Sep 19


Popular18 comments • 3,261 views

#942, 23rd November 2002

Christina Aguilera’s album title, Stripped, has an obvious double-meaning, one she’s been keen to point out to interviewers. Stripping off, yes, clearly, but also stripping back, removing the layers of industry wrapping to reveal the individual underneath. Raw or in the raw, she’s saying, this is the real thing. Or at least, realer than the last one.

So the specific nastiness of “Dirrty”’s show-stopping video is the point. “To say that this is normal young woman’s sexuality is just not fair”, worried one critic, but that’s exactly the trap Aguilera’s trying to evade – the way women who write or sing or dance about sex are turned into a spokeswoman for some fictional monolith of “female sexuality”. “Dirrty” rejects that idea, presenting a moment of highly individual sexuality – grease and muscle and sweat and mud and battle, aestheticized in all their filthy heat by director David LaChapelle.

You might say, well hold on, this all still ends up pandering to male fantasies, and it’s true that the male gaze is not an easy thing to escape, especially in a pop industry structured by it, and especially when your video career has already been defined by it. But “Dirrty”’s confident grubbiness is designed to challenge as much as arouse, to at least hold the gaze until it flinches. Unlike the video it’s closest to in vibe – Frankie’s bacchanalian “Relax” – Aguilera is protagonist and participant, not just a guide. She’s also stressed that “Dirrty” is her favourite of her videos less because of the end product than because of how much fun it was to do – dancing and splashing around in water, working with directors and rappers she respected, sparking joy.

Much of that aggressive delight survives in “Dirrty” as a song, but not all. As a record, it’s deliberately one-note, four minutes of pounding, chanting, get-in-the-ring music, borrowing the beat from guest star Redman’s own “Let’s Get Dirty”, a track about getting cross when a bouncer won’t let you in a club. But “Dirrty” is way busier than Redman’s track, falling over itself in a riot of incident, the rhythm forced to jostle with basslines and ugly keyboard stabs and vocal overdubs, which nudge the song closer to a pop sound without losing its roughness. I’d remembered the track as less cluttered than it is, something closer to the precisely slinky minimalism of a Neptunes production – instead it’s a tumult closer to the maximalist bro-hop approach of MOP’s “Ante Up”.

Yet the whole clamorous backing track plays second fiddle to Christina herself, as in the video the centre of this crush of activity. If “Dirrty” boxes in Aguilera’s vocal range, it makes up for that by how freely it lets her belt the song out, her ululating “whoa” before Redman’s verse like a victory howl. When she surges back in after for the climax the song has stopped being ‘about’ partying or sex or anything other than the physicality of her voice and the beat. That last minute is where the sound wrests back control from the visuals, where Aguilera’s ownership of her song and her moment is total.



  1. 1
    ThePensmith on 8 Sep 2019 #

    I liked ‘Genie In A Bottle’ and ‘What A Girl Wants’, largely in spite of the artist, for everything I feel about Christina Aguilera can be directly attributed to JLucas’ feelings on her in the Popular entry for the former song. The fact she spent much of the ‘Stripped’ album campaign emphasising she was ‘a real artist’ didn’t warm to me much either.

    ‘Dirrty’ isn’t too dramatic a departure from ‘Lady Marmalade’ in terms of its more overt promiscuity it was channeling. But it’s one of those songs tied so essentially to the video and her numerous chap donning performances for the song on TV (one of which on CD:UK attracted a fair few complaints to Ofcom, leading to them shunting anything that wasn’t 11:30am on a Saturday morning friendly to a new late night video show called CD:UK Hotshots that ran alongside the main show until it’s ending in 2006), but it’s also a bloody racket. It’s not an easy record to listen to by any stretch of the imagination. There’s a way to do busy and throw in everything including the kitchen sink to pop music, and this isn’t it. As far as the titillation angle went, it left 14 year old me a bit cold. See also a 2003 bunny we’ll meet shortly that seemed to get lumped in with this in the whole ‘Sex sells’ debate that was rife in pop at that time.

