In Defense Of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Bionic,’ As She Readies The Release Of ‘Lotus’

Nov 9th, 2012 // 25 Comments
Xtina On Bionic
Christina Aguilera calls her album "ahead of its time." Read More »
Xtina's "Your Body" Vid
Christina Aguilera Your Body Video
Head on down to the trailer park for a wild ride! Read More »
Xtina's Lotus LP
Christina Aguilera Lotus Album Cover
See the tracklist for Christina Aguilera's upcoming Lotus. Read More »
Christina Aguilera Bionic promo photo 2010

Every pop star misfires occasionally. Most dust themselves off and try again without being constantly dogged by their previous failure. For some reason that courtesy isn’t afforded to Christina Aguilera with regards to Bionic. Why? It could have something to do with the diva’s refusal to admit that she got it wrong.

She recently ruffled feathers by telling Billboard that you need to be “a true fan of music” to fully appreciate her apparently severely-misunderstood opus, which she also declared “ahead of its time.” The thing is, Christina might have a point. With the release of Lotus around the corner, I’ve been tasked with revisiting the most-maligned pop album in recent memory.

Full disclosure. I’ve been a fan of Xtina’s since “Genie In A Bottle.” She has one of the best voices in popular music and she continues to evolve as an artist, while some of her contemporaries have been re-recording the same album since 2001. This is the woman who moved away from the bubblegum pop of her debut to the urban-tinged grit of Stripped in the space of one album. An electronic dance LP should have been a no-brainer for Christina, but she dug her own grave before the album was even released in spring 2010 by bragging about Bionic’s revolutionary take on the genre and beefing with Lady Gaga. It created a sense of hostility towards Aguilera, which has never entirely dissipated. People were rooting for the album to fail.

Bionic rubbed me the wrong way upon its release, as well. I did my best to follow my former idol on her experimental journey, but ultimately lost interest. In my own rather unkind review, I admitted that there were indeed “a couple of very good songs but the vast majority of them cover old ground or imitate other artists in a desperate attempt at innovation”.

The album played like a mixtape of Christina’s favorite artists. The idea of collaborating with people you admire is commendable, but it seemed she got lost in the process. I also wasn’t a fan of the unusually aggressive lyrics or the stomach-churning sexual references. Stripped is such an iconic album because it explored universal themes like loneliness and budding independence. Meanwhile, the only people who could identify with Bionic’s worst cuts are dominatrices and nymphomaniacs.

Two years is a long time between listens, but it turned out to be a surprisingly painless reunion. The album holds up better than expected, and is actually an intriguing — if somewhat disjointed and often meandering — collection of songs. Christina’s assertion that she was ahead of the curve is inarguably correct.

The soon-to-bloom Lotus flower was the first mainstream artist to call on Australian singer-songwriter Sia, who has since been courted by everyone from Adam Lambert to Rihanna. It’s unfortunate that their borderline-comatose collab “You Lost Me” was released as a single. The poignant “I Am” is a much better example of their artistic marriage, with its poetic and, dare I say it, humble lyrics about being a flawed human being. Almost as good is “Stronger Than Ever,”which harks back to Sia’s early electro excursions as the voice of Zero 7.

Another rising star that features prominently on the album is Switch, the producer behind Beyonce’s “Run The World (Girls).” He contributes a couple tracks, while indie-pop hipsters M.I.A., Santigold and Peaches all make an appearance. It’s an impressive line-up, but interestingly, they contribute some of the Bionic’s worst tracks.

No stretch of time will improve duds like “Elastic Love,” “Monday Morning” or the grossly underwhelming title track. They don’t sound authentic, as far as Christina is concerned, and she comes across as the world’s greatest karaoke singer, belting out other people’s songs with impressive skill. The best of the bad lot is probably Switch’s “Bobblehead,” with its staccato beats and chanted lyrics. Iif Nicki Minaj recorded the track today it would be a huge hit.

Speaking of the “Va Va Voom” singer/rapper, her Xtina collaboration “Woo Hoo” is even more ridiculous in retrospect. Who thought releasing a club banger about cunnilingus as the second single was a good idea? That kind of jaw-dropping commercial miscalculation is repeated time and again on the tracklist. Everyone except Janet Jackson has realized that spoken interludes are a terrible idea.

It’s truly baffling that some of the best songs are relegated to bonus track status. The two Ladytron productions are examples of an act tailoring their signature sound to suit Christina — as opposed to the bigger names who took a “one size fits all” approach. “Birds Of Prey” is a soaring electronic jam, while electro nursery rhyme “Little Dreamer” is one of the best songs in dirrty diva’s entire discography. It should have been a single.

