Christina Aguilera covered Paper magazine in March with the promise of a transformation. The word “transformation” was literally written under her bare face. The stripped down look of the cover and the implied promise of a new era of Xtina had me asking the question: “Ballads or bangers?” I cared less about how much makeup Christina Aguilera was wearing and more about how her new music would sound.
We now have the answer to that question. This morning, Xtina dropped her new single Accelerate and the accompanying music video. The song features Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz. It was co-produced by Kanye West. Now is not a great time to be aligned with Kanye. The last (and hopefully final) time I wrote about Kanye West, celebrities were distancing themselves from him by unfollowing him on Twitter. Since then, things have just gotten worse. I won’t get into Kanye’s latest dumbassery because it makes me so f-cking angry and I don’t want to break my keyboard out of rage. If artists weren’t trying to get as far away from Kanye West as they could before, they should be now. The only ones left standing are his longtime friends and collaborators who owe their careers to him (Chance The Rapper, John Legend) and they are spending their time trying to educate Kanye before he does even more immeasurable damage. A futile effort, in my opinion. There’s no coming back from “slavery was a choice.”
Christina’s rep confirmed to Variety that Kanye co-produced her single but the production credits were left off the single’s official announcement. That’s smart. Christina and Kanye worked together in 2016 before he released Life of Pablo. In a new interview with Billboard, Christina spoke highly of Kanye but that was two weeks before his disastrous return to Twitter. Christina says they lost touch after he was hospitalized and that she still thinks he’s a “great artist and musicmaker and beatmaker.” Sure, he is those things but do you really want to be the person defending Kanye’s musical aptitude right now? Christina says that Kanye co-produced some of her favourite songs on the upcoming album Liberation, including one that sounds pretty amazing.
“Maria,” a pulsing, intricately orchestrated piece that includes a Michael Jackson sample and an extended introduction in which Aguilera sings from The Sound of Music.
Whatever bullsh-t Kanye ends up doing next, I don’t think it should reflect poorly on Christina Aguilera. Today, they are sharing headlines. Moving forward, Christina would be smart to downplay Kanye’s involvement on Liberation. The backlash and the boycotts inevitably coming Kanye’s way should be on him, not on Christina who is on the verge of ushering in her new era.
That new era is going to be heavily hip-hop influenced. She co-wrote and executive produced the entire album and just like she did when she reinvented herself for Stripped, Christina is relying on R&B, soul and hip-hop to deliver hit records. The Billboard piece brushes over the “cultural appropriation accusations” that come with being a white pop star immersed in the worlds of hip-hop and R&B. They’re right that Christina Aguilera hasn’t been the subject of those accusations like other artists have. It may be because hip-hop and R&B ARE pop music now and in the years Xtina built her career. There is no distinction. Christina Aguilera has used the music of black artists to propel her career a few times but she’s also got photos of Etta James, Nina Simone and Tupac hanging up in her studio. She’s always cited black soul singers as her influences. Unlike Miley, Xtina has never bashed the genres that afforded her success. Maybe that’s why it feels a bit more authentic.
“At the end of the day, I am a soul singer… When you strip back the words ‘pop star’ and the many things that I’ve done, singing soulfully is where my core, my root and my heart really is. And as you can see, it’s what I’m inspired by.”
Christina Aguilera’s new era also involves a lot of sh-t talking The Voice. The album is called Liberation and it seems like the thing she needed to be liberated from was her stint as a coach on the reality TV show. She calls it an “energy sucker” and a “churning hamster wheel.” Xtina’s biggest issue with The Voice seems to be that it was more about creating good TV than it was about the music. Um, yeah. Of course it was. I’m sure that working on a television show like The Voice IS a lot like a “churning hamster wheel.” A production like that involves hard work and a lot of producing. It sounds like Xtina doesn’t like to be produced. She didn’t like being told what to say and what to wear. Welcome to television, darling.
It doesn’t surprise me that a format like The Voice didn’t mesh well with a personality like Christina Aguilera’s. She says she’s “not a big daylight girl” and keeps the lights dimmed in her house at all times. She’s a diva. There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s also not a lifestyle conducive to early call times and strict production schedules. I understand why she felt creatively stifled by the experience but is it smart to sh-t on it in every interview? The Voice is still one of the most popular shows on television. Is the best narrative for Xtina’s new album that she needed to be liberated from a primetime singing competition?
As for Accelerate, I don’t hate it but I don’t love it yet either. I was expecting more or at least something different. How is Accelerate any more of a departure for Xtina than her last hit, Your Body? Accelerate may be one of those songs that grows on you though. Check back in with me in a few weeks.
Read Christina Aguilera’s full Billboard profile here.