    It certainly didn’t gel well with her audience in the States, and this tanked over there, peaking at #48 on the Billboard chart. One thing that did annoy me slightly in this ‘Stripped’ era of her career – which we can discuss more at her next entry, but which ties in a little to the rivalry you touched on at the ‘Genie’ entry Tom – was the fact that as Britney took a year out (she’d just released her cover of ‘I Love Rock ‘n Roll’ as the fifth single from her third album to a modest top 20 debut here a week before this) it was suddenly fair game for the UK media to declare her as ‘over’ and that Christina was the one with the ‘real’ career, simply because she happened to be promoting and touring music when Britney was simply having a year off. This and the subsequent furore over the Justin ‘Cry Me A River’ video and his numerous post-break up interviews seemed to be setting the narrative of Britney in the media not just nationally but globally that I would argue contributed to her relationship with her music career in the latter part of the Noughties. As for ‘Dirrty’ – 1 from me.

    #2 watch – Nelly and Kelly rebounded to runner up slot in Week 1. Will Young’s first non number one single with ‘You And I’ and the forgotten ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ for Children In Need in Week 2, leading a top 5 of several new entries including Jennifer Lopez’s ‘Jenny From The Block’ and S Club’s first single as a six piece with ‘Alive’ that was their lowest charting to date at #5.

  2. 2
    Lee Saunders on 8 Sep 2019 #

    The most striking thing by far to me is how, from the first moment you hear vocals, you don’t stop hearing vocals until its over, not even for a second. It feels like there’s a thousand vocal tracks and it flickers between them restlessly, and that’s in moments when its not piling them on top of each other. The instrumental – driven mostly rude shrieks of distorted bass – sounds completely stark on its own (I’d never heard the breaking glass sound until I sought the instrumental out). So in this sense it reminds me somewhat of a 2005 bunny and more-so of a huge 2008 non-bunny by an artist we will meet solo for the first time next year.

    And yet the only actual part that sticks in the head seems to be the DIRRR-TYY! The whole thing pivots on that alone. I guess many would struggle to sing any of the other 6,000 words in the song, except maybe “sweat pouring over my…BOD-Y!” Some might call it ‘production over song’ as there really isn’t much ‘song’ here, perhaps the biggest example in a #1 by a mainstream pop act since My Camera Never Lies? I can’t imagine anyone doing it at karaoke.

    For all that I found it hard to make my mind up over the years, I’ve finally agreed that is far too compelling to put down. As a song it does conjure up a dirtiness but it really resists being made sense of. A great WTF moment, very rousing as every second of the song brings another rapid shift in the vocals, like a fast cut action film, to stir your attention away, and it manages it without entering headache territory.


    Though I have no memory of the video or controversy at the time I do remember the album being everywhere. I’m glad the jeans with the, uh, unusual patch never caught on.

    (Hope this isn’t double posting, its telling me my comment isn’t going through?)

  3. 3
    Shiny Dave on 8 Sep 2019 #

    A thought: this might be a deceptively close spiritual successor to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in one key sense – that song was an almighty wallop of relentless impact, with a singer powerful enough to add to that impact rather than be lost in it.

    Obviously the details are quite different – the production wallop comes from rap rather than rock, it’s a party anthem not a power ballad, Tyler’s voice is significantly lower – but that’s a comparison that springs to mind quite readily for me, especially as you gave that the same mark.

    Maybe I see it that way because as someone who is likely asexual and definitely easily squicked – the latter makes it hard for me to say the former with any confidence – I almost certainly saw the video once and went “ewwww,” and haven’t thought about it since. Maybe I turned on Xtina at the time for it, maybe this happened just too soon for that – I don’t think my feminist epiphany had happened yet, but when it did it was initially sex-negative second-wave stuff (unsurprising really, given my own Squick around sex!) – exactly the strain to turn on this kind of male-gaze video and claim the performers involved didn’t have agency even when (as here) they absolutely did.

    (That strain of feminism and the extent to which it prevailed in 21st-century Britain is arguably primarily a topic for a 2013 bunny, but suffice to say that I very gradually shifted away from it due to its stance on trans rights. The fact I had a close university friend who was the only asexual person I knew – and I the only one they knew! – and happened not to be cis? That was a heck of a way for me to separate out the sex-negativity from the transphobia, and I’m not sure I don’t go full “TERF” if I didn’t know them. They conducted the chamber octet at my wedding reception, and I’d probably be far more in touch with them if they hadn’t relocated to Vietnam.)

  4. 4
    Shiny Dave on 8 Sep 2019 #

    I had a long comment that didn’t get through, I don’t know if this will fare any better?

    If both go through, here’s a tldr of what I wrote – high-impact walloping production and vocals to match for a combo weirdly reminding me of “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” video couldn’t possibly appeal less to me and it took a while for me to realise that didn’t make it problematic.

