A decade ago, Christina Aguilera’s career went a bit topsy-turvy. Following on from the release of the Number One album Back To Basics in 2006, which went against the grain of what was popular at the time with its throwback and fusion sounds of old school soul and R&B with modern day pop and something completely different to Stripped, she released Bionic.
An unfortunate car crash of an album that received very mixed reactions from critics and fans alike, courted controversy with allegations of “copying” other artists – notably Lady Gaga – and theories of the album’s commerciality being sabotaged by people like Perez Hilton (who at the time was very chummy with Gaga), the album was her worst-selling album at the time by a long shot. And it was another change of musical direction for the superstar – from going back, way back in time to fast forwarding to the future, fans and critics were both in awe and confusion.
But in actuality, Bionic was more of a trendsetter than many would be led to believe. Here’s 10 ways in which the album helped change public perceptions, gave little known artists a leg up in the industry, and was part and parcel of the reshaping of the already trendy by then electropop scene.
1) It boosted Sia’s global career as a songwriter and eventually bigger pop star
The obvious one that I’ve mentioned before is the effect Christina had on Sia’s career in the last decade. After collaborating with her on several songs on the album, Sia’s songwriting talents were hired by a vast array of artists. These include Rihanna, David Guetta, Ne-Yo, Rita Ora, Céline Dion, Katy Perry, Jessie J, Britney Spears, Eminem, Beyoncé, Shakira, Pitbull, J.Lo, Kelly Clarkson, Carly Rae Jepsen, Demi Lovato and P!nk, among others. She also managed to craft out a successful international solo career from it.
2) It helped kick off Nicki Minaj’s career
Before Nicki became one of the most sought after female rappers (why, only god knows), Woohoo was one of very few mainstream songs she featured on. She had released little known EPs before 2010 and her debut single Massive Attack was released around the same time as Not Myself Tonight, but her popularity didn’t surge until after her appearance on Woohoo, helping to catapult subsequent better charting singles and debut album into the public eye.
3) It helped increase Ester Dean’s songwriting and producing career
Although she had a few songwriting and producing credits before 2010, demand for Ester definitely increased after her work on Bionic. Her collaborations include those with Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Kelly Rowland, Usher, Beyoncé, David Guetta, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J Blige, Nicole Scherzinger, Britney Spears, Rita Ora and Selena Gomez. Her improved career also led to being cast in the Pitch Perfect trilogy, which is what she is perhaps best known for besides her songwriting skills.
4) It gave M.I.A an international platform
Prior to 2010 very few people knew who M.I.A was despite already being in the game for about 7 years already. Post-2010 didn’t necessarily boost her career sales and chart-wise but definitely got her more attention. She may still not have a big solo hit herself but her work with Xtina led to collaborating with Madonna and Nicki Minaj on the song Give Me All Your Luvin’ in 2012.
5) It gave more contemporary recognition to street artist D*Face
The album’s unique album cover was designed by graffiti artist D*Face, whose artwork for Bionic was quite different to his usual styles. It prompted many fans to replicate the look to honour Bionic. Although he didn’t become a celebrity artist overnight, his name was more well known in mainstream pop culture afterwards and he was later asked to design Blink-182’s 2016 album California.
6) My Girls further proved her prowess as a bringer-together of female artists
2001’s cover of Lady Marmalade is the most popular and successful collaboration of female artists and one Christina can proudly claim she was a big part of. Punky-pop track My Girls, featuring Peaches, name-drops some of female artists and songwriters she collabs with on the song and album.
As a very vocal feminist with a string of songs about female empowerment, she can also claim her collaborations have sparked a number of other all-female, pro-female team-ups for a post-millennium generation. Over the past decade, some of them include the aforementioned Madonna song Give Me All Your Luvin’, Bang Bang (Jessie J, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj – again), Taylor Swift’s star-studded video for Bad Blood, Girls (Rita Ora, Cardi B, Bebe Rexha and Charli XCX), and Don’t Call Me Angel (Ariana, Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey), as well as countless successful duets.
7) It helped change the perception of the use of auto-tune in a creative way
Christina had previously voiced her disdain over the use of auto-tune, which has historically been used by a number of artists to correct pitch and mask a singer’s voice (or lack thereof in many cases). Cher’s song Believe was one of the first mainstream songs to use it to great effect and she has used it a lot since, but Christina admitted she hadn’t until Bionic.
