed to teenagers and horny adults alike.

Fans of Aguilera had to wait three years for the skankification of their American idol: Stripped, decorated with images of the singer in varying states of piercings and undress, claims to be an honest self-portrait, "no hype, no gloss, no pretense," despite a superabundance of hype, gloss, and pretense. The hiphop–influenced songs, mostly written or cowritten by Aguilera—with some much needed help from Linda Perry ("Beautiful") and Alicia Keys ("Impossible")—finally bring her in step with the times, but she's more chameleon-like than ever, claiming an uncompromising, defiant individuality in songs that have little.

Unlike Janet or Britney, Aguilera's "grown up" album involved putting her clothes back on. Back To Basics replaced tweenie porn-pop with the cheescake smirk and brassy bravado of a classic Forties-era songstress. To Aguilera, "classic" meant delivering cheeky updates of Andrews Sisters jump-blues ("Candy Man," written by Linda Perry) and crooning over headknocking hip-hop hybrids. The "timeless" aspect is shoved down the listener's throat—the title, the name-checking of Lena Horne and Billy Holiday, the burlesque photos in the liner notes—but the record's occassionally genius, occasionally cringe-worthy attempts at blending rap, cabaret and jazz make it the most cohesive album she's ever released. And that includes her greatest hits record Keeps Getting Better, whose ten stellar singles are weighed down by four bland attempts at 2008's trendy, Lady Gaga-jacking electropop.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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