Dec 14


Popular61 comments • 6,253 views

#837, 16th October 1999

aguileragenie When surface-similar acts emerge at the same time, there’s an urge to paint them as rivals – not just personally but aesthetically. A pop moment becomes such when you have points to draw a line between. How much of this is marketing strategy, how much media shorthand, and how much the micropolitics of fandom? It’s hard to say. All we know for sure is that Christina Aguilera’s own strong-willed progression towards a singing career was swiftly and sharply reshaped to fit a story about an emerging generation of new teenpop stars. And in particular, she was compared to Britney Spears: the women’s shared Mouseketeer background making the pairing irresistible.

But the lines of this division were never well-drawn. They rested too much on these 1999 first impressions. What “Britney and Xtina” really have in common is the difference between the music they imagined they’d make, the music they ended up building a long-term career on, and the singles in between that made them famous. Just as Spears fancied singing husky Southern MOR more than dance-pop, Aguilera was shaping herself up as a big-voiced soundtrack artist, with a song for Disney’s Mulan her initial breakthrough, and she would later tack hard away from “Genie In A Bottle”’s modern bubblegum sound. Watching her 1999 interviews, she reminds me of an elite athlete as much as a pop star – much talk of focus and preparedness and a level-headed understanding that the real challenge is sustaining the peak, even more than reaching it.

The comparison points between the two artists fell on a very old, familiar scale: the authentic and the inauthentic, the popular favourite and the connoisseur’s pick, the “manufactured” and the “genuine talent”. These all spun out of one tough-to-deny point – Aguilera was the technically better singer – and a far more rickety comparison between Britney’s exaggerated wholesomeness and Christina’s slightly more worldly material. In fact, both women’s breakthroughs were products of compromise – dance-pop was required and dance-pop is what Christina got.

Where she got lucky, though, is making her debut at a moment when the idea of what made-to-order dance-pop might be was dramatically tilting. “Genie In A Bottle” is following a playbook of 90s pop number ones stretching all the way back to “The Right Stuff” – reaching across for inspiration to the R&B or hip-hop charts. But where such moves often sounded comically awkward, the music “Genie” is partly drawing on for its production ideas – the futurist R&B of Destiny’s Child, TLC, Aaliyah et al – is a tremendous fit for pop vocalists: interesting enough to let weaker singers sink into the production, while creating a gymnasium for stronger ones.

“Genie In A Bottle” isn’t that kind of modern R&B track, though. The reason the Freelance Hellraiser’s graft of Christina’s vocals onto the Strokes’ “Hard To Explain” in 2002 worked so well is that “Genie” is a production-agnostic pop song – structurally straightforward and never built around its production in the way an Aaliyah or Kelis hit might be. The borrowings from R&B – the stuttering rhythm lines and staccato keyboard s – are basically decorative, reminders of a thrilling sound rather than attempts to engage it. But they mesh wonderfully with all the other decoration that’s thrown in here – the introductory piano flourish, and the gorgeous splashes of Latin Freestyle synth before the “My body’s saying let’s go…” line. And R&B is so fertile in 1999 that even something half-reminiscent of it can end up one of the most exciting pop records of the year.

Faced with all this ornamentation, and a genre that she doesn’t particularly care about anyhow, Aguilera goes rococo herself, treating the song as a showcase, matching it curlicue for curlicue. For the first half of “Genie” she’s mostly ticking off the fact that, yes, she can do teenpop very well if she’s asked to – though if there’s a flaw in the song it’s that she’s no melodramatist, and the “racing” hormones sound as under control as anything else. At the back end, though, Aguilera shifts gear, offering a delirium of overlapping vocal lines and tones and tricks all tumbling over each other to match the song’s bombast. It’s marvellous – and like “Baby One More Time”, “Genie In A Bottle” is a hell of a calling card. Unlike “Baby One More Time”, it’s slightly more impressive for the futures it seems to promise – pop that surrenders more fully to R&B; Christina Aguilera songs built for her – than the present it delivers.



  1. 1
    mrdiscopop on 7 Dec 2014 #

    I didn’t care for this much at the time. It felt too deliberate compared to Britney. A genuinely “manufactured” pop moment, with none of the ease or spontaneity of Max Martin’s masterpiece.

    But then I heard the a capella and I was blown away. Her phrasing is impeccable, her pitch is flawless and she sounds completely in control of the material. As Tom suggests, she never sounds 100% engaged with the lyrics but I think that about a lot of the big divas’ delivery (Aretha, Whitney, etc).

    There was better (and much, much worse) to come from the Aguilera stable but she never quite capitalised on the early promise of this vocal performance. A seven from me.

  2. 2
    Izzy on 7 Dec 2014 #

    Yes, a terrific record. I think the review gets it pretty much right.

    I would only add that the first chorus falls a bit flat, and that although this gets fixed later as it gets generally livelier (which is not a problem on the verses at all), the faint feeling of disengagement does linger. I’d be really interested to hear later Christina tackle it, to see if she’d choose to ham it up, and if the song copes. (8)

  3. 3
    Utter Dreck on 7 Dec 2014 #

    This was when I really began to love the teen-pop era, when the R&B spikiness and sense of play snuck in. Have fond, bandanna-friendship-bracelet-hair-mascara-wearing memories of this song inspiring an episode of teen satire show Popular.

