Those who've watched Christina Aguilera prance about in her revealing video for "Dirrty" might be shocked at the pop singer's new look, but she says she's just being herself and won't apologize for it.
Still, she begins her new album, Stripped (November 5), with an apology. "Sorry you can't define me/ Sorry I break the mold/ Sorry that I speak my mind/ Sorry don't do what I'm told," she sings on "Stripped Part 1."
While she may not really be breaking the musical mold, Aguilera is dead set on breaking away from teen pop, and she stretches the genre's boundaries throughout Stripped, a highly personal proclamation of independence and adulthood.
"I feel like it is a new beginning," Aguilera said, "a re-introduction of myself as a new artist in a way, because for the first time people are really seeing and getting to know how I really am."
Some feel her "Dirrty" single and video are almost too adult, pushing her sexual self to the forefront to emphasize she's come of age (see "How Dirty Is 'Dirrty'? X-posing The Kinks In X-tina's Video"), but Stripped contains other indications of Aguilera's maturity that are more restrained. With writing and production help from Alicia Keys, Scott Storch, Glen Ballard and Linda Perry, Aguilera crafted songs that range from surf rock to neo soul, all in a quest to express and explore the awkward task of growing up.
"I got a chance to show of all these colors and textures of my love of music and of my vocal range," she said. "Coming off of the height of being a part of such a big pop-craze phenomenon, that imagery of that cookie-cutter sweetheart, without it being me, I just had to take it all down and get it away from me. And that is why I actually named the album Stripped, because it is about being emotionally stripped down and pretty bare to open my soul and heart."
"Dirrty" and "Get Mine, Get Yours" make no bones about celebrating one's libido, but Stripped is by no means just a party record. "Can't Hold Us Down," featuring Lil' Kim, is a hip-pop feminist anthem about sexual hypocrisy and double standards, a subject that hits closer to home now that she's been taken to task for her in-your-face sexualized and fetishized imagery. "Can't Hold Us Down" also can be read as an answer to past detractors such as Fred Durst and Eminem, though she said to do so would be "misconstruing the point."
"This is directed to any male who puts down a female for stating her mind," she said. "This is definitely to make women feel empowered to do and say what they want to."
Other songs, such as the sensual Latin jazz number "Infatuation" and the funkier "Underappreciated," are more specific, tracing steps in her relationship with ex-boyfriend Jorge Santos, one of the dancers in her live shows and videos. The lyrics to "Infatuation" find her falling in love, and in "Underappreciated," out of it.
Equally personal is the guitar ballad "I'm OK," her take on her father's abusive behavior before her parents separated. "It is such a hush-hush topic because it happens in the home," Aguilera said. "I definitely wrote that song not to badmouth him at all, but one, for a healing process for myself, and two, to give people hope or a voice to relate to. To know that you can get through it and that it will be OK."
That wasn't easy for her to discover, she said, but her Stripped sessions with Perry helped her unload a lot of frustration once she also learned to relieve stress by screaming and to accept and even embrace her mistakes.
"She taught me that imperfections are good and should be kept because it comes from the heart," Aguilera said. "It makes things more believable and it's brave to share them with the world." Even if that world still operates by double standards.