What it showed many was just what one of the best vocalists of all-time could do to her voice in the studio for creative effect. And while some of the results had mixed reactions from fans and critics, it further cemented her unique position as an artist who could use it at her disposable – some seem to need it constantly and have become synonymous with its usage, others have used it sneakily or sparingly, and others don’t use it but could perhaps do with using it. Christina never needed it but her usage of it made her more powerful and versatile as an artist. And soon auto-tune wasn’t just known for making crap singers sound good.
8) It continued to prove her to be a queen of musical diversity
Though marketed as an electro-pop album, Bionic was, similar to Stripped and Back to Basics, a melting pot of different genres, subgenres, styles and elements, but on a whole new level. With a mixture of electro-pop (Elastic Love), electronic (Birds of Prey), dance-pop (Glam), pop (I Hate Boys), rap (Bobblehead), dancehall (Woohoo), Latin/Euro-dance (Desnudate) and ballads (I Am), Christina was doing things she’d never done before whilst proving just how unique she is compared to her contemporaries.
While comparisons to Lady Gaga were rife at the time, The Fame/Fame Monster and Bionic are actually quite different musically-speaking. They of course share similar genres and styles, but Gaga’s was unashamedly dance-pop pretty much through and through, while Bionic was more authentically electronic in places, several songs featured elements of a number of different genres for a fusion sound, and others – particularly the slow jams and ballads – were still very much reminiscent of Christina from yesteryear. Regarding comparisons to other peers who relied heavily on the electro-pop sound (Britney), there was no competition. Stuck in the same old safe lane since 2003, Britney’s sound hadn’t evolved and her vocal cords hadn’t been given a good stretch in a long time.
9) She first brought “Madame X” back to popular culture
Madonna may have released an album entitled Madame X in 2019, which was her “alter ego” for that era, but Christina was the first to use the title as her alter ego for Bionic. Though this didn’t catch on compared to Xtina from the Stripped era or even Baby Jane from Back To Basics, she undoubtedly got in there first before Madge. Madame X is the name of a French play by Alexandre Bisson, and although explicitly referenced as the inspiration by Madonna, it wasn’t by Xtina and she didn’t explicitly use the name during that era. It is instead seen etched on her neck for a picture from the album’s photoshoot and was the title of the photoshoot of her by Ellen von Unwerth for Out magazine.
10) #JusticeForBionic has been a regular social media trend among fans and some music critics
The hashtag is one that other artists’ fans have attempted to replicate to bring recognition to their faves’ less appreciated albums. Every year during the short-lived “Bionic era” (April through to June), her fans on social media raise awareness for the underrated and sabotaged album, which has helped uncover truths and apologies from alleged perpetrators Perez Hilton and Gaga.
This year, on its 10th anniversary, the campaign helped the album, the videos for Not Myself Tonight and You Lost Me, as well as a few tracks from the album and previous albums climb back onto several iTunes Charts worldwide. Other fanbases may have also previously got their faves’ material back on the charts too but with the circumstances surrounding Bionic, the belated victories are by far more joyous and satisfying. Ah, justice!
It’s such a shame that the efforts that went into Bionic weren’t well-received, which is often understandable when artists try something completely different. Other artists who, in the 2010s, went down a different path for a change (to varying degrees of success or failure), though not huge musical changes compared to what Bionic was, include Madonna (MDNA), Taylor Swift (Red), Britney Spears (Britney Jean), Miley Cyrus (Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz), Lady Gaga (Cheek to Cheek and Joanne), Rihanna (Anti) and Kylie (Golden). The main difference between them though? Their risks were not that big in comparison and the albums’ potential success were not hindered by backlash or sabotage.
Thankfully though, Bionic is finally being given more love than it received back in the day as several media outlets look back at why it’s such an underrated gem and discuss why it should’ve fared better. Whether it was “too far ahead of its time” as Christina has previously said upon reflection is debatable, but for her it’s both unsurprising it wasn’t a runaway hit considering how much of a 180 it was for her and the controversy surrounding the time it was released, and surprising. Someone of her calibre and having had three albums and their eras all do so well at the time, such a big “flop” should not have happened at such a pivotal moment in her career. It did however, undeniably continue to prove her credibility as a versatile vocalist, artist and songwriter and still a game-changing artist; one that nearly all her predecessors, peers and successors cannot match.