Justice for ‘Bionic’.

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RCA Records

The cover of Christina Aguilera's sixth studio album, ‘Bionic’.

Mason Montano, Music Editor

With a career spanning nearly 30 years, it’s an undeniable fact that American singer-songwriter and actress Christina Aguilera is one of the most iconic voices in pop music. 

After the release of her debut self-titled album in August 1999, she quickly earned her status as one of the top pop stars of the 2000s and enjoyed massive mainstream success with her following records — Mi Reflejo (September 2000), My Kind of Christmas (October 2000), Stripped (October 2002), and Back to Basics (August 2006) — but all of that would change upon the arrival of her criminally misunderstood sixth studio album, Bionic, in June 2010.

Conceptualized out of Aguilera’s love for electronic music, Bionic was a sonic departure from the predominantly R&B, soul, and dance pop sound of her previous work, experimenting with heavy synthesizers and electro pop beats.

Lyrically, it was also her most mature record yet, exploring themes relating to sex and post-feminism over its 24 tracks, including bops like “Bionic” — a futuristic banger; “Sex for Breakfast” — a hypersexual R&B jam; and “Vanity” — a cocky self-empowerment anthem that embodies the confident, rebellious attitude that the album exudes.

Now, Aguilera was known for reinventing herself and her music in new, exciting ways — Stripped was noted for its mature, R&B and power pop sound, and Back to Basics was celebrated for its innovative combination of R&B and soul with jazz and blues — and Bionic was, and still is, her boldest reinvention to date, however, the general public was not as receptive this time around.

While her previous efforts were met with critical acclaim, Bionic received largely mixed reviews from critics, who called it “strong in some parts but weak in others”, “overproduced”, and even “unlistenable”, “teeth-gritting”, and “stupid”.

It also only enjoyed brief, mild chart success as opposed to the longevity of her previous work — Stripped peaked at #2 on the Billboard Top 200 and spent over a year-and-a-half on the chart, Back to Basics peaked at #1 and spent nearly a year as well — and although Bionic peaked at #3, it only lasted a few months before falling off of the chart completely.

The album’s singles performed poorly on the charts too, as only two out of its four singles, “Not Myself Tonight” and “Woohoo” with Trinidadian rapper and singer-songwriter Nicki Minaj, charted on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #23 and #79, respectively, with each spending less than two months on the chart.

Aguilera was initially set to embark on a tour for the record later in 2010 but cut the era short to promote her starring role in American backstage musical film Burlesque alongside American singer-songwriter, actress, and pop legend Cher in November 2010 before moving on completely in April 2011 when she became a judge on American reality television series The Voice, seemingly leaving Bionic behind.

So what went wrong? Why did the general public suddenly turn on Christina Aguilera during the Bionic era when she was one of the most critically acclaimed figures in music at the time?

Well, it all began in November 2008 when she dropped her first greatest hits compilation, Keeps Gettin’ Better: A Decade of Hits, which featured two new tracks, “Keeps Gettin’ Better” and “Dynamite”, and two remakes of her hit singles “Genie in a Bottle” and “Beautiful” that all sported notable electro pop influences, foreshadowing what was to come with Bionic two years later.

Right away, critics began comparing her new sound to that of American singer-songwriter and actress Lady Gaga, whose debut album, The Fame, was released a few months prior. American blogger and media personality Perez Hilton made matters worse by adding fuel to the fire and leading a campaign against Aguilera, accusing her of copying Gaga and following the electro pop trend in a desperate attempt to stay relevant. These comparisons continued to escalate in the period leading up to the release of Bionic, which was viewed by many as inauthentic as per Hilton’s accusations. 

Additionally, the sexually-charged lyrics and visuals of the era turned off a lot of casual listeners and critics alike. “Not Myself Tonight”’s music video received an overwhelmingly negative response due to its BDSM theme, with many condemning it as “fetish porn”, on top of suffering heavy Gaga comparisons that resulted in it being deemed as “unoriginal”, and “Woohoo” was panned for its highly explicit lyrics depicting oral sex, with critics calling it “unsexy” and “crass”. 

These two major factors essentially killed the Bionic era, leading to its swift end, and the album’s poor reception left a lasting impact on Aguilera’s career, as public opinion fell out of her favor. She was called “unlikeable” as a judge on The Voice, and she couldn’t keep the same momentum that she could before, resulting in the underperformance of her next record, Lotus, in November 2012, and even her most recent effort, Liberation, in June 2018.

But while Bionic was considered a flop in the eyes of the mainstream, the album has remained a favorite within her fanbase as well as a cult classic among the LGBTQ+ community, and since its release 10 years ago today, opinions of Bionic have begun to change. Prominent music publications, such as Pitchfork, have recently hailed the record as having been ahead of its time, favorably comparing it to other controversial records like American singer-songwriter and Queen of Pop, Madonna’s Erotica and American singer-songwriter and dancer Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope.

Aguilera, herself, has even stated that she believes Bionic’s poor performance is owed to Perez Hilton’s sabotage, and for the 10th anniversary, she expressed her fondness for the album on her Instagram story, stating: 

“Not all were going to ‘get it’. The cover and making bold choices. And I knew that. Being brave enough to try new things and challenge people’s ideals and perceptions of who you are is a risk I’m willing to take. Sometimes things take time to be fully appreciated and that’s ok. I’ve never set out to be an obvious and easy short term win. I’m in it for the long-haul. I challenge myself and aspire to inspire throughout my body of work – after I’m long gone. The body of work speaks for itself and the quality prevails.”

She knows that success doesn’t define the quality of her work, and she knows that at the end of the day, Bionic is a forward-thinking, progressive electronic pop record and a feminist statement about owning your sexuality as a woman in spite of the world’s disapproval, and the hate that it got only further proved its point.

Aguilera was truly ahead of her time, and Bionic deserved better.

Stream Bionic on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/1HfdmIok11uUjysVWdxq6H?si=BCwGZRqARoy15mTwGql9LQ 

Watch the music video for “Not Myself Tonight”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wt-tHcQR67Y

Aguilera in the music video for “Not Myself Tonight”.