One on One: Britney Spears vs. Christina Aguilera Friday, May 16, 2008Posted by Andy Hutchins in One on One, Rockabye.
One on One will be an occasional feature here at DeadOn, comparing and contrasting one pop culture thing to another in various categories, making totally somewhat baseless and arbitrary judgments, and hopefully making some people happy and other people mad. It’s like VH1, but good.
Today, sometime Mouseketeers and erstwhile superstars go under the microscope for our viewing pleasure. It’s the Battle of Bubblegum, the Skirmish of Saccharine: It’s Britney against Christina.
The question is simple: Who has the better career?
America got its first eyeful of Britney in maybe the most influential (or, perhaps, most rewound) music video of the ’90s not starring Helena Christiansen.
Those three notes, the “Oh, baby, baby,” and the pitch-perfect launched countless fantasies and announced Britney to the world as a flawless pop creation in a plaid skirt. She was instantly a can’t miss prospect.
Christina came a little less pre-packaged, and certainly a bit more subtly sexual:
Musically, though, she was far less bland, with a skittering beat behind her and actual range. Listening to it in full for the first time since probably 2000, I’m actually bobbing my head. And while that’s not rare for bubblegum pop (I was a big ‘N Sync fan), it’s surprising because I wasn’t a big Christina fan.
Advantage: Britney. It’s only barely a valid comparison.
Britney’s …Baby One More Time sold 25 million copies worldwide, and Oops!… I Did It Again did about 20 million as well. Her ellipsis-free albums, Britney, In the Zone, and Blackout, have been far less successful, but the first two are platinum records here and worldwide, and the latter is gold here and has moved about 2 million copies worldwide.
Of course, Britney’s tours (all headlining) are her cash cow, and a tour of fairgrounds, theatres, and smaller arenas, a major domestic tour, three huge world tours, one mall tour, and one bizarre post-rehab circuit of Houses of Bluees have all been very successful, though these live performances opened her up to the lip-synching allegations she’s faced for the rest of her career.
I think, though, that if the people laying down triple digits for tickets for their eleven-year-olds really cared about whether it was faux-live or not, I might not be writing this now.
Christina was the clear second fiddle early on in her career, with her eponymous debut selling just 14 million worldwide. But since, she’s had less of a precipitous dropoff than Brit, with Stripped doing over 10 million globally and 2006’s Back to Basics selling 4.5 million, a very strong showing in the iTunes for someone not named Josh Groban.
Touring has been less lucrative for Aguilera, though, with only three U.S. and world tours to her credit, though the “Justified and Stripped” shows with co-headliner Justin Timberlake made it the top-grossing tour of 2003.
Advantage: Britney, as always a commercial powerhouse.
Obviously, Britney Spears could never read a review of her music, ever, and would still be able to call herself a success. But she’s been hailed from the beginning (hell, her signature song is her first single, and could never be displaced by later, better work; she’s pigeonholed) for working with the best of the best in the pop factories to craft infectious ditties, and that’s still true.
She’s maybe gone to the same well too many times, but her limited voice probably contributes to that; she’s really, really good at the purring, breathy “singing” that just sounds like a prelude to naughtiness, and nowhere, I think, is she better at it than on Blackout, her most recent and most lauded effort, which basically drops all pretense of emotion and lays on the smothering sexuality, to great results.
And besides all that, she’s got a Grammy (for Best Dance Recording in 2005) and a handful of nominations. So the Grammys are, as always, horrifically stupid at their worst.
Christina, though, gets almost universal raves. She’s been dubbed “the voice of her generation,” won praise from virtually every critic imaginable for her extraordinary voice, and has been successful in bubblegum pop, sexier, R & B-flavored tunes, and jazz-influence music aimed at the adult contemporary market.
Her signature song, “Beautiful,” is a gorgeous, moving song that tries to be more than just its vocal and production components, and it’s something that suggests a maturity beyond her years; it’s far, far beyond anything Britney could hope to record, and that’s true of that and several other Aguilera songs as well.
And she has Grammys, plural: Four of them, in fact, from 15 nods, including a Best New Artist bauble in 2000 that was a surprise and a steal, considering her main competition was none other than Ms. Spears.
Advantage: Christina, and this is flat not fair.
Britney was the quintessential late ’90s Lolita and the early 2000s bombshell. At her peak, she was the embodiment of sex, a taut body set in motion to music that made hearts flutter and other parts of the body defy gravity; she was hot. (Here’s video evidence, not embedded because I don’t want to melt DeadOn.)
But Britney’s fallen since then (my first word was decayed, which seems more accurate but mean), and the whole world seeing her genitalia has knocked her down the hot list, too; her Kentwood, Louisiana roots are showing.
Meanwhile, Aguilera’s aged like a fine wine. She had her cuteness phase early, then did a rebellious Rolling Stone cover and the “Dirrty” video, then got even better with time, morphing into a throwback songstress and taking fairly classy Maxim pictures.
Yeah, pregnancy’s left her looking, uh, swell, but the most important thing for the former Xtina is that she’s gotten past her former iterations without going too far either way on the sexy-cute spectrum, and hit the sweet spot of late. She’s survived the hypersexual part of her career and come out brassy and beautiful.
Advantage: Christina, whose sustained appeal just trumps Britney’s white-hot peak.
Britney changed the game of the music industry more than any female artist before her, but not necessarily in a positive direction. She made it much easier for aspiring artists to earn a bit of play for a pretty face, but who knows how many careers she’s delayed or diminished by hogging the spotlight?
It’s also true that Britney’s acquired a Jacko-like following of devotees who will never leave her side and that her Hollywood lifestyle has probably done more damage than good to her family (ask Jamie Lynn), but, then, her sideshows have been more entertaining than the mainstage music career of late.
Christina, much like onetime tourmate Timberlake, has shown that the bubblegum pop phase is survivable, and has come out much stronger than Britney after her life in the intense media spotlight of that era. She’s married a manager, had a child, and matured.
But she’ll always be the second-brightest star of that era, the sonic boom following the rocket rather than the rocket itself, and was helped in no small amount by the dichotomy and tribalism of that era made possible by Brit; if you didn’t care for her and still liked mainstream music, you were more or less forced into the Christina camp, then learned to love her.
Advantage: Britney. It’s easier to break the mold than make it.
Britney is probably at a dead end, or at least and extended stop, in her career. She’s shown she is only barely capable of holding down gainful employment with her “How I Met Your Mother” cameos, and continues to be plagued by paparazzi and legal troubles. Expecting much from her, like a tour in support of Blackout or diligent work in a studio towards a new album, seems like a losing proposition.
It’s easy to lapse into the past tense when writing about Britney, and sadly spooky to think that the AP has sketched out an obit for her. Her future is uncertain and, for the most part, bleak.
Christina, though, seems energized both personally and professionally by her marriage and the birth of her son, Max, and likely to continue evolving as a person and artist. Rumor has it that there’s a poppier 2008 album in the works, and, if so, it would be one of the year’s biggest.
She’s got the sort of voice and aesthetic that could propel her as an artist into a long and fruitful career as, say, a more talented, less sensational Madonna, pushing the envelope musically rather than socially. If so, it’s more than enviable.
Advantage: Christina, and, again, it’s not close.
So the score is three-all, but there are margin of victory issues here and they weigh heavily for one side.
Game, Set, and Match: Christina Aguilera.
Please, leave comments, but also throw in any suggestions for future One on One features, too. I had a really hard time coming up with this one, but if there are things you’d like me to tackle, I’m more than happy to run with your ideas.