  4. 4
    Chelovek na lune on 7 Dec 2014 #

    Fabulous piece of pop music – both playful and determined, musically, vocally, lyrically. Such a debut seemed to presage an outstanding career – but overall it turned out to be more “interesting” (to switch into the language of Yes Prime Minister euphemism), albeit with some notable highlights, rather than that. This, though, is a surefire NINE

  5. 5
    JLucas on 7 Dec 2014 #

    I really, really dislike Christina Aguilera and everything she stands for as a pop force. She’s a proto-Jessie J for me, the manifestation of what happens when sheer technical proficiency is elevated above any kind of love or joy for the art of pop music. There are some bunnies to come that I would rank amongst my most strongly disliked pop songs of the age. I would also single out another hit single from this album that didn’t go to number one – Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You), which is possibly the most joyless teen pop song I’ve ever heard in my life. The numerous reports about her being a deeply unpleasant individual don’t help me to warm to her either, although I could look past them if the music was any good.

    This, however, is a great pop song – but for me it’s great in spite of, rather than because of her. I think it’s very telling that she basically had to be forced to deliver a restrained vocal here, it’s just about the only moment in her career where she doesn’t bulldoze her own material with showboating. She’s everything Mariah Carey was (slightly unfairly) accused of being in the mid 90s.

    8 for a great pop song. I’ll be delivering considerably lower marks when we see her again.

  6. 6
    StringBeanJohn82 on 7 Dec 2014 #

    Yeah have to agree with Tom on this one – a very very good pop/R&B song. Shame she never really topped it. I remember at the time she was kind of billed as ‘like Britney – but she can actually sing!’ I guess as Tom alludes, like a lot of people, she will forever be associated with the act she followed.

    I also felt even at the time that it was quite an explicit sexual reference for a number one song. I guess we’ve had ‘Freak Me’ so ‘gotta rub me the right way’ is pretty normal now. It never made any sense to me anyway – ‘if you wanna be with me, baby there’s a price to pay – I’m a genie in a bottle, gotta rub me the right way’. I fail to see how this is a price to pay.

  7. 7
    Tom on 7 Dec 2014 #

    #5 I agree in places, disagree in places (as we’ll find out) – but evidence A for your argument isn’t just “Come On Over Baby” but her Christmas album, where (from memory of the one time I heard it) she really does fit the ‘what Mariah was accused of’ template – excruciating, pointless over-elaboration. Obviously Mariah’s own Xmas hit is a standard now. (And Britney’s “My Only Wish” is agreeably jolly, come to that).

  8. 8
    tonya on 7 Dec 2014 #

    …and young Christina swore that never again would she appear to be hesitant about sex.

    This version’s a 9 but the Strokes one is a 10.

  9. 9
    lonepilgrim on 7 Dec 2014 #

    I was faintly aware of this at the time but wasn’t engaged with chart music so it passed me by. There’s a lot to admire about the production (which is some of the best I’ve heard on Popular for a while) and her vocal technique but whereas I could buy the idea of Britney as an ingenue in ‘Baby hit me one more time’ Christina sounds a little too world weary or disengaged here to convince. I developed a (probably undeserved) suspicion of her talents when old lags like Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones began praising her vocal skill.

  10. 10
    mapman132 on 7 Dec 2014 #

    The unfortunate thing about Christina is that she clearly had the talent but so often squandered it on utter crap, including one particular glaring example we’ll eventually encounter here. This wasn’t a bad start, however, even though like I say so often on 90’s/00’s R&B-flavored stuff, “it wasn’t my style”. 6/10.

  11. 11
    Ed on 7 Dec 2014 #

    @7 Yes! I was just about to mention the Christmas album, having stumbled across it on a Spotify playlist about an hour before I read this entry.

    Actually, the pyrotechnics there are so flamboyant I find myself going past boredom and irritation and coming out the other side again into amazement.

    Back in the entry for ‘I Will Always Love You’, where I started a bit of a kerfuffle by incautiously using the word “overblown”, I compared Aguilera to Yngwie Malmsteen, and I think that parallel holds. it is empty flash, but the flashiness is so spectacular that for a while you can forget – or forgive – the emptiness.

    The use of the word “pyrotechnics” is apposite, I think. No asks what fireworks are trying to communicate, or whether they are sincere.

    I incline to the position I think Tom is leaning towards: with great power comes great responsibility, and Aguilera’s technical skill can often end up damaging her performances.

    But sometimes you have to just stand back and say “ooh!” and “aah!”

  12. 12
    Rory on 8 Dec 2014 #

    I’ve known and loved Freelance Hellraiser’s mashup since it appeared, but I don’t think I’d heard Aguilera’s original until last week. It’s good, but it’s no “A Stroke of Genie-us”. Seven for this, nine or ten for that.

  13. 13
    Shiny Dave on 8 Dec 2014 #

    I *think* me and a friend heard Come On Over Baby having a milkshake in Southampton in December 2009. Not sure if it was this or some other oversung shot at a modern Christmas song by a singer of her ilk, but I think we actually laughed.

    This song works because it’s throwaway enough that the artistic impression isn’t hurt by Christina’s technical merit. There’s a bunny of hers to come where it probably knocks my mark down by multiple points, but for now it works as pure brand differentiation – “like Britney – but she can sing!” Of course, we’re now in the age of “can sing” being defined in a very particular way, one that owes a lot to gospel as filtered through Mariah and Whitney – low verses to contrast against the high belting, melisma everywhere it can go and a few places where it can’t – and Aguilera ticks every one of those boxes. If Aguilera hadn’t been picked up by a big label in the late 90s, she might well have become a star as the winner of the first season of American Idol a couple of years later. (We’ll see the actual winner of that on Popular in time.)

