The year is 2018, and Christina Aguilera – Legendtina, as she’s sometimes known ’round these parts – is in a weird space. The kids don’t really know who she is, and who she is now is not the same person the public remembers her to be.
As a result, “Accelerate” probably isn’t what anyone anticipated – not that anyone necessarily knew what to expect from the first song off of a new Christina Aguilera album, six years after 2012’s Lotus.
Upon its release on Thursday (May 3), there were mixed reactions, meltdowns and cries of “we waited six years for this?” on social media – an understandable reaction. Because, same! At first, anyway.
The song’s not a breezy, formulaic 3-minute trop-pop bop sung by an anonymous breathy vocalist for the #NewMusicFriday playlist. It’s not a hugely emotional moment of “Hurt” balladry. Nor is it a 2 AM-in-the-club singalong-friendly pop banger, like “Dirrty.”
It’s not a pop song at all: it’s an aggressively fucks-free, polarizing hip-hop cut, overstuffed with two rappers and largely devoid of Xtina’s signature lightbulb-bursting wailing and stomach-turning vocal acrobatics. It’s also without a huge, obvious hook – at least, not one Top 40 radio would latch onto. But honestly, would radio touch anything the 37-year-old singer dropped at this point? Let’s be realistic.
With such an extended disconnect from Christina Aguilera as an artist (various soundtrack songs aside), we’re only just now being brought back up to speed – quickly – with the sound of Modern X. Accelerating, if you will.
Production on the track comes courtesy of Mike Dean, Che Pope and Free Thinker Kanye West – a revelation that, up until a few days ago, would have been a thrilling talking point, supplying some “cool” cred and relevance for an artist who hasn’t notched a solo Top 20 hit in over a decade. Now, it’s potentially campaign-crippling.
Timing is everything.
Musically speaking, following the initial shock of the first spin or two, “Accelerate” is a fresh and strange listen from start to finish: the unnerving tribal beats that usher us into the track, the low bass snaking its way through the speakers, the synth stabs in between Christina’s cocky sing-rapping (“HA!”), the trap hi-hats coming out for the 2 Chainz verse, the Yeezus-style urgency throughout, the funky and soulful “ooh-oohs..” towards the finale.
The song shape-shifts throughout, taking on a new life in the final minute by making a distinctly Mixtape Tinashe-style detour, as X coos her way up into the cosmos.
It might all sound like an experimental mess at first play (or second, or third), but there’s intention behind every note – and at a certain point, it starts to click.
As her driver winds the Escalade through the streets of the gated community, she pops in a CD (she doesn’t trust other “tech stuff”) and plays “Accelerate.” It’s a booming club song featuring Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz. Aguilera worries for a moment about blowing out the speakers, but then she turns it up even louder.
“I love 2 Chainz’s part,” she says, closing her eyes and bopping her head, just a little bit, to the beat. Before the last chorus blares, she makes a series of notes, in perfect cursive, on a small white pad. “There are some synthesizer sounds I need brought out a little bit,” she explains. “They’re a tiny bit pulled out, too weak.”
(“She doesn’t trust tech stuff” – Legendtina logging in from her 1996 IBM is so real. Anyway.)
This isn’t the massive comeback track many hoped for – she doesn’t even get enough time on the mic on her own song! – but it’s an interesting choice for a reintroduction. And a grower.
To suggest that Christina should have aimed for a more obvious pop anthem is silly, as if she hasn’t already tried it: the lead single off of Lotus, the NSA fun-seeking anthem “Your Body,” was produced by Pop God Max Martin, the same man behind Ariana Grande‘s smash hit “No Tears Left To Cry.” It’s a genuinely underrated pop monster, which would have almost surely stormed the charts had it been helmed by the current reigning ponytail pop princess. With Christina, it flopped.
Some fans will disagree, but there wasn’t an obvious way for Christina to properly kick off the new era – aside from dropping Liberation as a whole, Beyoncé style, which should be an industry standard at this point.
If the song “doesn’t sound” like Christina, that’s the nostalgia talking. She doesn’t owe it to anybody to sound like her old self. And it’s not as though her musical taste has changed, nor her usual self-empowerment messaging (“get that moola, power, you on fire tonight“): the culture just kept moving while she was busy spinning on her red swivel chair for years on The Voice.
Stripped‘s “Can’t Hold Us Down” with Lil’ Kim is the epitome of the early ’00s hip-pop R&B sound. This isn’t any different – it’s just current. We haven’t heard Christina navigating the darker, murkier edges of modern sound in a time of Yeezy, Migos and Rihanna‘s Anti. Now we have.
And now that we’re reacquainted, it’s time to turn up and do whatever the fuck a girl wants.
“Accelerate” was released on May 3. (iTunes)
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