Music Memories: Christina Aguilera

Keith Chaffee, Librarian, Collection Development,
Christina Aguilera on her album, Liberation
Christina Aguilera on her album, Liberation

On December 18, 1980, Christina Aguilera was born. She’s progressed from a child star on TV to a successful pop diva.

She started singing as a young child and has cited Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music as an early inspiration. Aguilera won her first talent show at the age of 8, singing Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” and was a semi-finalist on Star Search at 10.

When she was 11, Aguilera auditioned for the revival of The Mickey Mouse Club. She was too young to be part of the cast then but joined the show in 1993-1994. And whoever was casting the show had a remarkable eye for young talent; Aguilera’s fellow Mouseketeers included Ryan Gosling, Keri Russell, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake.

After her run on Mickey Mouse ended, she took advantage of an offer from the small label Warlock Records. They needed someone to record demo versions of some new songs, and the work gave Aguilera the opportunity to spend some time in a professional recording studio.

By 1998, Aguilera was looking for a record deal. RCA was interested, but not quite ready to sign her; they suggested that she try Disney. When Disney got her audition tape, they hired her to record “Reflection” for their next animated movie, Mulan. The song was a top 20 hit on the adult contemporary chart.

In the same week that she made the deal with Disney, RCA finally decided to sign her. Aguilera was a little bit frustrated as she recorded her debut album; her producers pushed her towards a teen-friendly pop sound, and she wanted something that leaned more R&B. But the first single, “Genie in a Bottle,” was a #1 hit, and the album generated two more chart-toppers, ‘What a Girl Wants” and “Come On Over Baby.” She won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, beating out, among others, fellow Mouseketeer Britney Spears.

Book cover for Christina Aguilera
Christina Aguilera

The 2000 album Mi Reflejo featured Spanish-language versions of the hits from her first album with some new songs thrown in. There was some critical backlash, largely centered around the fact that Aguilera didn’t actually speak Spanish and had learned all of the songs phonetically, but the album won a Latin Grammy Award.

While she was still on tour to promote those two albums, Aguilera was recording a holiday album, My Kind of Christmas. The critical response focused on what has become a common complaint among her detractors, that she relies too heavily on vocal acrobatics, what Entertainment Weekly called “her exhausting insistence on making every other syllable an octave-spanning tour de force.”

RCA was concerned about Aguilera’s next major project, collaborating with Lil’ Kim, Mya, and Pink to record a new version of “Lady Marmalade” for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. The label thought the record would be “too urban” for her image,” but Aguilera insisted on doing it. The record spent five weeks at #1 and won her another Grammy.

Hoping to cash in on her success, Warlock Records decided in 2001 to release the demo recordings Aguilera had made for them a few years earlier. There were back-and-forth lawsuits—Aguilera claimed that Warlock had promised to never release the recordings commercially—but the parties eventually reached a confidential settlement in which Warlock was allowed to release Just Be Free.

For her 2002 album Stripped, Aguilera attempted to break out of her teen-pop image. The new album leaned more towards R&B and soul, with more mature themes and lyrics. The sexy video for the first single, “Dirrty,” generated some controversy, and the record missed the top 40. The follow-up, “Beautiful,” was much more successful; Aguilera won her third Grammy Award for the ballad about self-esteem, and the song was adopted as an anthem by the LGBT community.

Book cover for Stripped
Aguilera, Christina

Over the next few years, Aguilera was seen mostly in a series of one-off collaborations with other artists—a new version of “Like a Virgin” with Madonna, a remake of “Car Wash” with Missy Elliott, a pairing with Nelly on “Tilt Ya Head Back,” and a performance of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” on Herbie Hancock’s duets album.

Her 2006 album Back to Basics was a double album which Aguilera declared was inspired by jazz, blues, and soul from the 1920s through the 1940s. The biggest hit was “Ain’t No Other Man,” for which Aguilera received another Grammy Award.

She continued her string of eclectic collaborations, recording with Diddy, “Tell Me”, and Andrea Bocelli, “Somos Novios”, and released a greatest hits album in 2008 that included another hit single, “Keeps Gettin’ Better.”

Aguilera’s 2010 Bionic was less successful than her earlier albums. It was strongly influenced by electropop and EDM, with lots of synthesizers and drum machines. In the same year, she took on her first big film role, starring with Cher in Burlesque; Aguilera was the small-town girl dreaming of making it big in showbiz, and Cher was the burlesque club manager who became her mentor.

In 2011, Aguilera was one of the original panel of coaches on the TV singing competition The Voice. Her fellow judges included Adam Levine, and she paired up with his band, Maroon 5, to record another #1 hit song, “Moves Like Jagger.”

Book cover for Lotus
Aguilera, Christina

Aguilera described her 2012 album Lotus as a “rebirth,” and it was largely a return to dance-pop. She also continued her string of collaborations, working with Pitbull, “Feel This Moment”, Tony Bennett, “Steppin’ Out With My Baby”, Cee Lo Green, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, and The Voice contestant Chris Mann, “The Blower’s Daughter”.

Her next big hit came the following year in yet another partnership; “Say Something” paired her with the band A Great Big World; it reached #4 on the charts and won another Grammy Award.

Aguilera’s 2018 album Liberation got perhaps the best critical response she’d ever received, appearing on several year-end best-of lists; the lead single was “Accelerate,” which topped the dance charts. Earlier this year, she brought her career back to its starting point by recording two songs for the live-action remake of Mulan, “Loyal Brave True” and a new version of “Reflection.”

More of Aguilera’s music is available for streaming at Freegal.