    Interestingly, musical theatre would eventually make a beeline for this sort of pop – very often with singers at least as technically adept as Aguilera, and obviously rather better at actually using that technique to communicate – but at this point Les Mis and Phantom were the archetypes for a lot of new shows if memory serves. I very well recall Anne-Marie Speed – a musical theatre specialist at the Royal Academy of Music who’d just finished a season as X-Factor vocal coach – mentioning at a workshop I attended that at this point the “belting” sound was out of favour around this time, before “Wicked” became a huge hit and latterly the archetype. This was at least partly because a member of the original Broadway cast made a change to the end-of-act-1 song “Defying Gravity,” throwing in more high belting, and this change absolutely stuck – “Defying Gravity” became the show’s iconic song, the envelope was pushed, and now basically all new shows on Broadway and the West End follow it.

    (This reaches its logical conclusion a decade later – same singer, similar material both vocally and thematically but without the very stage-specific elements of “Defying Gravity” that extend it into a six-minute duet, thrown into a Disney movie to create… wait, “Let It Go” is not bunnied?!?)

  14. 14
    Tom on 8 Dec 2014 #

    #13 great comment! And no, “Let It Go” isn’t bunnied, in fact it didn’t even go Top 10. On the one hand, every year has examples of clearly major hits that don’t get to No.1. On the other, “Let It Go” would have had a way better chance of getting to No.1 in the physical release era. But – according to Wikipedia at least – Disney blundered, building up a Demi Lovato version of the song as its pop release (which did nothing) and letting the Idina Menzel version come out on the soundtrack. Obviously “blundered” is a relative term applying only to the single releases – “LIG” has done very nicely thankyou – and in a way it shows off the strength of the modern charts: we now have a situation where a record company fumbling release dates doesn’t really matter, all it means is that the 700,000 Brits who bought Let It Go have done so at a relatively steady 10-20,000 a week rather than in a more concentrated burst. Bit annoying for this site, mind you.

  15. 15
    Mark M on 8 Dec 2014 #

    Re13/14: I also wonder in a way if Let It Go would have sold quite as much if it had got to No.1 – it wouldn’t have had that incremental spread and might have burnt itself out rather than – as is the case – sitting at No.26 after a year.

    The fact that it is built – as Shiny Dave says – for a big Broadway voice – hasn’t in any way discouraged tonally suspect seven year olds from singing it…

  16. 16
    Tom on 8 Dec 2014 #

    I don’t think big songs do burn themselves out much these days – “Bunny”, the years biggest seller (and also a soundtrack smash), was No.1 for weeks but had a big run of sales before and after that. One of the things the digital era has revealed is how fast the product churn of physical singles was: a hot new release will clearly always be a better use of limited shelf space than a declining old one, so peaked hits dropped a lot faster than seems to be their ‘natural’ rate now you don’t have to worry about such things.

  17. 17
    Mark M on 8 Dec 2014 #

    Back to Aguilera – it’s the chops plus power thing that can be so annoying in her case. So many tricks and at such volume. It feels like hers has been – as I guess we’ll be discussing down the line – an incredibly random career. Lots of styles, lots of looks, no particular sense that there’s much of a plan…

    But Genie In A Bottle is indeed terrific, and that’s a fine write-up by Tom.

  18. 18
    JLucas on 8 Dec 2014 #

    Let It Go has had a long road for two reasons. The first – as mentioned – is that Idina Menzel is 43, so the idea that she be pushed forward on a pop hit – madness! To be fair Disney have form with this stretching right back to the 90s so they must have had every reason to expect success for the Lovato version. Imagine if Angela Lansbury had enjoyed a top 10 hit in 1992 over Celine Dion & Peabo Bryson?

    Also, I don’t think Radio 1 ever picked up on it? Given their much-publicised desire to tap into a younger market, that was a massive error on their behalf, but I’m still very cynical about their methods of determining what ‘the youth’ are listening to.

  19. 19
    Tom on 8 Dec 2014 #

    I can imagine a 47 year old man getting “Circle Of Life” to sing :)

  20. 20
    glue_factory on 8 Dec 2014 #

    Great spot about the Freestyle keyboards. I’d never noticed, but the whole track sounds like a slowed-down Latin-Freestyle record, updated with some contemporary R&B production on it. No wonder I loved it so much at the time. I wonder if it featured strongly in the US Latin charts.

    Annoyingly, despite being a huge bootleg fan (more to follow) the Freelance Hellraiser mix seemed to remove all the bits of the original I loved, meaning I could never completely fall for a Stroke of Genius.

  21. 21
    Mark M on 8 Dec 2014 #

    Re 18: I wonder how many people even now know who sings it – the video (I haven’t watched it all the way through) seems to be entirely from the film. The song is sung by the character (I’ve not seen Frozen) as much as, say, Kermit sings Rainbow Connection. Maybe that was part of the Demi Lovato mistake.

    I get the feeling that teachers have embraced both Let It Go and the bunny that Tom mentioned at #16. The other song for obvious reasons, but my guess with Let It Go is that the kids led the way.

  22. 22
    JLucas on 8 Dec 2014 #

    #19 – Tom, isn’t that just the point though? If you’re a man, your age is far less of an issue.

    Although The Lion King is also a bit of a Disney anomaly in that its score was written with and around a major recording artist. Idina Menzel is a hugely popular broadway star, but before LIG she had no chart career to speak of.

  23. 23
    iconoclast on 8 Dec 2014 #

    With a bang and a flash, another 21st Century Pop Diva appears. What an appropriate title!