Tricky Stewart’s trio of high camp dance-pop productions are the real highlights. “Desnudate” is Latin-flavored fluff of the highest calibre. The brass is great and the lyrics are sexy without being pornographic. “Glam” is a throbbing little electro number that has no doubt been the soundtrack to many a drag queen strut-off.  You can just imagine Xtina listening to this every morning as she applies her make-up with a trowel and spray gun.

I originally didn’t have a lot of time for “Prima Donna,” describing it two years ago as a modern re-hash of “Fighter.” But is that such a bad thing? Also worth checking out is the Linda Perry-penned “Lift Me Up”. It’s not quite as anthemic as “Beautiful” or as raw as “Hurt,” but it’s a pretty ballad that puts the focus back where it should be: on Christina’s magnificent voice.

So does Aguilera have the last laugh? Not really. Bionic is far from terrible and definitely makes more sense in today’s music market where both genre-bending is not only acceptable, but expected, and EDM is a staple of Top 40 radio. The diva can also be proud of her uncanny knack for picking clever collaborators. But unfortunately, none of those achievements completely compensate for the album’s lack of direction and authenticity. Bionic has been unfairly treated, but it will more likely be remembered as a guilty pleasure than a misunderstood masterpiece.

  1. Alsy

    Wow I really enjoyed this especially the last line, “but it will more likely be remembered as a guilty pleasure than a misunderstood masterpiece.” Well done Idolator and props to the writer.

  2. guest

    I can’t believe you said elastic love was a dud. Thats the best song on the album….

  3. Agree to disagree, then. Well written though :) Elastic Love is also probably my favourite song also. After You Lost Me, of course :)

  4. Kara

    I’ve actually argued this is exact point. Bionic didn’t fit in the time it was released and would have faired better either a year earlier or a year after. The timing issue is a big one, as the general ADHD feel of it could be overlooked (since, arguably, most pop artists today have very erratic sounds….look at Rihanna and tell me I’m lying). It’s not a bad album, but it wasn’t good either. I think it was fun and is definitely a guilty pleasure. This was a really good article.

  5. ArgyleDisco

    “Monday Morning” is not a dud and should have been included on the album, not just a b-side. I thought the production on the album was terrific. My only complaint about the album was weak lyrics. See: Bobblehead, Sex for Breakfast, I Hate Boys, Vanity. Also disagree with “Woohoo”, my friends and I still dance and sing along to that song today. 100% agree with “Lift Me Up”, of my fave Xtina ballads of all time.

  6. Austin

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • Adam

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • Cease Fire

      I can see why you hate Shut Up but, omg, How can you hate Cease Fire? it’s just too genius!! The meaning behind it, the lyrics, THE BEAT, everything! It’s just all in all perfect.

      Honestly, I LOVE Lotus. From the WHOLE album, the only song that I hated was Shut Up. Even the intro was epic.

  7. Katie

    Give Lotus a few more tries. I LOVE it. The ballars are awesome. Army of one is great!! Shut up is hilarious! Cease fire I could see dancing to with my girls. The body remix is fun! Anyone that says its garbage is just a hater!

  8. Katie

    Give Lotus a few more tries. I LOVE it. The ballads are fantastic, blank page is wonderfuk. Army of one is great!! Shut up is hilarious! Cease fire I could see dancing to with my girls. The body remix is fun! Anyone that says its garbage is just a hater!

  9. Lara

    I too didn’t really like Bionic at all. I’ve been a fan of Christina’s since her first album, but when Bionic came out I was actually pretty surprised at how weak(in my opinion) it was. To be honest I only liked about 2 songs on entire album- I HATED woohoo- i listented to that song and thought, ‘what the hell was that?’. And personally in my opinion, I don’t even think if Bionic was released now instead of back then that it’d be a success. I know a lot of work goes into an album but in my opinion, it just wasn’t a very good album and I don’t think it would have fared much better now to what it did in 2010. After listening to Lotus, I must say I think it is definitley better than Bionic, but what I was surpised by was that a number of songs on Lotus similar- the lyrics of how she will rise up against and not let others bring her down, others can ‘get f***** etc. I know this is Christina’s style and reflects her personality, but I did get a little tired of listening to her saying a few too similar things in a number of songs. My favourites on Lotus so far are Best of Me, Army Of Me, Your Body, Let There Be Love, and Blank Page. I don’t like Circles or Shut Up. The only thing I think is that Lotus should have come out a little sooner than now. It’s almost as if Christina drags time out between her albums a little too much. I think that for the next single ‘Best of Me’ would be a good choice- it shows vunerability, but strength- or Army of me.

  10. This article really got me thinking and I had to go back and listen to Bionic again. I still don’t necessarily like it, but it would definitely do better this time around.

    Great job with this one, though, you pointed out some very interesting things!

  11. Xadax

    Spin around in circles…

  12. Mike Wass

    It’s nice to see some love for Bionic! I think Christina had the right idea with the album but maybe got a little bit carried away and took it a step too far. There are some really great songs on it though. Thanks for all the great comments. I look forward to reviewing Lotus!

