November 14, 2002

13 Piercings…

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Remember 1999, when Britney was still “that innocent,” Justin Timberlake wasn’t attempting to release solo albums, and “Genie In A Bottle” Christina Aguilera hadn’t yet developed an aversion to clothing? Three years later, on her sophomore English-language release, teen pop’s second-in-line-to-the-Queen has decided to assert who she believes she really is — and it’s not the sweet Pennsylvania girl image she once tried to present.

Stripped starts off with a mess of MTV soundbites thrown together — Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst telling a reporter that he sang his duet with Aguilera on the 2000 Music Awards “all for the nookie,” VJ Kurt Loder elaborating on the alleged competition between the singer and Britney Spears, and Aguilera trying to defend herself against all of them. The track then flows into “Can’t Hold Us Down,” a duet with rapper Lil’ Kim and Aguilera’s response to Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady,” in which he claims that she offered certain oral pleasures to Durst and MTV tool Carson Daly. The song sounds like a wannabe version of Madonna’s “Human Nature,” with Aguilera questioning double standards in the music world and then firing back at Marshall Mathers himself with, “You’re just a little boy/ Think you’re so cute, so coy/ You must talk so big to make up for smaller things.” Lil’ Kim’s rough rapping adds a bit of urban sound to the song.

Aguilera’s defiance toward those who have put her down is a theme that is featured prominently on the album. In “Fighter” she thanks those who have made her career more difficult because it “makes me that much stronger/ makes me a little bit harder.” The song is more rock than pop, with guitars provided by Dave Navarro, and Aguilera hitting low, throaty notes instead of trying to imitate Mariah Carey. It is one of the few tracks on the album that suggest maybe Aguilera could be a respected vocalist instead of a half-naked pop singer out to prove that she’s a bad girl. This possibility is also hinted at in “Make Over,” one of four songs on Stripped co-written by ex-4 Non Blondes singer Linda Perry. Over Spanish-influenced guitars, Aguilera elevates her voice to a scream somewhat reminiscent of Courtney Love.

Stripped has more than its share of slow ballads which seem more like an excuse for Aguilera to show off her vocal range than anything else. “Intoxication” begins with her breathlessly speaking in Spanish and then turns into something that creates a Santana-meets-Jennifer Lopez feel. The track deals with Aguilera’s struggle not to fall in love with someone her family doesn’t exactly approve of, “Mama used to warn me/ Beware those Latin lovers/ She said ‘I gave my heart too soon and that’s how I became your mother.'” The bleached blonde’s desire for love is also apparent in “Loving Me 4 Me,” which ends with her quietly reading a poem to someone who loves her not because of her fame.

“Impossible” is a piano-driven track written, composed, and performed by songstress Alicia Keys, and it sounds mysteriously like Keys’ hit “Falling” just with Aguilera’s voice. “Impossible” does prove both the vocal abilities of Aguilera (as she quickly hits high notes that transition into raspy yells) and the maturity and talent that Keys possesses as a songwriter.

Aguilera doesn’t only tackle such overdone issues like her love life — she exposes the way that she felt being the victim of abuse at the hands of her father, and watching her own mother be treated in the same way. “I’m OK,” with its quiet, crying violins finds the singer struggling over the words, “it hurt me to see the pain on my mother’s face/ every time my father’s fist would put her in her place.” Aguilera becomes graphic in describing the situation she once faced, expressing how she felt trapped.

There are, of course, the usual mainstream-pop tracks everyone expects of the 21 year-old diva. The album’s first single “Dirrty,” which also features rapper Redman, finds Aguilera trying much too hard to be overtly sexual both in sound and lyrics, “Shake a little somethin’ on the floor/ I need that to get me off/ Sweat until my clothes come off,” she asserts over a beat that sounds ripped right out of a sleazy strip club. Redman’s barking (yes, barking like a dog) adds nothing to the song.

Stripped is supposedly Christina Aguilera’s answer to other musicians who have attacked her, as well as the people who turned her into the innocent girl she appeared to be on her last release. There is no way to deny that Aguilera has been blessed with a powerful voice and range — and some of the points she makes (like asking why it’s okay for certain rappers-turned-actors to create a career based on controversy when she can’t even offer her opinion) are completely valid. However, it’s hard to take her seriously when images of her (mostly) naked are plastered all over the liner notes. Maybe when she stops pandering to the people she claims to hate, it will be easier to see the talent behind the eyeliner, hair extensions, and garter belts.

Archived article by Ariel Ronneburger