    Unfortunately, that’s about the most notable thing about this release by the inevitable Britney-that-is-not-Britney: even more so than its predecessor, it sees no need to be anything more than mediocrity incarnate. Only the occasional lyric suggests that anybody felt the need to try at all; otherwise it’s an overwrought dreary trudge which resolutely fails to interest in any way. Its pervading air of can’t-be-arsedness merely further fuels the suspicion that, in its Third Age, popular music is being treated strictly as a series of marketing exercises in personal branding – or, as the less cynical Iconoclasts among us prefer to think, some kind of elaborate conceptual game. But it’s not about the song any more, Grandad, it’s about the performer, so get back to your rocking-chair with your James Lasts and your Val Doonicans. FOUR.

    Sometimes I wonder if I’m listening to the same record as the rest of Popular. Do I inhabit some sort of weird parallel universe or something, where everything is the same except the contents of Number One records?

  24. 24
    Tom on 8 Dec 2014 #

    #21 – My 5 year old’s class has some kind of regular ‘song time’ where the kids are allowed to pick a song to play – I assume on a rotating basis, but whether by rotation or vote more often than not it was “Let it Go”, much to his fury, as he always wanted “Everything Is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie. After months of raging against the Frozen song he came over sheepishly one day and said “Daddy, I have a big secret”. OK, I said, and he leaned forward and whispered “I like Let It Go”

    As for the other bunny, yes, that one’s teacher led. 6 times in 90 minutes at the school summer fete.

  25. 25
    glue_factory on 8 Dec 2014 #

    Re: 24, a school fete with music tailored for the children? What a strange idea. At my son’s school in South-East London, they get 80s funk-and-soul whether they like it or not. Hopefully there’s a lot of 6 year-olds who really like Maze.

  26. 26
    James BC on 8 Dec 2014 #

    I don’t think there’s anything very suggestive about “rub me the right way”. It’s just an inversion of the common expression “rub me up the wrong way” combined with the genie idea. If it was a man singing it, I’d probably concede that it was a bit rude-sounding.

  27. 27
    pink champale on 8 Dec 2014 #

    #I am a bit mystified how you can hear this a a record that no one has been arsed over. There’s a million different production ideas going on, with all manner of strange little background flourishes going off, Xtina singing as if she’s taken a bet no to phrase anything in the same way twice and each phrase then getting a different wierd production effect. And it’s not like there’s not a strong song there either, there are four or five great hooks. Okay so the lyrics are basic, but no more so than ‘You really got me’ or something. I like it very much, an eight or a nine.

    I recently went to a sing-along-a-Frozen with my very keen six year old and about 50 of her contemporaries. In many ways it was lovely. Harmonically it got avant garde in places.

  28. 28
    Rory on 8 Dec 2014 #

    Primary school kids are a relatively older market as far as “Let It Go” is concerned. My daughter is in the Big Room at nursery and it’s all the rage with the 3-to-4 set. She would sing it to us based on hearing it second-hand from her friends long before I cracked and watched the movie with her. Hearing it sung properly hasn’t changed her own delivery much. (Frozen is good fun, by the way, as these things go.)

    I’m not sure how much younger kids would drive sales of the single, though. They would be hearing it from endless viewings of the DVD or the song’s YouTube video, rather than as a stand-alone song. Or second-hand from their friends.

  29. 29
    Tom on 8 Dec 2014 #

    The thing with a purely sexual reading of “rub” is it pushes the meaning of the chorus into “If you want me you have to get me off”, which would be in broad contradiction to the verses, which are more “Yes I’m turned on but I’m not ready”. For the verses to make sense “rub” needs to be a stand in for “treat”. As Christina repeatedly said it was in interviews. Not that it’s unheard of for meaning in a pop song to fall apart under inspection, obviously! And clearly the double meaning is there if you want it. But I’m inclined to believe her.

  30. 30
    Mark M on 8 Dec 2014 #

    Re25: If they don’t, how are they going to grow up to be proper South Londoners?

  31. 31
    mapman132 on 8 Dec 2014 #

    Looks we’ve let the Christina thread go in an unexpected direction :)

    The success of Idina Menzel’s version of “Let It Go” over Demi Lovato finally proved something I had always strongly suspected: That the “pop-friendly” versions of Disney songs were superfluous and given the choice, most people would choose the real thing every time. Before single songs became widely available via MP3 purchases and streamings, only the watered-down versions were ever released as singles so this market was effectively invisible outside of sales of the whole soundtrack. I wonder if Disney will stop producing the pop versions moving forward.

    In the US, Menzel peaked at #5 and stuck around the chart for ages while Lovato stumbled to #38 and was gone quickly. I’ve heard Menzel on the radio, although not until she was already in the top 10 since as usual programmers were hesitant to add a recording that sounded so different from almost everything else they play. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Lovato’s version on the radio.

  32. 32
    mapman132 on 8 Dec 2014 #

    #19, 22: Also worth noting that Menzel is only a year or two older than the performer of “Bunny”. Of course he’s had hit singles before although he really only became a major star recently.

  33. 33
    anto on 8 Dec 2014 #

    I prefer this to a lot of what followed. I found her voice a bit too foghorn-ish, even rather mucous-y on her bigger-sounding songs. The production deserves a lot of credit for why ‘Genie in a Bottle’ still sounds so confident.

