It’s hard to write about Christina Aguilera without touching on the elephant in the room. In this case the elephant is Britney (insert Cheetos joke here). Debuting around the same time, it was hard not to compare the two: They both emerged from the Disney machine and they both began racking up the hits in the late 1990s. To draw a comparison from only a decade before, it could be said that Christina is the Cyndi Lauper to Britney’s Madonna.
Aguilera is far more musically gifted than Spears: She takes more risks with her music; she actually can sing, not grunt; she is a lot more flamboyant; she has more personality; and generally speaking she isn’t a train wreck (not counting “Lady Marmalade,” the Labelle cover in which she over-sings her heart out, trussed up like a $5-transsexual New Orleans street whore, playing the part in a frightfully convincing manner).
Comparisons (and really bad makeup) out of the way, Christina stands up just fine all by herself, thank you very much. On her new best-of disc, Keeps Gettin’ Better: A Decade of Hits, we are treated to a chronological review of the tunes that made Aguilera a star. From the electronic freestyle leanings of breakout single “Genie in a Bottle” and the post-war big-band homage “Candyman” to her epic Mark Ronson copenned “Hurt,” more than anything this compilation essentially highlights the diversity of her sound, which is only sufficiently appreciated when listened to in one sitting.
By the end of the disc it becomes obvious that Aguilera has little difficulty embracing any genre she chooses, as new offerings “Genie 2.0” and “You Are What You Are,” (remakes of “Genie in A Bottle” and “Beautiful” respectively) are put through a Goldfrapp-processing machine only to reemerge as an entirely new version of Christina: electro ice queen. It’s an interesting take, and in the case of “You Are What You Are,” it puts an incredibly fresh spin on what was a great single to begin with.
Over the past decade it’s become obvious that Aguilera is here for the long haul. Love her or loathe her, she’s got the pipes and she’s got great songwriters on side. On the cover of Keeps Gettin’ Better, she looks like a serious drag queen. I just hope she doesn’t tone it down with age. Like all the best popstars, Aguilera is content to be playful with her image and embrace the ridiculousness that is being a popstar with humility and a sense of humour. Madonna, take note.