Liberation is a fitting title for the eighth studio album from multi-platinum superstar artist Christina Aguilera, given that freeing herself from other people’s expectations is a significant theme that appears throughout the singer, songwriter, and actress’s remarkable life and career. From surviving the domestic violence she and her mother endured at the hands of her father when Aguilera was a child, to freeing herself from the constraints of her teen-pop image by wrestling creative control over her musical output with her blockbuster albums, the 4x-platinum, Grammy-winning Stripped and chart-topping, 3x-platinum, Grammy-winning Back to Basics, to the present, in which Aguilera is returning to music after serving as a judge on The Voice and acting in several movies and television shows.
“I just needed to get back to truth,” she says of her first album since 2012’s Lotus. “I felt like I was stuck, like when you can do something in your sleep and you’re unmotivated by it and you need to take a reflective moment and look at how you got away from your passion and off your path. It’s a big step to walk away from something that’s comfortable, but it can also be liberating to say, ‘Okay, I’m being true to myself now. I’m back to what I feel is my God-given purpose for being on this Earth.’ I’m not a commentator. I’m an artist. I’m a creator. I like to inspire. And when I stop believing in something, I have to evaluate my integrity in the situation and get back to the root of my truth and purpose.”
Aguilera announces her intention to “present the story I need to tell at this point in my life” with the album’s first song, “Maria” — a Kanye West production that opens with the iconic line “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”. It’s not only a clever nod to The Sound of Music heroine who was considered too flighty for an austere life among the nuns at the Abbey, but also a sly wink at Aguilera’s image as a ‘difficult’ woman because or her strong, opinionated nature. (Fun fact: ‘Maria’ is not only Aguilera’s middle name, but the Julie Andrews’ performance in the movie is what first inspired her to sing.) “’Maria” is about getting back to that little girl who just wants to feel alive and inspired to make music before the innocence and excitement start to fade because of all the other business-related factors,” Aguilera says. “It’s not that my love of music depreciated, but being a young girl in a world of older men who sometimes had ulterior motives, and having no say in my own creativity or expression was very isolating.”
Five billion combined worldwide streams, 36 million album equivalents sold, 30 Billboard Hot 100 hits (including five No. 1’s), and six Grammy Awards later, Aguilera is no longer in that disenfranchised position, and she harnesses her power to full effect on Liberation, calling in a cast of heavy-hitter collaborators, including songwriters Julia Michaels, Ilsey Juber, Tayla Parx, Justin Tranter, Teddy Geiger, and producers Kanye West, Che Pope, Mike Will Made-It, Anderson .Paak, Jon Bellion, Da Internz, MNEK, Kirby Lauryen, Ricky Reed, and Nick Britell (the Oscar-nominated composer of Moonlight and The Big Short) to help her fulfill her vision of an eclectic album that explores her love of soul and hip-hop. “I love collaborating,” she says. “I think it’s really apparent on all my records that I have always loved having creative energies around me and throwing ideas around.”
Liberation contains uplifting message songs (“Maria,” “Fall In Line”), vibey, feel-good songs (“Accelerate,” “Pipe,” “Sick of Sitting”), and relationship songs (“Twice,” “Masochist,” “Unless It’s With You,” “Deserve”). Of the unpredictable musical twists and turns on the Kanye West/Che Pope-produced “Accelerate,” featuring 2 Chainz and Ty Dolla Sign, Aguilera says, “I heard it, and I was like, ‘This is so much fun!’ I love how the mood and energy of the song continues to shift and change from the opening of the drums and the feel of that raw energy coming off of that drum sound. All of a sudden, it’s a party.” Of the relationship songs, Aguilera says, “I think there’s a self-torture that comes with love. It’s inevitable. We all do it. I don’t think love is all about roses, white picket fences, and being picture-perfect. It’s about the highs and lows and having a moment of reflection where you ask, ‘Do I stick this out? What do I do?’ Those are the kind of love songs I am drawn to.”