  34. 34
    thefatgit on 8 Dec 2014 #

    I turn my back for a second, and everyone…

    Anyway, Christina. It’s a lovely debut to these ears, with some interesting latinesque (?) flourishes. I would say my main memory of this was a radio staple that kinda crept up on me, not thinking much of it until after maybe half a dozen plays until I realised Christina had charmed her way into my consciousness. I’m probably going to be like many others who will come across upcoming Xtina bunnies and mark down accordingly. In the meantime, 8 is pretty bang on.

  35. 35
    Shiny Dave on 8 Dec 2014 #

    #32: If anything, he’s more prevalent (at least in Popular terms) as one of the leading producers of the futurist-R&B sound – which, to go back to the original topic, is the sound “Genie In A Bottle” is aping. I think he’s still bunnied as a singer until 2013, but I imagine he has a production credit on at least one bunny between now and then.

    #31 – But here’s the thing, *is* “Let It Go” that different from some of the ballads that do get radio airplay? And if it is, *how* is it? That’s actually a very interesting question.

    Vocally, Idina Menzel wouldn’t sound much out of place amidst the likes of Aguilera and the talent-show successors of whom we’ll see a lot more – at a push I’d say her delivery has something stagey about it in that she’s enunciating almost to a fault, but as I noted in my initial derailing comment, she’s pretty much operating from the same playbook (and certainly using some of the same tricks) as Aguilera et al., and I’m pretty sure each of them could happily handle material meant for the other. (How long you’d have to lock Aguilera in a studio for to get her to sing “Let It Go” in an actually sing-a-longable form is anyone’s guess, but it’d probably work if you could. A Menzel cover of Bunnied Aguilera Ballad almost certainly would.)

    With that said, there’s enough of a perception of a difference that one of the other workshops run by the aforementioned Anne-Marie Speed – the “Pop and Studio Day” – is focused on how musical theatre singers can adapt to pop music, with an assumption that “getting rid of the MT sound” is part of this. This is despite the fact that the teaching methodology she uses – the Estill Model, essentially an attempted unified theory of the voice and how it sounds different as you use it differently – is both very common in Speed’s home field of musical theatre and increasingly in the training of pop singers, especially now in the stage school era we talked about with Billie where the early training of pop singers very often is in MT. (The other common teaching methodology for pop singers, Speech Level Singing, has some fairly substantial differences with Estill, and it’s notable that in Speed’s time under Cowell a currently-bunnied member of that year’s coaching panel who had her acts work with her – SLS-using – vocal coach “to gain an edge” ended up with her coming nowhere near winning despite the consensus strongest category, the pre-live-show favourite apparently reporting being “confused by the coaching.” Not sure how much SLS is or was used in MT, although the answer isn’t “not at all” because I’ve had a couple of one-off lessons with SLS-using teachers with an MT background.)

    #21 And to tie all of *those* together, Menzel was a Cowell show guest last night! Plugging her Christmas album via a duet with (checks for bunnies…) Michael Bublé. Annoyingly, of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which is the song that puts me off buying or Christmas-listing that album. I just can’t help thinking of Menzel responding to Bublé by snapping back to Elsa and insisting the cold never bothered her anyway…

    It well may be* that in the 21st century (and “Genie In A Bottle” is clearly one of those 1999 hits that foreshadows the next decade, in the same way that the 2010s synth-pop sound really emerges with some 2009 bunnies) pop singers and musical theatre singers are essentially using the same technical tools for different ends. Might the difference, in fact, come down to the difference between a live orchestra and recording studio production? Fortunately, we can look at this through both directions – “stage singers do pop” is a frequent occurrence because of the rise of the pop jukebox musical (though the best-known example of that is based on the songs of a band with its own distinctive vocal histrionics), and Menzel has a pop album, “I Stand,” which was largely a co-write with Glen Ballard (previous reputation: producing and co-writing “Jagged Little Pill” and at least part of “Bad” and “Thriller”).

    * word order entirely deliberate in context of discussing Menzel… and I had a couple of minutes being *convinced* she was indirectly bunnied by association with a US TV show, but a quick check suggests that isn’t the case.

  36. 36
    Billy Hicks on 9 Dec 2014 #

    Wonderful stuff, one that I’m surprised was a big summer hit in the States as it fits much more with a melancholic autumn feel. Not quite as good as the Britney behemoth, but my favourite track of Christina’s and a classic (and forward thinking) of the class of ’99.

    8 I’m agreed with.

  37. 37
    mapman132 on 9 Dec 2014 #

    #35 Thanks for the analysis. I’m nowhere near enough a music theorist to figure out how or why showtunes sound different from “standard” pop music on the radio, I just know that they do. Of course, showtune-sounding pop music is no stranger to the top of the charts – ABBA being an obvious example.

  38. 38
    James on 9 Dec 2014 #

    If all was fair in love and pop, I would be able to get through talking about this track without talking about a certain miss Britney Jean Spears. As it isn’t, I’m unable to and Aguilera was always going to suffer from being second out of the bat in relation to Britney who was already practically a household name by this point (though, I’d pity the likes of Mandy Moore and Jessica Simpson more – they never stood a chance with such fierce competition). In the UK anyway, Christina’s never been as popular as Britney though weirdly in the U.S. it seems she was so for a while; all the singles from her first album went into the Billboard Hot 100 Top 3 whilst many of Britney’s post ‘BOMT’ seem to linger in the low Top 10/Top 20 range (though clearly, Spears was miles ahead on album sales)

