Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Crisis Control: Experts Offer 7 Ways Christina Aguilera Can Save Her Career

From the new issue of VIBE Magazine

hhh… You hear that? It’s the sound of Christina Aguilera headed for a career freefall. At least that’s what seemingly the entire blogosphere would have you believe. Indeed, it’s been a tough month for the powerhouse vocalist. Aguilera’s lurid first single “Not Myself Tonight” limped to the no. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100, an unusually low placement for the multi-platinum, chart-topping veteran performer. The track’s equally brazen video was collectively dismissed for its over-the-top sex shop fantasies. Meanwhile, an early preview of Aguilera’s upcoming electro sound clash-centered album Bionic (due out June 8) only intensified talk amongst critics and fans that X-tina was merely swagger-jacking nemesis Lady Gaga—the same pop-dominating behemoth she recently chided as “fun to look at” in Out magazine. When Aguilera announced plans to postpone her summer tour on May 25, just days after tickets went on sale, citing the oft-used term “prior commitment,” the knives were out as skeptics blamed the performers’ poor box office returns.
But Aguilera’s detractors would do well to remember that there’s a reason why she has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide in just 10 years. Still, VIBE recognizes no one is above receiving a bit of career advice, which is why we rounded up some of the most respected (and feared) bloggers, editors, and music industry powerbrokers in the biz. Amos Barshad, assistant editor at New York Magazine’s Vulture site; Billboard’s associate editor Monica Herrera; in-demand songwriter and Aguilera collaborator Claude Kelly; and the notorious Perez Hilton all give their diverse takes on how Christina Aguilera can prove the doubters wrong.—Keith Murphy
7. Let’s (Not) Get Dirrty
During Christina’s two-year sabbatical from the dizzyingly evolving pop music landscape, blush-inducing “it girl” antics were being raised to Madonna-like levels. Indeed, the naughty daughters of the Material Girl were intent on playing a game of top this, bitch!!!: Britney Spears offended pro-censorship lobbyist the Parents Television Council with her slyly-titled, did-she-just-spell-'f*ck'? track “If U Seek Amy”; a sneering Rihanna, clad in S&M wear, cursed like a sailor on shore leave in Las Vegas on her latest album Rated R; and Lady Gaga… hell, is there even enough space here? Which is why Aguilera’s oversexed Euro-pop-driven first single “Not Myself Tonight,” with its freaky bi-sexual imagery and F-bomb (surprise!), came off as a transparent bid to play catch-up to the rest of the bad chick pack. And that’s before you even take a gander at the song’s erotic bondage-and-fetish-wear-obsessed video.

But when you are blessed with glorious vocal chops that makes Mariah Carey ball up in a corner and cry at night, there’s no need for you to one-up the leather-chap wearing, bump & grind theatrics of 2002’s “Dirrty.” “When a pop star has their first child and they say that the new album is inspired by birth and family, you really don’t expect your first single to be about kissing on boys and girls,” Billboard’s Herrera says. “It seemed a little out of synch with what she was talking about.”
6. Remember, Your Fans Are STANS
Somewhere between the hardcore throw-a-cage-of-doves-in-the-air followers of the legendary King of Pop Michael Jackson and the she-can-do-no-wrong-even-in-Yaki boosters of Beyoncé is the Christina Aguilera fan. These fiercely loyal subjects would slap up the gratingly annoying Kesha if Aguilera coldly instructed them to do so (I’ll gladly start the petition). Such unconditional backing should enable Aguilera to weather the current storm of criticism.

