I’m going to do something a little different with this post. While I have reviewed music on this site in the past, I’ve never quite been as personal or introspective in my writing about it on here. That’s changing with this take on Christina Aguilera’s second album Stripped. This will be a personal post about why this album means a lot to me and it’s impact on me.
I don’t remember exactly when I got this album, but if my timing is correct it was probably in 2003 when I was 8 years old. The album was from the year prior and I can remember there being a bit of an uproar that the young Christina Aguilera had changed her image up from good girl to something more raunchy. Being of a young age, I definitely had a crush for Aguilera. And yet apart from this, I mainly focused on her music once I heard this album as it was definitely something different for me. Yes she had switched her image up, but I already knew she had a powerhouse of a voice that was freakishly good and knew how to be soulful too.
Despite the controversy raised by her switch in image( I mean it definitely was a departure from the sweet bubblegum pop image she first appeared on the scene with), I remember being entranced when I saw her being interviewed about it on television, explains how she had started to have more control of this record and had a hand in writing most of the songs on it. Various points she made about sexuality didn’t particularly register with me( leading to one of those classic asking of parents and getting the answer you’ll understand when you’re older moments). But I liked seeing her passion and dedication to her art and how she was in essence shedding her old image that she had said really wasn’t her. Here was a young woman who was choosing to take creative control of her image and sound. Over the course of the era, Christina changed her image even more. She dyed her blonde hair jet black, got various body piercings that were showcased in various photoshoots and pushed the envelope with her style of revealing dress. Plus, she adopted the alter ego Xtina. Though obviously notable and eye catching, it was always her immense talent, stellar vocal range and the fact she had something to say that registered the most with young me.
I remember the first time I saw the album cover of Stripped. There was Christina Aguilera, eyes closed, hands raised with tousled two-tone braids strategically covering her breasts, complimented by a tight pair of pants all in black and white. It sure as hell packed an impact on my young mind. I asked my parents if I could buy the CD. After an initial pause looking at the cover, they let me buy it. Stripped was one of the first times I properly listened to the lyrics of songs and with the booklet containing the lyrics, I committed most of them to memory. The album was the equivalent of a comfort blanket in tough times and it continues to be. I was inspired to right this piece when I purchased the album again recently and listened once more to its varied content. The album is a watershed moment for Christina Aguilera and one where she announced she wasn’t going to be an artist you could put in just one box.
So now onto the crux of this post which is the review and why it’s so personal to me. For anyone who doesn’t know, I have autism and have done battle with anxiety and depression for a long time. For a very long time during my years in education, bullying was a rather regular occurrence. It was over various things through this time; from my lanky frame as I got older, my difficulty making friends stemming from my autism. There was also teasing about the tone of my voice, alongside various jibes at what people thought my sexual orientation was. Let’s just say school was rather hard for me and while not all bad, a lot of the memories are not ones I cherish. But with support of family and growth from myself, not to mention my family and music, I made it through the best I could. And here I am now, baring my soul and thoughts for everyone.
So we begin with an intro entitled Stripped , in which we find Christina on defiant form . Here she’s revealing everything to the listener and beckoning them to see her for who she is. We segue into the hip hop beat of the confrontational Can’t Hold Us Down, featuring rapper Lil Kim . Here she tackles the societal double standards of men and women by urging women to have a voice . Even though the song tackles feminism and hitting out and the unfairness of gender roles, I think it’s a relatable song for anyone really. A running theme throughout Stripped is asserting yourself and being authentic and I think therein lay the appeal for me as a kid and even now. Christina gets vulnerable on the soulful groove that is Walk Away about being stuck in a relationship you can’t get out off. Here her vocals really knock the content out the park and her honesty is bared. The theme of breaking free is brought up many times in Stripped, much in the way I wanted to break free of my situation and eventually did.
A heavy rock influence colours the sensational Fighter . This was a song I revisited a lot during many difficult moments in my life for its grit and message of overcoming the harshness of being ill treated. Christina’s voice soars and roars as she thanks someone for how they treated them, because she wouldn’t have known how strong she was without it. While I wish I hadn’t been though such rough times as a child at the hands of others, thinking of this song has resonance because I never knew I could be stronger after all of the suffering. While I still have moments when my mind goes back to the bullying I endured , I think I’m largely getting over it now and coming to terms with it being in the past. Fighter will always hold a special place in my heart for its anthem like qualities and how out of struggling can come release and unknown power. Plus the metamorphosis themed video which featured Christina as a caged moth that emerged into a striking butterfly beautifully backed up the theme of the song in a visually striking way.
Two interludes are around the Latin influenced and flamenco infused Infatuation. A highly danceable and intoxicatingly sultry number about desire that pays homage to Aguilera’s Latin roots, Infatuation is a sexy little number for sure. The soulful and funky Loving Me 4 Me speaks of someone who truly understands and appreciates you no matter what . I’m a hopeless romantic who believes that one day that special person will come along so naturally it appeals to me. Break ups and relationship ups and downs cover both Impossible and Underappreciated , which further showcase her range and eclectic influences.