    ‘Genie in a Bottle’ is an OK pop song, it can’t compare with ‘Baby..’not that it really should have too, but it’s being sung by a singer who doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with being a blonde bubblegum pop princess. Britney always seemed more comfortable being that than Aguilera did because, let’s face it, Britney’s never really been all that talented. She’s a decent enough singer and dancer, but she’s not a song-writer or producer and seemed perfectly happy to let her career be run by the man upstairs whilst occasionally taking over and being assertive. Aguilera was never happy with that, at least as far as I can tell. She’s a better singer, and she wanted more control of her career and her first era always seems to be her coasting until she reaches something better. Which she does, but more on that when we reach it. But within the confides of 1999, Aguilera’s being put into a battle that she can’t ever hope to win. She’s not the shy, innocent 18-year old ingenue that Britney was and it shows, even now, as ‘Genie’ seems a hell of a lot more suggestive than anything Britney did until ‘Slave 4 U’

    Also, to wade in on the ‘Frozen’ discussion, I do like “Let It Go” but it’s certainly not my favourite from the soundtrack. That dubious honor goes to “The First Time in Forever” which is quite lovely, and Kristen Bell has a surprisingly decent voice. Don’t have much time for anything else on the soundtrack though.

  39. 39
    mapman132 on 9 Dec 2014 #

    I never thought about this before but maybe the singer that Christina should have been competing against wasn’t Britney at all, but a certain woman from the other (i.e. my) end of Pennsylvania who was about the same age but hadn’t yet hit her stride in 1999. They even performed on the same bunnied hit (and apparently developed a feud during its recording). An example of the direction Christina could’ve gone in perhaps?

  40. 40
    swanstep on 9 Dec 2014 #

    I don’t like this at normal radio/tv volumes, but when you get GIAB though headphones or at club volumes then the adventurous kick drum (maybe the most fun since Blue Monday’s or even Bonham’s in ‘Good Times/Bad Times’) becomes a *huge* hook, balancing all the keyboards and vocals, and sells the track. In some respects this feels like a model for the dual-prongedness of Aguilera’s initial impact. She could sing up a storm, but a lot of people, esp. guys are relatively immune to that. But she also could swing/shimmy those hips like nobody’s business (this doesn’t come through much in GIAB’s vid. but her subsequent vids would go to that well almost every time – show me someone who doesn’t like ‘Come on Over’ and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t seen the first minute of its vid.) and had a surprisingly sexual presence for someone so tiny and skinny and young. And everybody, but guys especially, noticed that. The upshot in the US at least was that Aguilera amazing quickly became a consensus popster that almost everybody, both sexes and most ages could tolerate and even like quite a bit (whereas Britney’s and Backstreet’s appeals both skewed younger). GIAB remains a record that I admire rather than love (I feel the same way about ‘Bills, Bills, Bills’ as it happens; I bought ‘Unpretty’ around this time by way of comparison). The barely there Middle 8 is a demerit (although ‘Unpretty’ didn’t do much better now I think about it) and I’ve never liked the brassy synth in the second half of the verses and in the choruses, so just scraping in with a:

  41. 41
    JLucas on 9 Dec 2014 #

    #39 – the singer you mention is actually indirectly responsible for Christina’s biggest bunny to come. But I’ll save that for when we get to it.

  42. 42
    Mark M on 10 Dec 2014 #

    Re assorted: I’ve always preferred Girl Wants To Say Goodbye, the What A Girl Wants/Rock & Roll mash-up to Stroke Of Genius. Maybe because in that case I like the original Aguilera song less…

  43. 43
    Ed on 11 Dec 2014 #

    “Genie In A Bottle is following a playbook of 90s pop number ones… reaching across for inspiration to the R&B… charts.”

    50s, 60s, 70s and 80s number ones as well, no?

    Probably 2000s and 10s as well, although I wasn’t paying so much attention then.

  44. 44
    Kinitawowi on 11 Dec 2014 #

    Took me a while to work out that liking Christina Aguilera wasn’t that skeevy (I’m only three months older than her, apparently).

    Took me a while longer to realise that I actually thought she was pretty good – right up until the release of I Turn To You, in fact (a song that reduced me to tears in about two listens). As noted, she always seemed more comfortable belting out film soundtracks than bouncing around the poppy stuff – I Turn To You is a classic Diane Warren composition originally recorded by All-4-One for the Space Jam OST, although it was arguably more classic when recorded by Celine Dion and called Because You Loved Me – and the single edit of Come On Over is particularly wretched (album version’s pretty good though).

    In the meantime, Genie In A Bottle was a relatively slow burner for me – as a 19-year-old uni student the video had relatively easy appeal but the song took a while to get into. Reanalysing the lyrics properly fifteen years later reveals much; as brashly sexual as “gotta rub me the right way” sounds, the song is actually surprisingly nervy. “My body’s sayin’ let’s go / but my heart is sayin’ no” (shame Tom, recheck the lyrics) is the repeated key; physically ready but emotionally uncertain (“hormones racing at the speed of light / but that don’t mean it’s gotta be tonight”). Not a girl, not yet a woman – oh wait, that was the other one.


  45. 45
    دانلود سریال on 13 Dec 2014 #

    very nice

  46. 46
    ciaran on 15 Dec 2014 #

    Christina Aguilera has always appeared a lot more trashy compared to the classy Britney but as someone suggested Moore and Simpson especially suffered by arriving on the scene at the same time but they were pretty much Britney clones and had to settle for 2nd best.

    Bar 1999 of course neither Christina or Britney really crossed swords at the same time a la Blur/Oasis. Every second year/third year from 2000-09 roughly was more or less one or the other on form so the rivalry was a bit overstated. If anything Christina has been in the shadows since the arrival of Lady ‘Bunny’.