Liberation arrives at a unique time in history when women around the world are speaking out and telling their stories of harassment and abuse via the #metoo movement and are actually being heard, making the defiant, empowerment anthem “Fall In Line” feel particularly prescient, though Aguilera wrote it a few years ago. “I’m big on sending a message of inspiration and getting other people out of their dark places and feeling that they have a voice, so this song was important to me,” she says. “It really contributes to the whole mood and spirit of standing up for yourself and resisting those who tell you that you don’t have any rights.”
The song, which features a commanding guest vocal from Demi Lovato, opens with a chorus of young female voices announcing what they want to be (screenwriter, journalist, superhero, singer, doctor, the boss, the President) and demanding “I want to be heard, I will be heard, I will make myself heard,” while later in the song, a creepy, computerized male voice intones: “Shut your mouth / Stick your ass out for me / Who told you you’re allowed to think?”). “It definitely is an empowering, encouraging, and motivating message,” Aguilera says of “Fall in Line,” “and that’s important, especially right now.”
Since finding her creative voice on Stripped, Aguilera has wanted to connect with “those who maybe feel a little lost on their path, or their journey took them on a different route and they’re unsure about what to do,” she says. “I wanted to talk not only about my journey, but also deliver it in an honest way that connects with the soul. Everyone has their own version of ‘Maria’ — that little dreamer inside of them who might have to be put on hold because of kids, work, or family. So I hope that the album is a discovery of some kind for the listeners, as it was for me, and can be a form of release and independence and strength and inspiration to go out and find their own version of being liberated.”
From its striking cover by graffiti artist D*Face to the ultramodern sound of its whirring synths and bumping beats, Bionic, Christina Aguilera’s fourth English-language studio album, is proof that the multi-platinum superstar and five-time Grammy Award winner hasn’t lost her knack for reinvention. Over the course of her 11 years as a recording artist, Aguilera has defied expectations by making sharp creative departures from her previous work on each of her best-selling albums and Bionic is no exception. With 18 tracks that encompass everything from racy club stompers, to playful pop anthems, to heartfelt, elegant ballads, Bionic is an album as multi-faceted as Aguilera herself.
“I am a singer, a songwriter, and a performer, but also a wife and a mother,” Aguilera says. “This album captures all of those characteristics by getting back in touch with my early pop roots but taking everything to a more sophisticated place. I knew when I was 15 that I would make a futuristic-sounding record someday, just like I knew I would make an inspirational record that paid tribute to soul, blues and jazz, as I did on my previous album, Back to Basics. So I was ready to do something really electronic and edgy with my music. It felt like the right time to do it because of my child and thinking about the next generation’s future. But Bionic has elements of each and every one of my previous albums, and in this way I’ve come full circle.”
To capture her various moods, Aguilera chose to collaborate on Bionic with a variety of artists and producers from across musical genres, including singer-songwriter Sia Furler (Zero 7), Christopher “Tricky” Stewart (Beyonce, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige), Polow Da Don (Usher, Fergie, Pussycat Dolls), John Hill & Switch (Santigold), Claude Kelly (Kelly Clarkson, Leona Lewis, Britney Spears), indie-rock band Le Tigre, singer-rapper M.I.A., and Linda Perry, who wrote Aguilera’s Grammy Award-winning smash “Beautiful.”
“Collaborating with such a wide range of writers and producers was so much fun for me,” Aguilera says. “I get a bit star-struck when it comes to people I really admire and respect, but my husband said, ‘If you love these artists so much why don’t you reach out to them?’ I approached the meeting process by saying, ‘I’m a huge fan of yours…I would love to step into your world and combine that with my sound and vision for the record.’ The results were magic.”
Bionic announces its mission statement right away with the title and opening track (produced by John Hill and Switch) on which she sings: “I am the future put it on you like a hurricane / Call me the supernova that’s taking over all time and space / I’m testing your dimension can’t keep up with what I create / Many times imitated not duplicated can’t be replaced” over laser-like synths and syncopated, hiccupping beats.
