Sunday, January 13, 2008

Brit Brit vs. Xtina

In the late 1990s when I worked as a producer for some children’s Web sites, I was put in charge of the entertainment areas. Not having any kids myself, I was out of the loop when it came to tween music, but I soon found out that the major question of the day was: Britney or Christina? If you liked Britney Spears, who debuted with “...Baby One More Time” in 1998 when she was seventeen, it was because she was America’s sweetheart. More coquettish than sexy, and more about dancing and entertaining than singing. She was a little bit naughty, but downright nice. If your preference was Christina Aquilera, who burst upon the scene a year after Britney with “Genie in a Bottle,” it was because you appreciated someone a little earthier, a little more real, and a girl who could really sing. Although the two had both been on “The New Mickey Mouse Club Show” in their earlier years and were purported to be good friends back in the day, their images couldn’t have been more different.

Several years later the two were still wildly popular, but Christina had somehow found her inner slut. Her videos were often criticized for being close to pornographic and it was as if she couldn’t wait to be taken seriously as an adult star, leaving behind her teen idol days as quickly as possible. She was fond of dressing like a prostitute and changed the spelling of her name to Xtina. I had the chance to write a short biography on Christina for a children’s book publisher and when I told people the subject matter of my project, many often went ballistic. “That girl is a total sleaze!” they’d say, veins bulging from foreheads. “She’s such a horrible influence on young girls!” It reminded me of what people used to say about Madonna. Britney, now in a relationship with another squeaky clean teen idol and former Mickey Mouse Club alum, Justin Timberlake, still seemed to hang on to her unoffensive, Gidget/Barbie doll image.

As I did research on Christina Aguilera I could see more differences between her and Britney. While Christina was obviously influenced by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, she also held singers like Aretha Franklin and Etta James in great esteem. Even at a young age Christina had a feel for what her style should be and honed her skills as a vocalist, feeling a real affinity for blues and soul music from decades earlier. I get the impression that Britney was the type who just wanted attention, and a way to get that was to be an entertainer. She doesn’t seem to have any particular musical influences and, although there are old videos of her as a youngster belting out songs with a surprisingly powerful voice, it has never been evident on any of her recordings, which rely on cutesy or breathy vocals. Britney liked to dance and sing and act, but didn’t seem to take any of it too seriously. It seemed what she really wanted was to be a star.

Fast forward to today and we now see these two women occupying very different places that I doubt anyone would have predicted. Christina, now 27, seems to be happily married to a record executive and just gave birth to her first child. At age 26 Britney’s life seems to be in shambles and it’s not necessary to go into the details of all her trials and tribulations, which everyone must know by now unless they’ve been living in a cave for the past year. Ms. Spears seems to be in desperate need of help and it’s a sad spectacle to see people making fun of and exploiting someone who so obviously is having a serious mental breakdown. We can only hope that she gets the help she needs and can get through this and into a more stable life such as that of her old pal and former slut Xtina.

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