    Christina should have the more interesting career given the change of styles but it just has never done much for me at all. Like the sort of girl you were warned to stay away from. We’ll get to the bunnies in due course but in 2002 with the ghastly red light district image and 2006(non bunnied admittedly) especially Aguileira was overexposed beyond belief. One of the last big names of the fading Compact Disc era.Good singer and great presence but ‘Meh’.

    X Factor comparisons are a given but Stars in their Eyes would be more like it. Tonight Matthew I’m Going To Be….

    However GIAB is a surprise at just how vibrant it is and it makes me wish that she made a lot more records like this compared to some of the dreary output of the next decade.A step into the big bad world and succeeding.A bit like Usher with You Make Me Wanna being a slight glimpse of the dominance that followed and moving on to bigger things. Only Aguilera never really betters GIAB.Everything in its right place.

    An original good girl who would go bad. 7

  47. 47
    Cumbrian on 30 Dec 2014 #

    Unsure as to what to say about this when it came up at the time, I think I’ve finally got something to say.

    The Freelance Hellraiser version of this is the one that I know back to front – to the extent that I barely remembered the original version’s backing at all before re-listening to it – and it’s still a high-water mark of the mash up scene in my view. The tension in the lyrics identified by Kinitawowi plays out with the racing guitars standing in for teenage hormones, cleverly sitting on the same chords and offering none of the changes that the Strokes play out over the course of their song, and thus keeping it claustrophobic. Even the title of The Strokes song used works well in describing the mental collisions that can happen when teenagers start to confront sex as more than a theoretical act.

    It was thus with some surprise that on returning to the original that I discovered something that I think, though slightly flawed (as with Swanstep, I’m not a fan of the synthy sounding horns) is a bit of a winner production wise. There’s lots of different elements in there – piano flourishes, that kick drum/bassline burbling away underneath, subtle synth lines – yet it still provides a remarkable amount of space for Christina Aguilera to do her thing, especially on the verses. I’m not a fan of over-emoting either, so the restraint shown here was most welcome – I suspect that the producer may have had a hand here, given what comes from Christina in future entries when she may well have had more of a hand in deciding how to tackle the songs. I even think that that the slight underselling of the first chorus is a solid choice – the longer the song goes on, the more interested she becomes in getting her point across in the chorus. It’s not quite holding the tension between hormones and thoughts in the same way that Freelance Hellraiser manages but it’s doing a similar job, I think. All in all, much more than good; I’d even think about elevating it above the mash up now.

    Other things raised in the thread: other US pop singers out of the gate after Britney. Mandy Moore now only really singing back up on her husband’s albums – and, at that, seemingly only really on the songs that are about relationships turning south (looking at the liner notes for Ryan Adams’ latest) – not that this is any indication of trouble in paradise as far as I am aware (also Ryan Adam’s latest a much better Tom Petty rip than The Strokes ever managed). No new album from Mandy Moore since 2009 at least and more likely to be found doing voice acting for children’s TV shows. Similarly, Jessica Simpson – no new album since 2010 and seemingly more interested in TV herself now too. Is anyone weeping for the lost records from these artists?

    On bootlegs: typical record industry thought c. 2000 – bootlegs/mashups were being heavily frowned upon by the BPI. Sniffy pronouncements about how when you buy a record, it’s for listening to, not for altering in any way, being made in the press and the like. Of course, to me, this just made the whole scene seem more exciting and, in the end, of course, they wound up co-opting people into the mainstream from the culture. More anon, obviously.

    Let It Go/Frozen: this one rumbles on and on. Disney set to make big profits this year, as kids are still massively into Frozen and want the toys, the outfits, the books, etc. In this respect, it’s not a problem that it didn’t go to #1 for them I would suspect. Indeed, the long running engagement with the property, on the terms of the child, may well be helping them, rather than making one big bang and then it dissipating thereafter.

  48. 48
    Mark M on 30 Dec 2014 #

    Re47: The early Mandy Moore stuff seem to take Britney’s vocal tics and exaggerate them way past bearable. But unlike Jessica Simpson, her subsequent acting and music career felt like she was trying to do something interesting, if rarely getting there (e.g. appearing in Richard Kelly’s notorious/fascinating but often unwatchable flop Southland Tales). I like this, the single from her last (so far) album.
    (The one thing that did set her apart from Britney, Xtina and Jessica, was, of course, that (physically) she towers above them. As William Goldman suggested, showbiz is that rare area of life where being shorter works in your favour).

  49. 49
    Steve Mannion on 30 Dec 2014 #

    #47 I don’t recall any specific rhetoric from the BPI re mash-ups but any wholesale dismissal would’ve been absurd given the long-established inclusion of ‘a capella’ and instrumental versions on many single releases especially within hip hop, r&b and house.

    Not that they were wrong to be concerned with the democratisation of the process and the increased availability of the materials through illegal channels though, regardless of how many good and/or bad mashes materialised…

    Late ’99 is when I first started making them and hearing them more regularly outside of more single-genre mixes. I heard one of the Beastie Boys “Intergalactic” vocals over a number of disco/funk hits (“Oh What A Night”, “You Sexy Thing”) through a friend and this plus MTV’s audacious and ambitious Megamix show stringing and splicing together dozens of dance hits (a few examples of which are on YouTube and a follow on from their brilliant MTV Party Zone Massive mixes) inspired me to have a go. When the first Erol Alkan mash-ups, “A Stroke Of Genieus” and Osymyso’s “Intro Inspection” started getting XFM airplay a little later I knew this was the (next) bandwagon for me :)

  50. 50
    Cumbrian on 30 Dec 2014 #

    #49: Comment from the BPI in this particular article.


