Christina Aguilera’s new song ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’ contains some refreshing feminist sentiments, says Lorraine Smith.
I’m not sure what’s happened to Christina Aguilera recently, but it makes for a refreshing change in the music industry today. Since the sweet inoffensive charms of her debut single Genie in a Bottle in 1999, she appeared to be just another Britney Spears and so I didn’t pay much attention. Christina’s voice was far better than Britney’s but she didn’t grab the headlines quite as much as her former Mickey Mouse Club co-star, except perhaps for her many fashion faux pas. Her career just bubbled along nicely without incident – through a Spanish language album, and a Christmas album – before she took an eighteen-month break, hitting back with new material this year. Her latest album, Stripped, has shown a reinvented woman to her fans and has probably won her a few new ones.
Her current single, Can’t Hold Us Down, is a collaboration with Lil’ Kim who she worked with on the cover of Lady Marmalade for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, but this is not why it interests me. The first release off the album was the stunning Dirrty which had already put her on a new level. Proving that she could do ‘naughty’ better than Britney, the look and sound of this single was talked about for months. A hot raunchy track, Dirrty was a massive hit in the UK which filled dance floors and airwaves for a while after it faded from the heady heights of number one in the charts. Although the video did have a lot of ‘bloke appeal’, with Aguilera and her dancers grinding and gyrating from start to finish, I got the impression that it was all her idea. A plan to break out of her old image and bury it completely. A plan which worked remarkably well.
Following on from her mucky antics came a wonderful ballad called Beautiful, with lyrics to lift the heart of every woman who has ever been made to feel fat, ugly or old by media stereotyping and tactless partners. Then, just when we were wondering if these moving words were the lone inspiration on her album, along comes Fighter. A rocky track that makes you wish you had the vocal talent to be able to sing along without accidentally causing yourself physical pain, Fighter is a masterpiece that speaks out for all the downtrodden women who have pulled through and fought back. The lyrics describe how something positive can be taken from being badly treated in a relationship – as long as you don’t just hang around and put up with it, all the cheating and lying can make you a stronger person. A tad simplified, perhaps, but still a damn sight better than listening to songs where the singer either whimpers for a lost love or declares war on them.
Christina’s latest tune, however, is 100% girl fodder and she clearly is not ashamed to reveal even more of her feminist feelings. Can’t Hold Us Down opens with the lyrics “What am I not supposed to have an opinion? Should I keep quiet just because I’m a woman?” and continues to tear a strip off all the men who have called her names and spread rumours during her career so far. Set to a glorious R ‘n’ B influenced backing, Christina gives as good as she gets and you can’t help but wonder if all this is directed at someone specific. Even the most oblivious of radio listeners can’t fail to have heard the words of the chorus: “This is for my girls all around the world, who’ve come across a man who don’t respect your worth. Thinking all women should be seen, not heard. So what do we do girls? Shout louder!”. This may not sound like much to hardened feminists, but it’s an exciting message when sandwiched between Dido’s simpering “I’m in love and always will be” and Blu Cantrell claiming, “When love hurts, it won’t work”.
Along with this newfound ‘third wave’ voice, has come a new look where she moves completely away from the image she shot to fame with. The bleached blond locks are now completely black while her previously skinny frame is looking healthier and, dare I say it, normal. I wonder if this is a conscious decision to fit with a more serious musical agenda or if she just got tired of the sex kitten that she herself had created. Now Madonna is moving on to children’s literature, perhaps we have a new chameleon queen in the pop world. I have yet to see the video for this single, but I doubt it features her in quite the same way as Dirrty did. It’s interesting to watch female singers re-invent themselves and wonder if they do it because they get bored with their look more than men do, or whether the change is dictated by an industry full of double-standards.
I really do like Ms Aguilera’s latest release and hope that it does as well commercially as her other recent singles. The song is good both lyrically and musically, while the production is top notch and Lil’ Kim’s appearance lends an edgy urban feel. Aside from everything though, the best part for me was hearing a famous young woman sing what’s been bothering a lot of us for years: “The guy gets all the glory the more he can score, while the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore”. You go girrrl!