Icon Aughts: Christina Aguilera and Coldplay – Mainstream Maestros (Honorable Mention)

Round 2 of “A Dime, A Dozen” is the duo-that-didn’t-quite, the couple-right-outside-the-court: Christina Aguilera and Coldplay, my honorably mentioned Mainstream Maestros.

Pretense: These two… these two, these two. Coldplay could’ve been where Radiohead is, and Christina could’ve been where Britney – eh, well when you see the rest of the list you’ll see a better parallel <– hint) – is. That said, Christina and Coldplay are technically great artists, they pay attention to composition, and the classical art behind music – which I appreciate. They are also deliberate with their works – deliberate to the point of releasing an album and then disappearing for a few years; only to come back with a wildly successful, thoroughly enjoyable, and critically acclaimed piece, touring for a bit, running the award show gamut, and settling into a hibernating state for another few years before beginning the cycle yet again – which I appreciate. That said, thus is why they are not in the Court – they take too long. They are too traditional in method – message notwithstanding – to be Pop’s best of the decade. I cannot ignore the sheer talent and artistry of Christina Aguilera or Coldplay though.

So, here they are: my Mainstream Maestros.

Christina Aguilera: The Y2K bug wasn’t a myth: it merely resided within Christina Aguilera for a few years, like a viral zeitgeist it consumed her Pop persona and – in tandem with her incomparable voice – Xtina was born. Let’s start from the beginning.

Christina composed a career based from Madonna’s. While the world was saying Britney was the next Madonna, Christina was doing it. Think of “Ven Conmigo” as a “La Isla Bonita” tease before heading into her Stripped phase. Christina Aguilera in 1999 was 80s Madonna. Christina’s methodical focus on album longevity enabled her first album to illustrate her steady transition. While Britney churned out an album every year or so – with no less than three singles a piece – Christina matured in a way that allowed her to re-interpret the self-titled debut to track her development. The eponymous pop intro of Madonna, the innuendo of Like A Virgin, and the coming-of-age/girl-on-the-brink foreshadowing of True Blue all combined within Aguilera’s first effort meant one thing: for Y2K, X marked the spot – enter Xtina.

Technically, she began this decade’s discography with an ode to su hogar, Mi Reflejo, the it-counts-because-I-released-it Spanish language album.

Really, she rang in millenium 2K with 2 Rs:

Stripped as an era was Christina’s Bedtime Stories and Erotica. Madonna’s sexual evolution came after her iconic The Immaculate Collection. More importantly though, in her down time from a complete new studio release, she recorded two of her most preeminent tracks to date – “Vogue” and “Justify My Love.” In similar fashion, during the three year hiatus between full studio releases, Christina recorded one of her most notable tracks as well – “Lady Marmalade.” This was an apropos foreshadowing into Aguilera’s most controversial single – “Dirrty.” It was during interviews at this time where journalists would ask Christina, “Why with the voice, talent, and ability you have would you distract listeners with your gratuitous hypersexuality?” Aguilera responded that Madonna was seen as a talentless exhibitionist during her sexual stage, while now she is seen as a legend. Aguilera knew what she was doing, and she had a full career in mind. This was a mere stepping stone – the artistic reflection of her female development. True to her word, Bedtime Stories and Erotica still hold some of Madonna’s most revered works; as Stripped – in its infinite 20-track wisdom – held some of Christina’s most successful tracks: “Beautiful,” “Fighter,” and “The Voice Within.” This was Christina saying “look at me all you want, but I dare you not to listen.”

2003 saw a changing of the guard. In the midst of Britney’s superlative peak of popularity – off the heels of the epic “Toxic” – she met her matriarch. The MTV Video Music Awards became the Freaky-Friday-fortune-cookie moment for Aguilera and Spears. The two pop princesses kissed their Fairy Godmother. In that moment, Madonna’s lips went Rogue in a kiss that would suck the life force from one career – like the Godfather’s Kiss of Death – and breathe new life into the other. As Britney slipped under, Christina took a(nother) hiatus – to bid farewell to her X and say bonjour to Baby Jane.

Four years and a wedding later, Aguilera released Back to Basics in 2006. The bombastic “Ain’t No Other Man” was Christina’s rebirth. She was a woman now, not in the midst of finding herself – but self: found. Think Christina’s Evita, with underlying hints of Ray of Light. She was married, ready to start a family, and with a sound that matured as she did. More than anything this regained the credibility that, for fans and music aficionados, Christina never lost.

Christina composed her career and – surprisingly to many – herself this decade. She was a maestro; methodically planning and executing the career of an artist – not so much a celebrity. Where Britney burned in the blinding lights, Christina bowed out and chilled. She had a party-girl stint – but that was dirrty Xtina, and it went along with her persona. She never really let the perception change her character. Through it all, her talent and craft were always clear and present. Her career is admirable, and her voice: incomparable.

Coldplay: Oh, Chris Martin and Co. Combine the social activism of U2, the diet of Cher Horowitz, the live stage presence of U2, the aesthetic vibe of Radiohead, the selling power of U2, groupies including Gwenyth Paltrow, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Madonna, the album structure of U2, average out the music awards won by Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, add the mainstream appeal of U2 (read: U2’s 80s appeal fast-forwarded to the 2000s), and you’ve got Coldplay.

This British band – “seventh best band in the world” according to their frontman, behind Arcade Fire and Sigur Rios namely – I can’t say too much about that hasn’t already been said. We all know their albums are brilliantly melancholy in a way that somehow makes everyone feel emo – or at least like they’re standing on a London corner on an overcasty London day. They kicked off the decade with 2000’s Parachutes: the uncomfortable shiver that ensued when I heard “Yellow” was sign the first that this would be a troublesome relationship – in a blue-romantic-merrily-melancholy kind of way. Two years later and our collective auditory presence was graced with A Rush of Blood to the Head: as the clock struck 2002 the sonic scientists put me in my place as God put a smile upon my face. The wake of their sophomore effort brought a three year hiatus. As absence – and a 2003 live album – makes the heart grow fonder, 2005’s X&Y put Coldplay on a new plane of rock prominence: it seemed as if waiting was the hardest part; but, if anything, the album was proof that the band could fix you at will – and at the speed of sound. Yet again, after a strong Summer showing, the band hibernated for another three years. 2008 brought Viva La Vida. Just when you thought the boys donated their funny bones to third-world children they hit you with lyrics such as, “For some reason I can’t explain, I know Saint Peter won’t call my name; Never an honest word, but that was when I ruled the world.” Won’t call your name, when you ruled the world – oh Chris, how you do go on…

That brings us to now: Coldplay with a free live album and Christina with a greatest hits album. Aguilera summed up the decade for her and her cavalry – Keeps Gettin’ Better: A Decade of Hits. My honorably mentioned couple are honorable, so I mentioned them. Christina is easily one of the most noted pop musicians of the decade – and tracked the footsteps of the Queen of Pop. Yet, Xtina somehow lacked that X-factor. She kept her sanity. She kept her distance and detachment. Her bubble is so well crafted that it keeps expanding – but will never Pop. Coldplay makes great music – and they are classy gentlemen. Yet, they are like the Arthur Bainbridge to Pop’s Edie Sedgwick: yes, they will court and propose marriage; but in the end they are just too boring. That stability and sanity makes for great world citizens – just not great celebrities. Christina and Coldplay aren’t monsters or mavens – they’re musicians and maestros.


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