Christina Aguilera’s ‘Back To Basics’ Turns 10: Backtracking
Backtracking is our recurring look back at the pop music that shaped our lives. Our friends may come and go, but we’ll be spinning our favorite albums forever.
When Christina Aguilera released Back To Basics on August 9, 2006, she made it clear that there is more to her than a dirrty girl shaking it in a plaid miniskirt with the word “nasty” across the ass in a boxing ring surrounded by a bunch half-naked people. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The diva’s third pop album put her talent and musical diversity at the forefront. She traded her long, bleached-and-black streaked Xtina hair for classic platinum Marilyn Monroe-esque curls. And her new (old) sound matched this vintage look and the alter ego she called Baby Jane.
At the time, the long-awaited Back To Basics (even Christina told Rolling Stone, “I feel like I’ve been pregnant for eighteen months!”) dropped four years after previous pop effort Stripped, and was praised by critics and fans alike: Christina Aguilera was here to stay. And upon the album’s 10th anniversary, that assessment still stands.
This is the LP that set Aguilera apart from her pop peers. Britney, who had been the default Christina foil probably since their days together in the Mickey Mouse Club, was on the verge of her infamous breakdown. Pink was wildly successful with her comeback album I’m Not Dead, but the badass bitch persona she embodied was something Christina strayed far away from with Back To Basics. In 2006, Janet Jackson’s reputation was still recovering from the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction more than two years on. Christina Milian was dropped from her label. For a hot second, newcomer Paris Hilton was almost a pop star, but then her album dropped and single “Stars Are Blind” couldn’t even carry it.
Amidst all that pop positioning, Christina’s goal behind this album was to capture the sounds of the 1920s through the 1940s. She sort of accomplished it: The many remixes that weaved through the album modernized the vintage feel, making it a pop sensation, and her R&B influences were still highlighted. As the powerhouse vocalist told MTV in 2006, “The touchstones are Billie Holiday, Otis Redding, Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald … what I used to call my ‘fun music’ when I was a little girl.”
She achieved the happy medium of marrying sophistication with catchy, fun melodies, and the industry noticed. The album received a nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album and single “Ain’t No Other Man” won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards in 2007.
The two-disc album (remember CDs?) was lengthy, clocking in at over 90 minutes across 22 tracks, ranging from the swing song “Candyman” to pop-funk number “Ain’t No Other Man” to burlesque-ready tunes like “Nasty Naughty Boy.”
Lead single “Ain’t No Other Man” landed in June 2006. Like most of the songs off Back To Basics, the lyrics were inspired by Aguilera’s marriage to Jordan Bratman. Peep the opening line: “I could feel it from the start / Couldn’t stand to be apart / Something about you caught my eye / Something moved me deep inside!”
The track became another Top 10 hit for Christina and went Platinum, plus it introduced the singer’s new persona, Baby Jane, in the cabaret-themed music video. The visual opens and ends with Aguilera crooning her song “I’ve Got Trouble.”
Second single “Hurt” was basically an extension of Aguilera’s Stripped ballad “Beautiful,” and both songs were written and produced by Linda Perry. “Hurt” is featured Back To Basics‘ second disc, which opens with disturbing orchestral circus music, so it’s only appropriate that the music video opens with a creepy circus scene. Despite the screwy setting, the song’s themes of loss will still manage to tug at your heartstrings.
Far from a ballad, “Candyman” is maybe Christina’s catchiest track from the album. It plays like a modernized version (including new and improved hyper-sexual lyrics) of the 1941 classic “Boobie Woogie Bugle Boy” by the Andrews Sisters. Aguilera’s vintage influence is heaviest here: The music video shows Xtina multiplied by three, as a brunette, blonde and redhead, singing to a bunch of swinging soldiers. Watch their eyes grow to the size of saucers when she serves up lyrics about her cherry being popped and dropping panties.
“Slow Down Baby,” co-written and co-produced by Mark Ronson, is perhaps one of Christina’s most effective fusions of the mid-century sound and classic R&B influence she offered with Back To Basics. (Interestingly, Amy Winehouse‘s Back To Black, which Ronson also worked on, was released just two months after Back To Basics.) The song features samples from “Window Raisin’ Granny” by Gladys Knight And The Pips and “So Seductive” by rapper Tony Yayo. With its up-tempo, beat-driven arrangement, the cut comes across like a hip-hop flavored “Ain’t No Other Man.”
Christina wouldn’t be Christina without another powerful ballad, and she delivered with “Oh Mother,” a song about her abusive childhood that proved yet again, if you need a good cry, she’s your gal.
Although Back To Basics was much different than her previous projects, it included a track titled “Still Dirrty” that the singer told the Daily Mail was “letting people know that I haven’t changed.” (As if the lyrics from “Candyman” didn’t make that apparent.) But the thing is, she had changed, and in the 10 years since the release of this album, Christina Aguilera has continued to evolve as an artist.
Aguilera’s two subsequent albums, Bionic and Lotus, found her switching up her sound again for each one. Like the title suggests, Bionic skewed electro-pop, while Lotus was marketed as a “rebirth” project. But throughout all these sonic switch-ups, there are a couple of constants that make Xtina’s Daily Mail statement ring true: The success (50 millions albums sold worldwide) and those killer vocal runs.