Christina Aguilera review – bondage and burlesque in badass variety show

SSE Hydro, Glasgow
Genuinely jaw-dropping, Aguilera’s vocals are so powerful that she cuts through the glittering gladiatorial chaos

Christina Aguilera is draped across an elaborate golden throne that is rising, tantalisingly slowly, from the belly of the Hydro. Glasgow’s impatient crowd erupts with noise before she’s even visible. A dizzying recap of Aguilera’s 20-year career, the X Tour is her first visit to the UK in well over a decade. Such is her legend that two buskers are competing to cover her classics in the walkway to the arena, pandering to punters who shriek with delight.

The X Tour throws together her biggest hits in a series of randomly themed, over-produced acts, with costume changes, unholy guitar solos and video footage punchier than a Marvel fight scene. Presumably adapted from Aguilera’s Vegas residency, this dazzling spectacle feels almost like a one-woman variety show, were it not for the eight dancers, three singers, full band and mountain of glitter. Everything is supersized, but nothing more so than her voice. Aguilera can switch from breezy ad-lib to finger-waving, earpiece-tapping devastation in a split-second. Genuinely jaw-dropping, her vocals are so rich and powerful that she cuts through all the chaos – of which there is a lot.

‘Her persistent call for a feminist uprising is far from a schtick’ ... Christina Aguilera.
‘Her persistent call for a feminist uprising is far from a schtick’ ... Christina Aguilera. Photograph: Samir Hussein/Wireimage for ABA

Seemingly ordered by a Magic 8 Ball, the setlist delivers incredible moments. A fiery, gold-themed one combines Dirrty – the stickiest, sweatiest dancefloor hit ever written – with Vanity, a “badass bitch” mantra from fan-favourite album Bionic, Express, a showgirl extravaganza replete with lots of spanking from the Burlesque soundtrack, and the heart-stopping roar of Lady Marmalade. Throughout, Aguilera prances like a prize pony in golden lamé ass-less chaps, sticking out her tongue and winking at fans to get them to scream even louder.

Dressed as the Virgin Mary … Christina Aguilera in Glasgow.
Dressed as the Virgin Mary … Aguilera. Photograph: Samir Hussein/Wireimage for ABA

Sometimes it doesn’t quite work. A strangely sped-up, abbreviated version of her 1999 hit Genie in a Bottle comes with an improbable but well-received call to arms: “Where my genies at?” she demands, before segueing into The Voice Within, the most heart-wrenching ballad of the night. The tour, which is ostensibly to promote Aguilera’s 2018 album Liberation, dedicates a full 10 minutes to Sick of Sittin’, a frustrated foot-stomper that flourishes with an arena-rock staging, and Maria, a Kanye West-produced gospel track that turns into a full-band jam session led by Aguilera dressed as the Virgin Mary.

But it’s her 2002 album Stripped that hogs the spotlight. The album flipped the good-girl-gone-bad narrative expected of American sweethearts and – in pleather and motorbike oil – doubled down on vigorous, visceral emotional and sexual emancipation. It is a reminder that Aguilera’s persistent call for a feminist uprising is far from a shtick – it’s a 15-year crusade.

Tonight Aguilera seems closer to Cher’s cabaret matriarch than the ingenue performer she played opposite her elder peer in Burlesque. She takes a step back during some of her older songs to watch over proceedings, encouraging her backing singers to hit big solos and hugging them when they do. It’s only during her solo rendition of Beautiful – a self-love ballad to conquer them all – that she seems to drop the ball. She over-delivers, complicating the vocals so much so that Glasgow’s audience, desperate to sing along, are left in the dust. She looks visibly relieved when the gear shifts into closer Fighter – “our theme song!” she yells – for an almighty, gladiatorial victory lap. The aesthetic this time is bondage-Star Trek and the mood is triumphant. Christina Aguilera never has, and never will, do things by halves.


Katie Hawthorne

The GuardianTramp

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