Despite fierce competition from Wacko Jacko and Whitney “crack is whack” Houston, no pop figure has proved as gloriously over-the-top this past year as Christina Aguilera. From her infinitely mockable bore-to-whore makeover in last fall’s “Dirrty” video to, most recently, her becoming a street-savvy, pup-feminist slut-goddess, the 22-year-old ex-Mouseketeer has made MTV more refreshingly unpredictable than it’s been since, well, Mariah Carey’s meltdown on “Total Request Live.” Sure, haters dismiss her constant reinventions as desperate, misguided grasps at post-teen-pop relevance, but Aguilera remains compelling precisely because she’s so clueless about how to transition into a serious, respected artiste. Besides, who wants another play-it-safe pop star? X-tina’s obliviousness and fuck-ups make her human, an underdog worth rooting for in an industry full of boring-ass automatons. So for those who can appreciate Aguilera’s campy dress-up — and love her for, not despite, her career’s car-wreck appeal — her summer tour is more than just a colossal corporate ad for an image; it’s a drag queen dream come true.
Below are notes on her ridiculously campy, must-see show, as performed in Oakland, Calif., a few weeks back. Caution: Spoilers abound.
8:17 p.m.: The freakishly tan pop tart emerges in all her Day-Glo glory, clad in a black, skintight leather outfit like some sorta fright-wigged S&M aerobics instructor. As her dancers writhe on a futuristic jungle gym, the genie in a sun block bottle opens the show with a far-too-extended remix of “Dirrty” that’s not nearly as spectacularly gaudy, tawdry or bawdy as the porn-ready video. Without the accompanying chaps, close-up crotch shots and girl-on-girl shower sequences, the song feels slight, pointless even. Really, though, what could top said video’s classic, unintentional campiness?
8:27 p.m.: After another self-(s)exploitive do-me manifesto (“Get Mine, Get Yours”) and her first of nine costume changes, X-tina reappears in a shapeless, Dorothy Sbornak-gone-goth gown. “[Stripped] is a very personal record for me,” she coos in a melodramatic, Glitter-worthy speech about following your instincts. She then goes into full-on Mariah Carey mode for the insipidly inspirational “The Voice Within.” Lighters, glow sticks and cell phones are dutifully raised.
8:32 p.m.: Back to the regularly scheduled hump ’n’ grind! Spread-eagled and crucified on a giant “X,” Aguilera is carted onto the stage for a radically revamped “Genie In A Bottle.” Instead of evoking the faux innocence of her early days, X-tina’s performance is more akin to a Middle Eastern-tinged Showgirls, complete with belly dancers, fire and a simulated orgy cribbed from Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted” clip. Slut pride is, like, the new girl power: Elizabeth Berkley, eat her dust!
8:37 p.m.: During the bombastic, for-my-bitches anthem “Can’t Hold Us Down,” Aguilera demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T by dropping T-R-O-U.
8:42 p.m.: “Just because my album’s name is Stripped doesn’t mean you can take my clothes off,” Aguilera — decked out in denim Daisy Dukes and fishnets — pouts. But while she insists she’s no slave 4 U, those paying upward of $70 for tix in hopes of seeing her near-nekkid ass needn’t worry: With an exhibitionist drive the size of the Dee Snider hairdo she sported in the “Lady Marmalade” vid, X-tina’s more than happy to shed cloth all on her own. Twisted, sister!
8:49 p.m.: With a Spanish-sung medley, Aguilera shows her (non-dyed) roots: “Give it up for any Latinas in the house!”
8:53 p.m.: “We’re gonna reinvent the old with the new music I’ve gone into,” she explains before an acoustic “Come On Over (All I Want Is You)” and a hella dull “Impossible.” Sure, Aguilera may have one of the best poperatic voices on radio today but, shit, even “Kumbaya” has more soul — and sex appeal — than this take-me-seriously treacle.
9:13 p.m.: Wedged between an impressive, unexpected Etta James cover and “Lady Marmalade,” there’s yet another simulated onstage orgy. Does she realize, or even care, that a large portion of her audience is, like, 13 years old? At this rate, pasties may be the No. 1 must-have accessory at junior high schools across America come September.
9:27 p.m.: After “Fighter” (“Black Cat” + “Survivor” = take-no-shit rock kitsch!) but before “Beautiful”’s ode to self-luv closes the show, the crowd goes absolutely apeshit for “What a Girl Wants.” As with all the material she performed from her self-titled first album, however, Aguilera sounds more than slightly uninspired by its message of wholesome, good-girl love.
What a girl really wants, it seems, is to be as hardcore as she wanna be.
So come and rub her the right way.
See Christina Aguilera at the Palace of Auburn Hills (2 Championship Drive, off I-75 at Lapeer Road) on Friday, July 25, with Justin Timberlake and Black Eyed Peas. Call 248-377-0100 for information.Jimmy Draper writes about music for the Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]