“It tells you exactly where I’m at in my life and takes you on a fun ride into the bionic woman I’ve become over the last decade,” Aguilera says of the title track. “The album’s title comes from the notion of being highly electronically charged and excited for the future,” she says. “It’s also the way I see women. We do it all. We give birth, we work, we raise our families, we hold down the fort. Becoming a mom before recording the album contributed to the ‘bionic’ concept of the album.”
Hot on “Bionic”’s heels is the album’s first single, “Not Myself Tonight,” which was produced by Polow Da Don (who also produced Bionic’s racy dancehall-pop track “Woohoo,” featuring rapper Nicki Minaj). The tribal-beat infused sizzler (which MTV News called “the kind of track you’d expect to hear rattling the speakers at the massive, multi-level clubs of Europe”) and its eye-popping Hype Williams-directed video were both inspired by Aguilera’s turn in the upcoming motion picture Burlesque. “‘Not Myself Tonight’ is all about freeing yourself, freeing your inhibitions, freeing whatever’s inside that you’ve been holding back,” Aguilera says. “It’s got a bit of rebellion in it, but it’s all in good fun.”
Aguilera continues to deliver for the dancefloor on several tracks produced by Tricky Stewart, including “Desnudate,” which Aguilera wrote for her Latin fans who have been asking for a follow-up to her 2000 Spanish-language album Mi Reflejo. “I promise it will come, but this is a little fun to hold them over,” Aguilera says. Then there’s the catwalk-friendly “Glam,” which was inspired by the friends the style-conscious singer has made in the fashion world, including her favorite designer, John Galliano. “I wanted to give him something he could send models down the runway to,” Aguilera says.
Bionic takes a turn into softer territory beginning with “Lift Me Up,” which was written and produced by Linda Perry. “Linda’s always on my go-to list,” Aguilera says. “She’s just an amazing artist and songwriter and we make magic together. When I first heard ‘Lift Me Up,’ I knew I had to interpret this song. It’s just a beautiful light of the end of the tunnel. Someone’s asking for a little help and guidance after feeling down and distraught. It’s a song I think a lot of people will find relatable.”
Aguilera also wrote several songs with Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler and her collaborator/bassist Sam Dixon. “These are the songs I call the heart of the record, because they show the true, vulnerable side of me,” she says. “Nothing electronically driven was used on these songs, they are very raw and organic.” They include the piano ballads “All I Need” (“a really sweet lullaby dedicated to my son and the experience of pregnancy and giving birth”) and “You Lost Me” — a song Aguilera calls “beautiful, simple, and raw. The lyrics just hit me right in the heart and I knew I had to have it on the album,” she says.
Bionic shifts gears once again after “You Lost Me,” winding up with a trio of sassy, female-empowerment anthems: “I Hate Boys” (produced by Polow Da Don), “My Girls” (co-written and produced by indie-rock band Le Tigre and featuring a rap by electro vixen Peaches), and the strutting closing track “Vanity” (co-written by Claude Kelly and singer-songwriter Esther Dean, who also produces), which reminds listeners of Aguilera’s place in the pop hierarchy by closing with the line: “And the legacy lives on / Going strong / Let us not forget / Who owns the throne.”
The sheer diversity of the songs, Aguilera says, allowed her to challenge herself by using her voice in ways she never had before. Of course Aguilera is beloved for her powerhouse vocals and is the only artist under the age of 30 to included in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time. On Bionic, she has never sounded better. As one critic was led to remark, upon hearing “Not Myself Tonight”: “Whomever might think that vocal prowess makes little difference in a mainstream pop song needs to listen once to Christina Aguilera’s stellar new single. She towers over much of the competition proving why she is frequently included in the shortest lists of today’s top pop singers.”
One of the most successful recording artists of the last decade, Aguilera has sold 30 million albums worldwide, including her 1999 8x-platinum self-titled debut, 2002’s 4x-platinum Stripped, and 2006’s chart-topping platinum-seller Back to Basics, which spawned the Grammy Award-winning single “Ain’t No Other Man.”
Not content to rest on her laurels, Aguilera is excited for the June 8th release of Bionic. I am so excited for my fans to hear the new sound,” she says. “It is something I don’t think anyone will expect.”