When it suddenly seems like game over for the pop-dance tarts, Christina Aguilera has somehow managed to snag all the props. She used to be two steps behind rival and Mouseketeer co-star Britney Spears, so much that her career seemed like a series of reactions to Britney's. But while the star of Crossroads has handily cornered the market on bad career moves since at least 2004, the ex-Xtina has overcome her skanky public image, bad follicle choices and endless vowel stretching to become the life-sized cutout of Jean Harlow we have today.
How did it happen? Here's a handy timeline, designed and built to define Christina Aguilera's countdown to classy. Poking fun at Britney's barefoot party-store romping and panty-less partying is old, old news. In anticipation of her Palace performance, it's more fun to analyze how Christina claimed sweet victory in the pop tart race.
1993: During those formative Mouseketeer years, Christina distinguishes herself from Britney's girl-next-door perkiness by freakishly pushing the same big Bessie Smith voice she has now out of her tiny teen frame. That alone should be enough to get her bumped to First-Class Mouseketeer, but with the nondiscriminating Ritalin-free audience screaming during Britney's milquetoast stabs at R&B, Christina is driven to sport a blond curly-Q hairdo that looks like it was hijacked from a Tammy Wynette album cover and dress like Rerun from What's Happening.
1999:With ...Baby One More Time, Britney firebrands her Catholic schoolgirl-pretending-to-be-a-virgin shtick into the public's psyche, a ruse that will be hotly debated for years by the same rubes who thought the Village People just hadn't found the right girl yet. Christina goes the opposite extreme with her "I already did it a buncha times" debut album, featuring such post-virginal anthems as "Come on Over Baby," "What a Girl Wants," "I've Got Your DNA All Over Me" and "Of Course It's Your Child (It Looks Exactly Like You)."
2000: Britney bides her time with the formula-repeating "Oops I Did It Again." Christina counters by issuing a mirror image of her debut album, only this time en español. Mi Reflejo is considered a classy move by the same gringos who were just as easily bowled over by Ricardo Montalban humming "fine Corinthian leather" in those old Chrysler ads, as well as the honeybee on TV that talks like Antonio Banderas. (¡Zumbido!) Whatever goodwill she earns is scotched when she releases a Christmas album that turns out to be an excuse to change her name to X-Tina (Xmas, Xtina, get it? No?) and gives her a chance to stretch one syllable words like "way," "sleigh," "spy," "fly" and even "the" into eight-, 12- and 15-syllable freakouts. It's not hard to imagine Mel Torme up in heaven with a clicker, grinding his teeth at every unnecessary embellishment to "The Christmas Song."
2002:Christina matches Britney's tease ... with sleaze! Ass-less chaps, greasy complexion and dreadful dreadlocks are hallmarks of X-Tina circa Stripped. Yet looking like a Medusa who never showers ain't subliminal enough advertising to convince people into buying her "Dirty" single. To hear her tell it in interviews, it's as if the teeny pop of the last three years was like that season of Dallas that never happened and that the dirty bomb that went off and pierced her in all the key areas when she turned 21 is the real deal. Two videos into the album, she tries to be a goth chick. And the "Fighter" video almost works, until you turn up the sound and it's Taylor Dayne.
2003: At this year's MTV Video Music Awards, Christina is second in line to swap spit with Madonna. But she's virtually eclipsed in the media by "Britney's lesbian kiss." No one even comments on her jet-black hair and a QT fake tan which makes her look like a swarthy Yvonne DeCarlo after too much vitamin C.
2004: While Britney is busily marrying, divorcing and procreating, Christina makes money the classy way, by doing ads for Mercedes Benz and Coca-Cola for foreign-only markets. Even her failed fragrance "X-Pose" is in limited release overseas. It's a smart face-saving move, because do we really want to know what X-Pose smells like?
2006: Her classiest move to date. Back To Basics is a double album that does everything all the greatest double albums of all time did. Let's break it down:
London Calling: Both explore retro chic through cover art. Although, in Christina's case, it's Julie London's Calling.
Blonde on Blonde: Christina name-checks Louis Armstrong, Etta James, Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin and Billie Holiday. Much the same way Dylan name checks Achilles, Queen Mary, Mona Lisa, Shakespeare and the kings of Tyrus.
The White Album: The entire second disc of Back to Basics sounds like goddamned "Honey Pie," while raunchier first disc seems closer in spirit to "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?"
Electric Ladyland: Both Jimi's and Christina's double set feature guest appearances by Traffic's Steve Winwood and Chris Wood. (Christina samples "Glad" from John Barleycorn Must Die). Since Wood is now deader than John Barleycorn, he probably doesn't remember either session.
Exile on the Main Street: The Stones purposely bury their double disc under a murky production. Thoroughly modern Christina adds a layer of digitally captured vinyl pops and surface noise.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: "Candle in the Wind" in its various incarnations led Keith Richards to mock Sir Elton John for "writing songs for dead blondes." Christina's painstakingly re-creations of Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, Marilyn Monroe and Veronica Lake may lead Keith Richards to mistake her for an actual dead blonde.
So there it is, timeline traced and victory as C. Aguilera enters the Palace a pop princess, and the paparazzi flashbulbs glint off the mud in Britney's eyes. Next time: a timeline that figures out why no one else has noticed how much Christina's "Candyman" sounds like Madonna's Dick Tracy-era "Hanky Panky." After all, there really is nothing like a good spanky.
Monday, April 9, at the Palace of Auburn Hills, 4 Championship Dr., Auburn Hills; 248-377-0100.
Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org