When Christina Aguilera argued that her fourth English-language studio album Bionic – a comeback of sorts – was ‘too ahead of its time’ for people to truly understand, most pop music fans dismissed her comments as arrogance. But now, a decade later, the album stands firm as a cult favourite among fans, in particular the LGBTQ+ community, and has become part of Christina’s legacy.
Much like Britney Spears’ controversy-courting album Blackout – which was panned at the time but is now lauded as one of the pop star’s finest moments – Bionic saw Legend X dive into a darker soundspace swirling in gaudy synths, sexual innuendo and rumbling bass so dirty you’d give a priest a heart attack (and if that didn’t, we’re sure the latex-drenched Not Myself Tonight music video would). It was a total 180 from the jazz and soul influences found on her preceding release, Back To Basics, and should have marked a triumphant new era in the reign of a pop music icon. But it didn’t. Sure, it shot straight to number one in the UK (with an almost-equally impressive top five debut in the US), but its success was short-lived and reception from both critics and long-time fans was mixed.
While there are plenty of theories as to why the album didn’t get the love it deserved (copycat accusations and rumours of sabotage are common), we’d rather focus on what the album got right – because there really is so much to love with this record.
Lead single Not Myself Tonight was an empowering feminist anthem that blended a new electropop sound with the attitude of her Stripped era, boldly telling listeners, ‘The old me’s gone, and if you don’t like it, fuck you’. The music video, meanwhile, paid tribute to Madonna, the OG female pop icon who paved the way before her with Human Nature and Express Yourself, and saw Christina wear futuristic latex looks and fetish-wear. Unfortunately, the message was lost on critics, with many (like a then-relevant Perez Hilton) dragging her down rather than lifting her up. Follow-up single You Lost Me was a gorgeous, heartbreaking ballad about unfaithfulness that showed off the softer side of Christina’s legendary voice, and to this day sits proudly as one of the best songs of her career, despite not receiving love from the public. And then the era came to an abrupt end.
But the album’s best moments, as is often the case with cult favourites, sit in the deep cuts. Christina’s feminist message continues on tracks like I Hate Boys, a tongue-in-cheek post-breakup anthem, and the Peaches-featuring My Girls, a runway-ready electro-bop which called on women to “step it up and take control”, preluding the wave of ‘girl gang’ messages that appeared in the 2010s like Selena Gomez’s Me & My Girls and Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood music video. Even the album’s bonus tracks, like the effortlessly cool new wave/funk mashup Monday Morning and the experimental Cathy Dennis-penned Birds Of Prey, are top-tier pop.
In an attempt to fulfil her goal of making a more experimental record than the ones that came before, Christina collaborated with a number of critically-acclaimed artists like M.I.A. (Elastic Love), Ladytron (Little Dreamer) and Santigold (Monday Morning), who no-doubt contributed to the album’s electronic sound, and also worked with several up-and-coming stars before they became household names. On the electro-R&B, cunnilingus-themed WooHoo, she became one of the first pop stars to bag a verse from Nicki Minaj (which also happens to be one of her best), and co-wrote a number of soaring ballads including You Lost Me with Sia, years before she became the go-to hitmaker for the likes of Kylie Minogue, Katy Perry and Rihanna, and eventually found mainstream success with her own career.
The album is also dripping in self-awareness, with tracks like Vanity really leaning into her ‘diva’ reputation which was arguably at its peak around the Bionic era. Kicking off with the declaration, “I’m not cocky, I just love myself bitch,” the track is four-and-a-half minutes of self-adoration pushed to the extreme, and is an expert lesson in camp as she boasts, “Hit up Prince Charming, tell him give me a call, never mind, screw him, ’cause I found somebody better, I make myself so much wetter” and calls out to her “queens who reign supreme” – it’s no wonder her gay fans hold the album to such high regard. Sitting alongside Vanity as queer favourites are Glam, a throwback to Madonna’s Vogue that comes accompanied by a spoken word intro about ‘living, loving and breathing’ fashion; and the multilingual Desnudate, all of which are perfect for the runway.
On her most recent tour, the simply-named X Tour (like fellow pop star Kylie, she’s earned that mononym), Christina honoured the love for Bionic with rare appearances from album deep cuts Vanity and Glam. She even opened the show with the record’s title track. They were live highlights, as signified by unified squeals of joy from gay boys in the crowd, and Christina seemed to be living for it. 10 years later, it’s clear that Bionic still has more to give, and will likely be re-discovered as a forgotten jewel by pop music fans for years to come.
You can stream Christina Aguilera’s album Bionic on Apple Music now.