From a Mouseketeer to "Genie in a Bottle" to "Stripped," Christina Aguilera shifts gears as frequently as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and as violently as Will Ferrell in "Talladega Nights."
Aguilera hit stores today with "Back to Basics," a 22-track, double CD with two distinct flavors. One disc features dance tracks that mix electronic beats with samples of classic soul and blues, and it includes her current hit "Ain't No Other Man." The other, a collaboration with producer-songwriter Linda Perry, bubbles with live instrumentation, no samples, and a vintage feel.
The 25-year-old pop star has already sold more than 25 million albums, and for an artist who's taken so many sharp turns, she says it was time to turn to legends like Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Ella Fitzgerald to explore her future.
"I really dove in there and I took songs that I was inspired by wholeheartedly," she says. "I put together a producer package saying, 'Dear Producer, this is the music I'm inspired by. Feel free to experiment, chop things up. Take inspiration from this music. ... Let's re-create the old in a different modern-day sense.'"
Goodbye, Tabloid Life
Aguilera emerged, along with Britney Spears, as a top female artist during the pop music revival in the mid-1990s. But these days, Spears makes news largely with details of her personal travails. Aguilera, meanwhile, is recommitting herself to music.
On Friday she'll perform as part of "Good Morning America's" Summer Concert Series, and at the end of the month, she can look forward to MTV's Video Music Awards, where "Ain't No Other Man" competes for video of the year.
Aguilera is also up for best pop video and best choreography in a video.
All this comes just as "Ain't No Other Man" has been voted "favorite pop song of the summer" on Popdirt.com, taking 39 percent of the vote, beating out Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous," Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack," and Jessica Simpson's "A Public Affair."
If Aguilera has toned down her outlandish look and is less frequently seen partying at clubs, it's because she's focusing on her music, and she credits her marriage to music executive Jordan Bratman for helping her move into the next phase of her career.
"He is my life partner, but he's also my best friend, Aguilera says. "The relationship is my backbone and such a support system for what I do. ... We've grown together a lot over the past 4½ going on five years together now. ... It's a really beautiful time for both of us."
'A Sassy Twist' on Love
The couple exchanged vows in November at a vineyard in California's Napa Valley, with 130 friends and family members watching, including Aguilera's former "All New Mickey Mouse Club" cast member Justin Timberlake and companion Cameron Diaz.
Aguilera and Bratman met in 2002, when he was working at her management company, AzoffMusic Management.
"I wanted to make 'Ain't No Other Man,' a fun take on feeling like you found the right one for you," Aguilera says. "In my case, yes, I just got married. It is inspired in that sense.
"But I'm putting a sassy twist on it. I didn't want to write a bunch of fluff about being in love. I wanted to put that attitude in it. You know, getting those sassy horn blares in there. Taking a bit of old. Combining it with a modern-day edge and putting it out there for people who want to dance to or sing along to and take in a whole new life."
'Still Dirrty,' But Dreaming of Motherhood
From her early pop hits to her excursion into Latin sounds and her Ecuadorian heritage on "Mi Reflejo," Aguilera's powerful voice has never been denied, but it has sometimes been overshadowed by tales of her personal life, and, of course, her once famously skimpy attire. Her new strategy is to stay out of the tabloids.
"It is a result of a conscious decision," she says. "I mean, I think it's important that I let my artistic and creative choices take the forefront and speak for who I am and what I'm about."
Not that such a TV project has ever been in the works, and perhaps she's just taking a subtle dig at rivals like Spears and Simpson, but she wouldn't even consider turning her marriage into a reality show.
"I think it's important to keep that personal time for yourself," Aguilera says. "It's always important to have that element that you keep private."
But if Aguilera has given up her tacky hair extensions and those barely-there stage costumes, she isn't giving up her edge, and new songs like "Still Dirrty" are a throwback to some of the racier recordings.
Still, with "Back to Basics," the genie is out of the bottle. Christina Aguilera is singing to the world about her new life while mining the magic in the music that made her a star.
"There will always be goals that I have and dreams that I have yet to accomplish," she says. "I look forward to the day that I become a mother with my husband, and we both look forward to having children.
"I've got to give birth to these two babies first," she says. "This double-disc album."