The majority of complaints about Christina Aguilera's performance on the X Factor final were about its unsuitability for the show's tweenie fans. Relevant to all this is that Aguilera also has a new film, Burlesque, to publicise, but her stint last weekend was less racy compared to eight years ago when she really made a name for herself with this stuff. The 2002 video for 'Dirrty' had her humping the floor of a boxing ring, clad in a red thong and her then trademark cowboy leather chaps while surrounded by a sweaty gang of the real-life variety. Last summer, to promote her fourth studio album, Bionic, she was at it again, graphically demonstrating for the bewildered what the single 'Not Myself Tonight' was about. But never let it be said that she does not suffer for her art: the tiny Aguilera admitted in a recent interview that all that flesh-strangling rubber and polyester gusset-thrusting invariably left her black and blue, as "getting down on my knees for some of the movements bruises me".
There has been much hand-wringing over the finer points of what exactly constitutes burlesque with the release of her film of the same name. In her 2005 book, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, feminist writer Ariel Levy despaired about the increasing number of near-naked women gyrating in music videos. It was all, she wrote, becoming "so familiar, I felt like we used to go out together". Laurie Penney, a former burlesque dancer turned journalist, has criticised Aguilera more directly: she described the singer's attempt at burlesque as "glib titillation" designed to satisfy "old-fashioned misogyny".
The attacks on Aguilera, although partly brought on by the singer herself, are a little unfair, as the corsets and suspenders distract from a truly remarkable singing talent. Born 30 years ago this weekend in Staten Island, New York, to an Ecuadorian father and an Irish-American mother, Aguilera grew up in Pittsburgh, and began making a name for herself from the age of six as "the little girl with the big voice". As a youngster, she often sang 'The Star-Spangled Banner' before Pittsburgh Steelers American football games.
She became a child star alongside future fellow singing stars Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears (with whom she shares a long-standing rivalry) in The New Mickey Mouse Club, and by 20 had recorded her eponymous first album. The single 'Genie in a Bottle' from that album became a smash hit in the US and UK, setting her on a course for fame and infamy in equal measure.
But she now has a rival contender for the crown of queen of subversion. Lady Gaga is arguably a bit closer to the camp, gender-bending elements of burlesque compared to Aguilera's standard stripper. Aguilera, who plays the clichéd cocktail waitress turned risqué performer in the "empowering" new film, said she wanted, in her role, to create "someone that every girl could relate to, and every girl wants to be". Those who subscribe to Playboy-logo pencil cases and padded bras for their seven-year-old daughters might agree. Thanks, Christina.