“I think the talk about her career being in trouble is an exaggeration,” says New York Magazine’s Barshad, who experienced the wrath of the singer’s ride-or-die fans first hand when he wrote a May 31 blog backed by the headline Does Christina Aguilera Have A Lady Gaga Problem? “When you read some of the fan comments online you realize that she has a strong fan base that will buy whatever she does for a long time.” Even Perez, who is no stranger when it comes to criticizing Christina’s most recent artistic decisions, agrees. “I would give away Bionic for free as a thank you to her fans,” he offers. “Even if everything she’s doing right now seems to be exploding in her face, a good number of those fans have remained loyal.”
5. Write It Down: Everyone Slumps
Aguilera has been commanding the spotlight since her 1999 Mickey-Mouse-Club-or-bust debut single “Genie In A Bottle.” When you’ve been performing in the notoriously fickle pop music biz for that long, you are bound to experience a misstep or two. “Madonna went through a slump with her American Life album,” says Perez. “Britney went through a slump. And look at Kelly Clarkson…she had that awful album that didn’t do too well. It’s natural to go through slumps. Hopefully Christina gets better advice and makes smarter choices when she comes back on the scene with newer material.”
4. Don’t Scrap Bionic
Even if some critics and music fans are confused and utterly unimpressed by the sparse, beeping futuristic production and decadent lyricism found on Bionic, there are always the ballads. The soaring and at times haunting songs “All I Need,” “Lift Me Up,” “Stronger Than Ever, and “I Am (Stripped)” represent some of Aguilera’s most introspective and challenging work to date. “The ballads are beautiful and Christina is a shoe in for that,” testifies Kelly, who wrote six tracks on Bionic. “It’s a more mature approach. She hits the notes more delicately.”

Besides, abruptly shutting down an album release just because of early lukewarm reaction equates to waving a white flag. “Remember, we saw the same criticism with Jay-Z’s last album Blueprint III with some of the tracks that were leaking,” Herrera says of Jigga’s much scrutinized release, which went on to garner positive reviews. “I think we have to wait to hear all the music first before we call it a flop.”
3. Make Nice With Lady Gaga
When an act is having a moment, you have to either ride the wave or get the hell out of the way. Unfortunately, Aguilera missed that memo. “I think in the beginning for her to sort of insinuate that Lady Gaga was a B-level star was not the way to go because as we all know Gaga is much bigger than that now,” says Herrera of the rivalry Aguilera first ignited back in 2008 when Ms. Pokerface was making her way as an underground club act. “It made Christina seem like she was more out of touch with the current pop landscape which is not what you really want to do when you are the kind of huge pop star that she is.”
Of course, no one is suggesting that Aguilera and Gaga become BFF’s. But a little humility wouldn’t hurt. Barshad believes Aguilera’s recent respectful nod to Gaga on her website was a step in the right direction. “But truthfully, I don’t think [Aguilera] is purposely copying Gaga,” he notes of the comparisons. “It’s the whole timing of the situation. She came back right in the middle of this Lady Gaga fever. Whoever was coming back in that situation would be compared to her as well. [Aguilera] just has to deal with the situation and remember she’s a huge star.”
2. Be Yourself
Much of the hype surrounding Bionic offered the standard this is my bravest album yet narrative that has become as predictable as rock star drug overdoses. Yes, Aguilera should be lauded for working with the freak-flag waving likes of Peaches, Le Tigre, and M.I.A., but not at the expense of her own sizable vocal talents. “Bionic really is the embodiment of Clone-Tina,” jabs Perez. “I’ve given her that nickname because she’s clearly copying the people she’s working with along with Gaga and Madonna. She didn’t bring enough of herself to this project to make it authentic. I am a huge fan of Christina. I want her to give us more of who she is.”
1. Unleash Arguably The Greatest Voice Of Your Generation
We all witnessed it. Amongst Hope For Haiti’s solid line-up of first-rate vocalists that included Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, and Mary J. Blige, Ms. Aguilera shined brightest on the Linda Perry-penned “Lift Me Up.” The moving, tear-jerking ballad (hey, there’s a theme, here) allowed Aguilera to demonstrate a pitch-perfect tone that belied her heartbreaking venerability. Forget the singer’s savvy, but predictable next single “Woo Hoo,” featuring female rap savior Nicki Minaj. “Lift Me Up” offers Aguilera’s greatest strength: her voice. “You don’t get the chance to go back and say Christina should have done the vocals over on a song,” Kelly says. “When it comes to her voice there’s not too many pop artists who can do what she does.”

Herrera goes a step further in her praise of Aguilera. “I think Christina’s voice is what separates her from everyone else right now,” she says. “Because today, everything is overly produced and bogged down with the Pro Tools… there’s not a lot of singing involved. It’s very rare nowadays to hear someone singing in a completely pure way now. Just seeing her do that is really striking. If she continues to showcase her vocal attributes, Christina will be just fine.”