The Must List 2006: Music
MUST GLAMOUR GIRL
Christina Aguilera wants to amend her order and get some fries to go with that filet mignon. But she turns down a dinner guest’s offer to fetch a waiter on her behalf. ”I’ll get his attention,” the singer cheerfully vows, and for a moment you hope you’ll get a reenactment of Claudette Colbert showing Clark Gable how to flag down a car in It Happened One Night. But no flash of leg is necessary to keep the servers hovering. Maybe that’s the natural effect of divadom — to have mortals orbiting like moths around a light bulb — or maybe it’s simply to do with the glow of her new old-Hollywood ‘do. Because however Aguilera’s upcoming album might sell, her hair is already quadruple platinum.
It’s not just the black dreads of the Stripped era that are ancient history. For her upcoming two-CD set, Back to Basics (due Aug. 15), Aguilera’s dolled herself up and is embracing being beautiful — without any ”no matter what they say” caveats required. ”What I’m going for with the red lips and platinum blond look is the old screen sirens — the Jean Harlows, the Veronica Lakes, Marilyn,” says Aguilera, 25, drawing stares from across Wolfgang Puck’s new Beverly Hills steak house, despite wearing nothing more ostentatious than a Vivienne Westwood teddy-bear pendant over a form-fitting white top. (Her nose and lip rings have been retired.) ”I even have a Bettie Page-goes-blond look in the next video. It’s important to me that the imagery coincides with what I’m going for musically.”
Yet it’s inevitable that there will be some level of disconnect between her new look and the sound of her latest album. Because when Aguilera starts listing the actual musical touchstones for Back to Basics, the names date back to the same eras — mostly, the ’20s through ’60s — but the number of blondes dramatically diminishes. The project’s initial spark was some free verse she penned in her diary, ”which is how I get a lot of my lyrics. The poem was called ‘Back to Basics,’ [asking] what is it that makes you sing, makes you want to dance? And it’s old Billie, it’s old jazz, it’s Coltrane, Miles Davis, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Millie Jackson, and” — her girlhood idol — ”Etta James. I would listen to a CD of those people, then listen to what was on the radio, and I’d be like…” She makes a deflating sound effect. ”What happened?”
The idea of an ex-Mouseketeer forging a spiritual connection with African-American blues, jazz, and soul greats would sound ripe for satire…unless you’re one of the tens of millions of people who’ve actually heard Aguilera open her mouth. She’s the only currently reigning female star with enough ambition and chops even to attempt pulling off an album that mixes authentic old -old-school stuff with a hip-hop sensibility. (One possible exception: Madonna, who went halfheartedly ’40s retro in 1990 with I’m Breathless, then moseyed along.)