When Christina Aguilera started working on her bluesy, soulful follow-up to Stripped in February 2005, the singer was inspired not only by the sounds of the 1920s, '30s and '40s, but the look of those eras as well.
So when it came time to shoot the artwork for Back to Basics a year later, Aguilera knew exactly what she wanted.
"The glamour from those eras was so amazing as well [as the music], so I'm referencing Marlene Dietrich ... Marilyn [Monroe] ... Carole Lombard ... Greta Garbo, Veronica Lake, there's so many," Aguilera said during a break from shooting, citing the most popular actresses of the era. "Whenever you collect all your tear sheets and your references and all that, to see everything come to life it's just really, really amazing and fun."
For the pictures, Aguilera handpicked German photographer Ellen von Unwerth, who has captured Janet Jackson and Penelope Cruz, among others, with her erotic feminist style. Aguilera also chose the album's producers, including Linda Perry and DJ Premier (see "Christina Makes Her Comeback Twice As Nice By Expanding Basics Into Double LP").
"Ellen's my favorite photographer, 'cause she's just so playful and so fun and she can really go there visually," Aguilera said. "And she's such an artist in her own right. She just doesn't take a picture. She really gets into the whole mood and vibe and the playfulness of the whole spirit of the whole thing. So I knew she would be perfect."
Aguilera and von Unwerth spent three days taking potential pictures for Back to Basics, beginning at a historic hotel called the Hollywood Dell.
"With the first setup, we just wanted to [give the photographs] warm lighting, very inviting, just kind of relaxed, an old-Hollywood feel where you're kind of in the bed but also being really inviting, [because] I'm kind of smiling," Aguilera explained. "For the Stripped record it was a very real and honest place for me, but it was also a darker place. So I feel really lifted, things are lighter for me. I'm happier now than I've ever really been."
Aguilera spent most of the first day in a bed, peering through the iron bars of a headboard, a shot inspired by a famous Marilyn Monroe picture. The Back to Basics cover shot, a sensual image that features her dressed in white and lounging on a bed, was taken during the same session.
After all that lying around, by the second day, the singer was ready to get up.
"We got to play a little bit more of dress-up," Aguilera said. "A huge element also of this record is it's really fun and playful, with a 1920s circus theme."
For the third day, Aguilera and von Unwerth moved to Forty Deuce, a Hollywood hotspot that puts a modern twist on a 1920s burlesque club.
"We set up the vibe to create that old jazzy blues club," Aguilera said, noting that's where she also shot a series of pictures with four Navy sailors. "The whole vibe of that time period, it's just so special to me."
Back to Basics is due August 15.