We then move onto the heartfelt Beautiful , which is a song that means a lot to me. It was a song that made me believe that I did have a place in the world, despite the adversity I was facing. Opening with Christina saying “Don’t look at me” , this haunting ballad has her at some of her most vulnerable and open. Penned by the highly talented Linda Perry, Beautiful builds to a powerful and cathartic release and celebration of all that is different with people. For someone like me, who often felt on the outside of things, it was a anthem of depth and held positivity for me. Featuring the impressive vocals of Christina, which go from quiet and soft to massive and full of grit, crossed with honesty and power, truly holds up as an inspirational piece of music for anyone unsure of themselves . It’s safe to say that this somg was played a lot by me during difficult times. This reaffirmed my belief that music, along with my other great love of film, was indeed a healing force that could be useful to me and indeed help. That isn’t to say that I didn’t get help or support from others ( I come from a very loving and supportive family who were there for me), just sometimes music can be rather cathartic and a way of letting out feelings without even realising it. The music video also made an impression on my mind; showcasing people in life who feel disenfranchised and disconnected and bringing them together in a positive message of self acceptance. It was a video for those who don’t feel seen and it emboldened me to feel better in ways I never expected. The next song Make Over is possibly my least favourite track of the album as it feels a bit much. But it’s a rare misstep in a game changer of an album that oozes influence and strong messages. Cruz and Soar more than make up for the last song with their messages of moving to acceptance that resonate deeply. Much in the fashion of my journey to the person I am today.
We get into sexy and strutting form with the fabulously raunchy yet playfully assertive Get Mine, Get Yours . It’s probably the main song that I think of that describes the FWB situation, marking the song out as somewhat ahead of its time. Plus, it’s near impossible not to shake your hips to the rather funky groove percolating throughout this track. Naturally as a young kid, I didn’t quite understand the meaning of the song but nonetheless loved listening to it’s often slinky groove and her voice. When most people think of this album, their minds often quickly go the rather controversial Dirrty. I mean most people remember it for the music video that features Christina in many revealing outfits, frolicking and dancing at an underground nightclub surrounded by various fetish gear and unusual events. Many at the time were outraged by both the lyrical content and the video. I have a distinct memory of overhearing people in shops when the song came on saying it was awful and shouldn’t be allowed to be heard or seen by children. This intrigued me as a kid because while I gathered it had caused some sort of bother, I think even then I could see that it wasn’t just an attempt to be shocking. Rather it was a female embracing her image and expressing it in whatever way she wanted to. I may have not quite grasped all of that at the time, but as the years went on, I began to see how Christina had bravely cultivated an image that was her own and one she was in control of . And I for one have respected her for this ever since . At a young age, I could see she was doing her own thing but didn’t quite know how to say it. Thank goodness I know how to now. Anyway, back to the infamous . A dance song with a driving and pumping beat, it’s a song you have to shake your hips to. And don’t worry dear viewer, I won’t be following in Christina’s footsteps and donning some leather chaps as only she can pull them off convincingly. If you take away the eye opening video, it’s still an incessantly catchy that showed Christina was all grown up and a woman. Once more she’s on defiant form with the second Stripped interlude, further proclaiming herself her own person.
Christina can adapt to any music genre as is evidenced in this record, but for me it is her ballads that really show what she’s truly made of and her mettle. This is highly evident in the aforementioned and the simply stirring The Voice Within . Beginning quietly with piano before unleashing a soulfully gospel influenced finale, Christina gets personal with a message of self assurance to people. The lyrics are deeply personal and ones I can most certainly relate to. The first time I heard it , truly moved me with its message and I felt seen and it was I believe a step towards me getting a little more confident. By far the most open and devastating song on the album is I’m OK; which details the abuse Christina and her mother suffered at the hands of her father. It’s a raw, deeply emotional song where it sounds as if she’s crying during parts of it. Baring her soul in such a manner had me in tears the first time I heard it as it felt so truly personal. I never thankfully suffered any abuse from family growing up, but I knew people who did and this song made me think about them. I admire when someone uses their platform to raise awareness of an issue and Christina did it beautifully with I’m OK. Finishing the album is the immensely soulful and gospel flavoured, which has you with your fist in the air with triumph and joy . Stripped ends on an inspiring note with Keep on Singin My Song its uplifting lyrics and defiant energy, twinning Christina’s growth with mine as I gradually emerged as a slowly better version of myself.
So that was my highly personal tribute and review of Christina Aguilera’s Stripped, which for me will always be a personal record of triumphs and talent for the immensely gifted Aguilera. Apologies for the long winded nature of it, but I felt so inspired to write this that the words just came out of me. I’m likely never to meet Aguilera, but if I did I would thank her for this album and how much it helped me begin to accept myself for being me. I applaud Stripped for being open, honest, sultry, emotional and a deceleration of independence. I must say it feels good to get these thoughts and memories out of my head. I feel almost lighter and have a sense of relief writing this piece. Whoever reads this, know that I am very grateful for your time and reading .