Christina Aguilera: Our New VBF

Her very confident new album shows that the genie is out of the bottle

Twenty years a pop star, Christina Aguilera has played out the majority of her life in front of the camera. From her days dancing and singing alongside Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling in the Mickey Mouse Club to shaking that clean-cut image as a solo act, her career has had some interesting ups and downs.

Ticking the boxes of being young, blond and good-looking, Aguilera fitted in well with the conveyor belt of the early 2000s bubblegum pop scene but, because she was blessed with a voice that could make the ground rumble, she had more to offer than her peers.

Following the underperformance of her 2012 album, Lotus, which failed to achieve any top 10 singles, her eighth album, Liberation (released on June 15th) sees the New Yorker bounce back with a new sound that's cleaner and cooler than anything she's ever done before. Her return makes her our new VBF.

Aguilera's breakthrough single, Genie in a Bottle, was released on June 22nd, 1999, eight months after Spears released her debut single … Baby One More Time, and eight months before N*Sync released their career-changing album No Strings Attached. Their careers exploded around the same time, changing the taste and sound of pop culture, and while it might have been easy to paint them all with the same brush, the directions these performers all took couldn't be more different.

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While Spears became the girl next door and then the ultimate comeback kid after a public breakdown, and Timberlake became one of the biggest male pop stars since Michael Jackson only to throw it all in for a mediocre acting career and then put that on pause to return to an even more mediocre singing career (Man of the Woods … how could you?), Aguilera's 2002 album Stripped saw her take a level of creative control the others didn't wield until much later in their careers.

Made with Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes, Stripped took on edgier themes of sex, feminism and self-respect. And, of course, it carries the beauty that is Dirrty, which hit the No 1 spot in Ireland but peaked at 48 in the US Billboard Hot 100.

Like Stripped, Liberation bins the chart-baiting EDM monsters, going with the distorted and sexually driven Accelerate as lead single. Aguilera is going against the grain with this one. The album opens with the best use of a Sound of Music sample since Gwen Stefani's 2006 single Wind It Up. Liberation's dramatic entrance reintroduces us to the singer who sat for five seasons as a judge on The Voice, a TV format she brilliantly refers to as a "churning hamster wheel". With some big names on the songwriting payroll, including Kanye West, Anderson Paak, Julia Michaels and MNEK, Liberation's sound is an eclectic mix of hip-hop, soul, R&B and dancehall.

While her big voice usually suits a ball-busting ballad, as heard on the initially iffy Fall in Line, a duet with Demi Lovato, she practises some restraint here, oozing a new confidence. Liberation's album cover shows a make-up free Aguilera, a stark contrast to the loud personal style that saw her wear ass-less chaps and a deep fake tan for the Stripped years. Liberation is loaded with songs that sound truer to her than any collection before. This new confidence has seeped into every pore of her being, resulting in an incomparable artist who is finally comfortable in her own skin.