Is 2012 going to be Christina Aguilera's year? The past few years have seen her take a few faltering steps involving shading a soon-to-be-everywhere Lady Gaga, developing a drunk diva reputation in the tabloids after her divorce, dropping an eclectic electropop album called Bionic right when electropop became beyond oversaturated, and getting her period onstage while performing at Etta James's funeral. She has regained some ground over the past year, emerging as the highest-paid judge and queen bitch of The Voice and guesting on the relentlessly annoying/catchy/omnipresent Maroon 5 song "Moves Like Jagger." Aguilera is a perfectionist whose tendency to overdo it on runs and melismas is her biggest weakness. I heard "Beautiful" on the easy-listening station in my car earlier today and was noticing just how spare and sensitive the vocals are for an Aguilera song. She gets accused of wasting her instrument by embroidering songs without adding any real emotion. But because we know she is capable of turning it out when she feels like it and is given the proper material, we expect her to turn it the fuck out every single time.
With rumors that Britney may join The X Factor as a judge, Aguilera and Spears will continue to be my personal John McEnroe and Bj÷rn Borg. Aguilera's latest volley is this song from the soundtrack of Will Ferrell's upcoming telenovela-inspired Spanish-language comedy Casa De Mi Padre, which reminds us that not only can Aguilera beat the shit out of a ballad when need be, she can do it en Espa˝ol. The song (called "La Casa De Mi Padre") is an Ennio Morricone-themed love serenade whose passionate, over-the-top histrionics suit Aguilera's strengths perfectly. If you listen for it, her voice sounds exactly like a bright mariachi horn at the beginning (a real mariachi horn performs a solo midway). Her voice is up front, while the instruments are horses trotting behind her. She is not here to dance, or to spout semi-condescending messages of empowerment while she takes your money, or to make pretentious video art. Christina Aguilera is just here to sing, and she doesn't have to sing the highest, or loudest, or longest for us to feel her in a song. She just has to sound like she means it.