Christina Aguilera has lived through many lifetimes — in her career, in her personal life and, of course, in her aesthetic. Her look has evolved from assless chaps and two-toned plaits to old Hollywood-inspired retro glam to the now-current deep necklines, slick-backed hair and minimal makeup.
Does this pivot to a more toned-down look mean she’s done with the drama?
“I’ve always been someone that obviously loves to experiment, loves theatrics, loves to create a storyline and play a character in a video or through stage,” she explains while her makeup artist removes glitter from her eyelids. “I’m a performer, that’s who I am by nature. But I’m at the place, even musically, where it’s a liberating feeling to be able to strip it all back and appreciate who you are and your raw beauty.”
As she says this, she’s bare-faced, her freckles peeking out and her blue eyes sparkling without a trace of eye makeup — but don’t think she’s shelving her contour kit just yet. “I mean, I’m a girl that likes a beat face, let’s not get it twisted,” she laughs.
This self-assurance and ease is something that the 37-year-old believes comes with age. In the almost 20 years since we first saw her dancing on a beach in the “Genie in A Bottle” video, she has been nominated for 18 Grammys, won five, sold more than 50 million records worldwide, starred in a movie with Cher, served as a judge on The Voice, gone through a divorce, found love again with fiance Matt Rutler and become a mom to Max Liron, 10, and Summer Rain, 3.
Throughout all these significant life experiences, Aguilera has remained unabashedly cheeky. In January, when impatient fans inquired about a new album — which would be her first since 2012’s Lotus — via a hilarious handwritten note on her Walk of Fame star, she sent a sassy Insta-story response (“It’s coming bitches”). While getting her eyes painted bright pink at our shoot, she shares an anecdote about one of several wigs her hairstylist has brought with him on set: a tousled, dirty blonde hair piece. Apparently, Christina had asked to borrow the wig…for the bedroom. “You were really good about it, you were a sport,” she tells him while the whole room laughs. “I think I wanted to go home and have sex that night and you were like, ‘Okay, don’t get her too messed up.’ I was like, no guarantees, thanks.”
Born in Staten Island, New York on December 18, 1980 to father Fausto and mother Shelly Loraine, Aguilera had a far from picture-perfect childhood. She witnessed domestic abuse both in her family and around her neighborhood, something she has always discussed openly during her career. “I watched my mom have to be submissive, watch her Ps and Qs or she’s gonna get beat up,” she recalls. One of two things can happen if you grow up in that type of situation, she says. “You can either be, unfortunately, so damaged by it that you take a turn for the worse, or you can feel empowered by it and make choices to never go down that route.” Aguilera decided at an early age that she would never allow herself to be in a position where she’d have to rely on anyone else in order to be happy. At the same time, it taught her compassion for people who aren’t able to get themselves out of similar situations so easily. “I hate when people say, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ There’s psychological damage and mental abuse that comes with being in a situation like that. A lot of people don’t have the ability to vocalize it themselves or have the know-how to get out.”
This strength and compassion also spurs Aguilera to be a dedicated ally to the LGBTQ community. In 2003, Aguilera nabbed a GLAAD Media Award for the positive portrayal of gay and transgender people in the video for “Beautiful.” She continued her support through videos like 2012’s “Let There Be Love,” and in 2016, she dedicated the song “Change” to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and donated proceeds to their families through the National Compassion Fund. When asked why it has always been important to her to speak up for the LGBTQ community, she answers, “These are people who I grew up with and who are brilliant, talented and strong that deserve for their voice to be heard and fought for, as well.”
Pop stars are notorious for going through transformations, but Aguilera’s hunger for experimentation in both her music and her style is part of her unique appeal. She says every one of her albums allowed her to venture off in a different direction and explore a different side of herself. There was the release of her self-titled debut, when Christina became one of early aughts’ pop princesses alongside former Mickey Mouse Club co-star Britney Spears. The record was, according to Aguilera, exactly “what an older label head male’s perspective was.” Her clothes were typical of the era: midriff-baring tops, flared pants and glossy lips. The 2001 “Lady Marmalade” collab with Pink, Mya and Lil Kim allowed Aguilera to flex her vocal range, and she began experimenting with an edgier look (colorful braids, more revealing outfits). From there, she dropped 2002’s Strippedand the single “Dirrty,” which Aguilera calls a “game-changer.” She explored a fashion style of two-toned hair, bikini tops and those iconic leather chaps. At their most respectful, critics deemed her look “risqué,” and at their most aggressive, they called her the “world’s skeeziest reptile woman” (a description that appeared in a 2002 Entertainment Weekly article). 2006 birthed the album Back to Basics, which had Aguilera belting out throwback songs that were straight out of the ’40s and donning a pinup-inspired look and what would become her signature red lipstick. With 2010’s electronica-influenced Bionic, Aguilera seemed to marry the two styles of edgy and retro. Case in point: At the MTV Movie Awards that same year, she wore her hair in a retro-style victory roll with red lipstick and an Atelier Versace gown with straps that looked like heavy chains.