    The mashup scene is probably the only scene I was properly a part of in my whole music fandom – though just as a consumer, club goer and internet user – as I was too young and out of the metropolitan area to be really part of the Britpop scene. Credit to you for getting involved. The slight lawlessness of it all, the democratisation of the process as you put it, and the sense that you could hear something startling that changed the way you perceived hitherto pigeon-holed tracks (or even whole genres) was genuinely exciting. It opened doors for me to music that I perhaps wouldn’t have bothered with (due to the – perhaps – usual teenage closedmindedness to stuff outside my comfort zone), so it was important for me. But most importantly, it was fun – at a time when the music that I had been listening to and enjoying (Britpop essentially) got more and more mired in joylessness, it was brilliant to be listening to the radio or be in a club and hear something that made you smile, laugh or just cheer. If it were logistically possible to go around and just say thanks to all the people that did stuff that got that reaction from me, I’d do it (sadly age and responsibilities preclude an opportunity for such an adventure – the stuff a mediocre blog could be made of I guess). On that basis alone, the BPI were always going to be fighting a losing battle, in my view.

  51. 51
    Cumbrian on 30 Dec 2014 #

    #48: I forgot that Mandy Moore was in Southland Tales – I’ve got that on DVD somewhere at home; I can’t even remember why I have it, as it is notoriously badly reviewed. I seem to remember that the story picks up in media res and if you really want to know what the hell is going on, you need to have bought and read three prequel comic books – this is not helpful in terms of attracting a wider audience obviously. Maybe I should dig it out again – the only bit that really stuck out in my mind was Justin Timberlake lip-synching to The Killers in one of the best bits of the film – certainly the bit that was most visually arresting.

    That song’s alright. A bit indie-pop – better than I remember her rather breathy vocals from when she was a pop star. I think that indie-ish direction led to her meeting Ryan Adams in the first place to be honest. I can’t think that there are too many places where Ryan Adams and Mandy Moore’s pop incarnation would meet – but that could be just my own lack of imagination.

    Having looked at her filmography, she was the voice of Rapunzel in Disney’s Tangled as well and sang the big number on that one – and then we’re obliquely back to Frozen, as this conversation dances around in circles.

  52. 52
    Mark M on 30 Dec 2014 #

    Re51: I really wanted to like Southland Tales – I like the idea of people still having a go at that late-’60s style madness. But it’s a total shambles. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (out already in the US, I think, and here in January) is, I reckon, an object lesson in how you can create an atmosphere of drug-fuelled paranoia and belief in assorted conspiracy theories, with seemingly dozens of characters, while the director actually remains precisely in control of everything .

  53. 53
    Cumbrian on 9 Feb 2015 #

    Re:47. Turns out, as ever, I know nothing – given that Mandy Moore and Ryan Adams are divorcing.

    It’s really turned me around on the lyrics on that album and the gig that I saw Ryan do in London prior to Christmas. It now seems like a classic break up album with lyrics asking himself some pretty difficult and interesting questions (I was messed up and taking too many drugs before getting married; if this relationship ends, will I be able to hold it together? being a key theme of at least two of the tracks) and the set list that he has been hawking around on tour (playing most of his new album and several of the break up songs from his previous albums – including one that hasn’t been released yet) continues the theme. For a guy who won’t talk about his personal life, famously hanging up on an interviewer who asked one question too many about his wife (i.e. asking question number 2 about his wife after being told that he doesn’t talk about her), he appears to wear his heart on his sleeve with his songs. I’m seeing him again in a few weeks – it will be interesting to see whether he switches things up.

    I also wonder whether Mandy will go back to making music now or whether she’s going to continue her (voice) acting career. Interesting times.

  54. 54
    Elmtree on 11 Feb 2015 #

    I’ve always wondered if this was a subtle Spice Girls homage, given the ‘wanna be’ hook and pop-feminist lyrics, but I’ve never seen anyone else suggest this.

    It’s a very appealing piece of work in any case-not as attention-grabbing as a Max Martin production but everything is in the right place. Eight seems right to me. While I’m not holding this against it, it also belongs in the classic pop genre of songs that are happy to talk about doing things to your/my body but not ready to go into further detail.

  55. 55
    animal on 20 Dec 2017 #

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  56. 56

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  57. 57
    Tammi Stinker on 27 Apr 2018 #

    one of the bestest songs ever made. It’s a shame nobody makes songs like this anymore.

  58. 58

    […] 18 October 1999. Tom Ewing’s Popular tells me Christina Aguilera is at #1 with Genie in a Bottle. She’s mostly interesting at this point in terms of her rivalry with Britney, and that, in turn, […]

  59. 59
    Gareth Parker on 4 May 2021 #

    Really good pop single here I would say. I’m in agreement with Tom’s mark of 8/10.

  60. 60
    Mr Tinkertrain on 20 Jun 2022 #

    Not mentioned above, but in 2004 largely forgotten Scottish indie-rockers Speedway had a top 10 hit with a cover of this song, which skewed pretty close to the Strokes mash-up that did the rounds. It was solid enough I guess.

    I think I was fairly cool on Genie In A Bottle at the time but it holds up very well, moreso than most of Christina’s later material. Nice balance of sophistication and restraint. I probably prefer this to …Baby One More Time, on balance. I can go with 8 here.

  61. 61
    flahr on 21 Jun 2022 #

    In much the same way as those six old geezers skewed pretty close to the Hatton Garden safe deposit boxes.

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