Christina Aguilera has never been an artist who is not constantly dogged by criticism, controversy and rumours; yet nor is she one who likes to play it safe. Just like Madonna, she’s a risk-taker, and when it comes to musical style, lyrical content and fashion, she’s forever changing every year and with each new album. And 2010′s Bionic was no different.
The long-awaited album was met with a harsh reaction from critics, the general public and even some fans, which in turn resulted in disappointing chart positions and extremely poor sales figures, expecially for such an already well-established artist. Many blasted her for her drastic change of musical direction – the electro-pop sound is certainly a far cry from the jazz and soul-influenced Back To Basics four years before – and her style, as she combined her good old Stripped and ‘Dirrty’ girl days with the modern-day screen siren look. She was also accused of out-right ‘copying’ the music and fashion sense of a certain up-and-coming new talent at the time, that was unfortunately all part of Bionic‘s swift fall. But enough about what happened to it; why is it that this album is criminally underrated and unfairly misjudged?
Christina had explained that the vision for Bionic came from two places: firstly wanting a more ‘futuristic’ and electronic sound and secondly, embracing herself as a grown, sensitive and comfortable woman and mother, yet someone who still loves being sexual and having fun. And each song on the 18-track (23 on the deluxe version and 24 if purchased through iTunes) definitely encompasses each of those sides to her. From the sexy, pumping lead single ’Not Myself Tonight’ to the self-assuring ‘I Am’, from the erotic slow-jam of ‘Sex For Breakfast’ to party-starter ‘Prima Donna’ and from ‘All I Need’, a lullaby written for son Max, to ‘Vanity’, an anthem dedicated to being confident enough to love yourself - it is all covered.
Versatility has always been Xtina’s strength since day one: loud and brash, soft and pure, English, Spanish, pop, R&B, hip-hop, rock, jazz, blues, soul, dance and even reggae – her combined vocal and cross-genre abilities are what separates her from her peers and even those who came before her. Bionic saw her shift to electro and synthpop, unexpected of someone whom many believed was ‘too talented’ to be incorporating such styles. She even used auto-tune – something she had been very much against in the past – on some songs to manipulate her voice rather than to correct it, and sometimes to the point of no longer sounding anything like her, as on the M.I.A.-penned ‘Elastic Love’. A crazy decision perhaps? Or a creative one? Aguilera admitted she was ‘really bored’ of doing the same, distinctive vocal tricks and wanted to try something new, saying she liked to challenge herself vocally – and in this case, using electronic ways to change it.
Aside from M.I.A., Aguilera enlisted the help of a large number of eclectic artists, writers and producers to work with her to mix their and her sounds together. Among those who lent their talents were Beautiful writer Linda Perry, Claude Kelly, Tricky Stewart, Polow da Pon, Peaches, Le Tigre, Santigold, Ladytron and Nicki Minaj, who features on ‘Woohoo’, a dancehall influenced song about cunninilingus. Sia Furler had one of the strongest presences on the album, collaborating with Xtina on tracks such as ‘You Lost Me’, a painfully sad yet beautiful ballad about a broken relationship.
In truth, very few people probably even knew about Bionic, let alone listened to it, instantly believing it to be a flop or a copycat of Lady Gaga’s The Fame, but this album shouldn’t be judged simply because it performed badly or because it’s so different to her previous work. Instead, it should be listened to with an open mind to fully understand the meaning behind the lyrics to each song. Sure, the idea of a ‘futuristic’ and ‘electronic’ sound may have been a little farfetched and fell slightly short, especially after the original inspiration came from listening to The Prodigy, but her fierce and unique vocals are still on top form and her creativity, versatility and courage to take such risks can surely only be admired.
You can listen to Bionic on Spotify or download via iTunes and Amazon.