Christina Aguilera appeared on July 16 and 17 with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. In the two concerts, the 40-year-old belter — who broke out alongside Britney Spears during the late 1990s teen-pop boom and has since explored R&B, Latin music, show tunes and boogie-woogie — promised an experience for which “my imagination is just running wild.”
The high-toned gig marked a stark contrast with Spears’ ongoing legal battle over her controversial conservatorship, which Aguilera strongly condemned in a recent viral Twitter thread. On the phone from her home in Los Angeles ahead of the concerts, the singer spoke about her shows, a pair of upcoming albums and — at least until her publicist cut in to say that Aguilera had nothing further on the subject — her fellow teen-pop survivor.
Are you into orchestral music?
I grew up around it. My mom’s a violinist and travelled abroad with an orchestra when she was 16. And I’m such a fan of scores — movies with beautiful orchestration, from the Marvel movies to Moonlight’. I searched for who did the score to that movie — it was Nick Britell — and I had him over to my house and was like, “I would love for you to write my album intro [for 2018’s ‘Liberation’] because I’m so in love with what you did with that movie.” And meeting Gustavo — I mean, it was such an honour. He does what I live for.
What are you singing at the Bowl?
I’ve never put so much effort and time into a set list — songs like ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’ to ‘Fighter’ to some beautiful cover classics like [James Brown’s] ‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’.
Are you reaching all the way back to ‘Genie in a Bottle’?
I am. There’s a reimagined version of ‘Genie’ that’s pretty epic. There’s a Latin portion of the show where I bring back some of the songs from [2000’s] ‘Mi Reflejo’, and I’m thinking of doing a reggaeton spin on ‘What a Girl Wants’. I’m approaching this more like a theatre show than a concert; each song will have a different mood, with a storytelling vibe. I love Tim Burton and Danny Elfman’s work together, so there’ll be some cool, dark, mysterious aspects to it as well.
What’s another of the classics you’re doing?
Etta James is my favourite singer — her passion and heart and feel, and the way she sang with such raw, gut-felt emotion. Normally I do ‘At Last’ with just a piano and vocal, maybe drums and a guitar. But if you listen to the original record, it’s got that orchestra that starts with that slide. I’ve never been able to do it that way, so to sink my teeth into that — I’m thrilled.
Are you excited to get back onstage after the pandemic?
I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been in the studio working on two records. Sometimes in the studio, certain notes are a struggle — you’re boxed into this confined booth — compared to when you’re with an audience and the live musicianship takes your adrenalin to the next level. I’m like, “Wait, that note is much easier to hit onstage.”
What are the two records?
An English record and a Spanish record. The last time I did a Spanish record was when I was baby Christina — ‘Mi Reflejo’. It was such a beautiful moment for me to pay tribute to my roots on my father’s side — he’s from Ecuador — and ever since I’ve been wanting to do another one. So it’s really 20 years overdue, except now I’m kind of glad it was so long because I’ve been able to come back and dig deeper into some of my personal stories regarding my dad. I’ve always had a very estranged relationship with him, and I’m kind of touching on that.
And the other album?
Totally different feel. I’m working with producers and writers that I’ve been a big fan of for a long time. One in particular is Joseph Angel — he wrote ‘Love on the Brain’ for Rihanna. But all the writers come from such a deep, heartfelt place. It’s not about us trying to fit a mould; it’s a grown perspective that embodies everything I’ve experienced in this business and on a personal level. I made a lot of changes over quarantine — new people, new support team. The experience helped you realise who your ride-or-dies are. I’m in a really happy place, and I’ve never been able to fully say that.
Your tweet about Britney Spears included an old photo of the two of you. When was that taken?
It was from our days in the Mickey Mouse Club. We were 11 or 12, babies in the business together, which is so amazing to come full circle — to both be able to have the success that we’ve had. It was a beautiful thing to look back at those pictures; there’s such a glow in our eyes. It was a great experience to have, not only with the two of us but all the kids — Justin [Timberlake] and Ryan Gosling and all of us came up together on that show. What a casting director. But shoot — we’ve been working since we were little kids. We all deserve some happiness. I’ll always be supportive of Britney.