Ain’t no other woman
She may have dissed Mariah, kissed Madonna, outsung Britney and outsexed Pink, but the woman who many refer to as Xtina is working hard at eclipsing all the hot type that surrounds her past. Suffice it to say, she won’t be headlining the next Lilith Fair, but Aguilera’s accomplishments and aspirations (backed by three Grammys and counting) are superseding the unfab tab stories brewed about her from those silly Britney Spears battles. In fact, they represent the exact opposite of what Aguilera is today. Fiercely more fashion-forward than the other pop-tart charters, girlfriend has readdressed the sexually liberating (and highly criticized) Stripped image of yesteralbum to adopt a chicer, more conceptual sound and image for her latest CD, Back to Basics, a two-disc affair that pulls from the best samples (both musical and designer) of the rhythm and blues world of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. Aguilera is taking the job of pop artist seriously. For this disc, it really is less about her and more about tipping her hat to those before her, such as Etta, Aretha and Whitney (pre-Bobby), who apparently helped fuel her along the “Dirrty” and “Beautiful” musical road to success. FLARE’s exclusive interview with Aguilera keeps in line with the lyrics of her latest hit, “Ain’t No Other Man”: She’s got soul and she’s got class, she’s got style, but she’s still badass.
FLARE: Why was it so important for you to shed some light on such old-school eras of jazz and soul with Back to Basics?
Christina Aguilera: Those eras [the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s] include blues, jazz and soul, the real roots and elements of today’s music. It’s music I really connect with. In this day and age, technology has advanced so much that anybody can make a record or be a singer. When you turn on the radio now, compared to when you play an old record, the authenticity that you don’t get anymore is so apparent.
F: The singer in those days was Billie Holiday. She had a short, great and tumultuous career. No matter what she was going through, she got onstage and put that white gardenia in her hair, got her look together and sang her songs. How can you relate?
CA: I identify with Billie Holiday in particular because, whenever you hear that voice, there is such an underlying element of pain and sorrow in it. Music has been therapeutic for me to listen to—that’s why I make it. Considering my past and the childhood abuse I endured in the household, music was my escape. I’ve read about Billie and she had a lot of sorrow involved in her childhood, too. As a musician, it’s really important for me to draw from my own pain; it evokes more emotion and really moves the listener.
F: There was so much involved in getting the look “just right” back then. It was part of the message of the music. Have you deliberately tried to follow that lead?
CA: I plan out every kind of look on tour so it can emulate the sound I’m going for. I love ’20s, ’30s and ’40s fashion and the old screen sirens of such a fun and creative time, like Marlene Dietrich. In order to really dive wholeheartedly into Back to Basics, I surrounded myself with a thousand pictures of old soul singers—people like Louis Armstrong with his cheeks out, playing his trumpet, Duke Ellington with his piano and Billie Holiday sitting in a juke-joint jazz-club environment—and I never sang a vocal without putting on red lipstick. Never. It helped me get into character—just like an actor into Method acting.
F: Do you consciously surround yourself with other artists who also have distinct vision? The fashion shows you have attended in the past two years seem to support that.
CA: It’s my appreciation for left-field thinking, especially with artists. Two photographers that inspire me are David LaChapelle and Ellen von Unwerth. Being around creative spirits and souls is what I live for. I feel really comfortable in my own skin, but I feel most comfortable when I am around artistic people. The designers I wear are more “out there.” They take chances; they are innovative and think outside of the box. I love John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood. I definitely like artists who have something to say [beyond] what their product is. Stephen Webster is my favourite jewelry designer ever. I just tend to go for groundbreakers and real innovators.
F: In your recent cover story with GQ, you said you didn’t think you had “ever encountered what a real man is” until you met your husband, [music exec] Jordan Bratman.
CA: It is not like I was looking for one, either. I was never one of those little girls who wanted to get married and fantasized about it. The thing about Jordy is he is such a strong person. He is really solid and very secure with himself. The male ego can get very intimidated by a successful woman. People ask him “How do you deal with her posing naked for magazines?” but I wouldn’t have married Jordy if he didn’t embrace all of those qualities about me. And he does. He always gets me out of my dark spaces.
F: You have come such a long way since “Genie in a Bottle.” What are you most proud of so far?
CA: Maintaining my individuality. Not being afraid of what people think. Not being afraid to take chances. I am proud to be empowered by my sexuality and bear the brunt of negative reactions. Despite double standards—men over the years dictating what’s too sexy and [making] rules about sexuality—my job is to set an example. I think I should never cower to another person’s idea of what sexuality should or shouldn’t be.
A look at Aguilera’s ever-changing wardrobe and style over the years:
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