  13. Garrett

    I’m not quite sure why, as with so many reviewers, the tone of Mr. Wass’ article suggests we are to take his opinions as facts. Does he have a DMA from Juilliard? Is he a much-sought-after composer? Based on his crude analysis of Bionic, I’d have to say “no” to both of those possibilities. Personally, I think that Bionic is probably about as good of a pop album as we’re ever going to get. I don’t expect “cohesion” in a pop album like I expect it in a Fiona Apple or U2 album, for example, and I don’t think a lack of cohesion is *necessarily* a bad thing. Lotus sounds like it’s going to be a relatively cohesive album, but it also sounds absolutely horrid in its “pop-radio-by-the-numbers” approach that is eerily similar to what we can hear in Maroon 5′s newest album, Overexposed. (It cannot possibly be a coincidence that Christina and Maroon 5 both released albums that were comparative flops in 2010, then she and Adam signed onto The Voice, and now Christina and Maroon 5 are back in 2012 with formulaic pop albums that almost completely do away with their previously-established identities.) I don’t know how people can gobble up predictable, insultingly-simple chord progressions and rhythmic patterns, and yet find songs like “You Lost Me” to be boring. I’m not saying Bionic is up there with Mahler’s 5th symphony in its level of complexity or accomplishment, but I will forever defend it as an astonishingly high-quality pop album–even if her record label pushed her to butcher its original concept, as reported by Daniel Hunt of Ladytron. Anyway, I respect Mike Wass’ opinion, and of course anybody is free to love, hate, or have mixed feelings about Bionic as much as he/she wants. I’m just tired of reading reviews/articles about *any* music where the writer comes across as some kind of self-appointed, all-knowing Music God here to inform us silly non-journalists/-bloggers about the truth about music. **end [probably pointless] rant**

  14. I think the strength of Bionic is proven in this article. In that while I wholeheartedly concur that it was misunderstood, represented and slated by the media, be they from butt f*** wherever or other wise, I also totally disagree with your assessment as to what the best and worst tracks are.

    For me, Monday Morning is one of the finest unreleased album tracks in the pop cannon, Woohoo, My Girls and Elastic Love are fun, playful, dispensable pop at its(MADONNA clearly thought so as she took their collaborators and components and mixed them all together for the first release from MDNA) best while Vanity proves she is in touch with how she is portrayed in the media and is more than willing to take the piss out of it. I give you the Ladytron contributions are amongst the strongest tracks here but I also think the Sia ones are excellent in that the non single contributions saw her reign in the acrobatics that ruin the Linda Perry dirge and You Lost Me seemed to come from her heart whilst avoiding being over sung schluck like Oh Mother. They give the album some soul that is lacking from her lyrical nymphomania elsewhere.

    The poppier elements that were clearly forced upon her by her record label are , for the most part, fine. But they aren’t much better than the slapstick singles excreted by Katy Perry, an artist who lacks any heart or intelligence beneath her comic book facade and were clearly thrown on to appease fans who follow popstars not pop artists, which to give her her due, Christina at least tried to be.

    But thats the strength of Bionic. The NME put t best when it said it was the album for the I-tunes generation. You can make a brilliant album from the sum of its downloaded parts

    Had she been left alone to release the album she wanted I’m sure it would have been far better than what we ended up with. After fighting for years to distinguish herself from one lesser pop star she found herself now forced to compete with another and with her own marriage falling apart I would say the fight was gone from her and she didn’t fight for her vision in the way that she should.

    Regardless i think Bionic is a terrific pop album, far more forward thinking, if not as accomplished, than Stripped.

  15. Stopped reading as soon as Elastic Love was criticized as being among the worst tracks on Bionic. Are you actually serious right now?

    I can’t with this article.

  16. John

    As wonderful as Lotus is Bionic was a an absolute BLAST i still listen to that now it was a VERY BRAVE thing for Christina to take on an album like Bionic with so many (Genres) & i take my hat off to her for taking a risk as a major pop star when other artist at that time wouldn’t .

  17. ihatebionicbutluvalltheotherones

    excuse me??? Bionic is absoloutlty terrible! I listened to some of the songs and hated them!! i love “you lost me” though. it’s great. believe it or not i am a fan of christina. Her other three albums stripped, back to basics, and lotus are great.

  18. Rafikolors

    Woohoo, Vanity, Desnúdate, Bobblehead, Elastic Love, Prima Donna, Not Myself Tonight, Bionic, Monday Morning, Little Dreamer, I Hate Boys, My Girls, Glam… All the electronic/uptempo songs were potential hits. This album is criminally underrated because it’s a great pop album, but thanks to that it’s now a delicious cult album in pop. Thank you Christina, for this strong, sexy, fun and playful album.

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