    I didn’t give a mark then and I can’t give it one now. Suspect it’d be middling.

  5. 5
    AMZ1981 on 8 Sep 2019 #

    For me this is very much in the `quite like it considering it’s not my thing` category. It felt like a proper hit single cutting through the dreck and is all the better for it.

    Except perhaps it wasn’t quite as big as it felt. It topped the charts with a relatively low sale and held on with an even lower one. And the odd thing is that it wasn’t for lack of competition. As The Pensmith has noted there were a number of high profile new releases during both weeks (which presumably would have had first week discounting going for them as well). Available parent albums may well have been a factor but in addition to the ones mentioned Sugababes could only make 7 with their latest single, Blazin Squad a place above them at 6. With hindsight this is perhaps the start of the chill in the physical market that will really kick in two years from now and also perhaps the end of the fanbase era – if you had the money to buy one single a week and plenty of high profile acts have new songs to choose from, the consumer appears to be making their choose on the song rather than the artist. For two weeks in late November 2002 they chose Dirrty.

  6. 6
    PinkChampale on 8 Sep 2019 #

    Yes. Nearly 20 years on and in a Pornhub world, the video is still oddly, and I suppose, brilliantly shocking – “grubbiness”is definitely the right word. Without it the song is a bit too much of a blare to be enjoyable I think.

    #3 not sure putting quote marks round a misogynist slur makes it okay.

  7. 7
    Shiny Dave on 8 Sep 2019 #

    6) If memory serves the term was actually created by them (as an acronym that was descriptive of their place on one side of the intra-feminist split) but certainly it’s been a… Contested term. One arguably at the heart of particularly *British* 2010s feminist debate – in America there’s seemingly a general consensus that trans rights are something feminists approve of, and in Britain there’s obviously a lot of feminists who don’t. (That division literally played out between the Guardian and its US online offshoot last year!)

    As I hopefully made clear, I am on one side of this divide but nearly landed on the other, so I’m certainly well aware of the contested nature of the term. And that contested nature is why I dropped the quote marks.

  8. 8
    PinkChampale on 8 Sep 2019 #

    Fair enough. Fwiw I don’t accept the framing that this is about feminists not approving of trans rights, as much as feminists not approving of women’s sex-based rights being dismantled. But….I’m aware that lots of people I otherwise agree with are on the other side of the argument and this is very much not the place to have the debate.

  9. 9
    Grace Carpinter on 8 Sep 2019 #

    TERF is not a slur. Period.

  10. 10
    sbahnhof on 9 Sep 2019 #

    “this is very much not the place to have the debate”

    no, it isn’t.

    “instead it’s a tumult closer to the maximalist bro-hop approach of MOP’s ‘Ante Up'”

    Can’t believe that didn’t get to number 1. Contained a few swear words IIRC

  11. 11
    James BC on 9 Sep 2019 #

    The video certainly shocked me. Alongside a men’s magazine cover around the same time, and even allowing for the idea that a former teen star is going to want to show her more adult side (Slave 4 U was the obvious precedent at the time), I was genuinely surprised she went as far as she did. Mission accomplished there, except that I was surprised again, rewatching it now, that her performance looks almost polite in places. It turns out that Christina is mostly doing the kind of formation-choreography moves that were absolutely standard for pop at the time – the moves and costumes are overtly sexual, but the way she’s performing the routine, hitting her marks, going through the motions, is still quite Mickey Mouse Club.

    There’s a similar thing going on musically. She wants to sound raw, raucous and unleashed, but the tools she’s using to accomplish that are a box of vocal tricks that she’s gained through endless rehearsal, possibly supplemented with a rigorous camomile and honey regime. If she was really dirrty she’d sound like Johnny Rotten and not get anywhere near those notes. So it’s a performance that rather undermines itself, much like the art school woman in Common People. It also occupies quite a contradictory place in Christina’s career, in that it’s meant to signal her arrival as an artiste, but in fact turned out to be more or less her peak.

    As for me personally, I’d put this song in a category with It’s Raining Men: huge party starter no doubt, but there’s no way I can dance to it myself because I just can’t offer the level of commitment that it would demand. 6 it is.

  12. 12
    Kinitawowi on 9 Sep 2019 #

    As someone who was always more drawn to Aguilera’s belters (see notes on Genie), I couldn’t help but find this a massive disappointment. “The girl can sing, so f’kin well LET HER SING!” (as I may have bemoaned for the next half dozen albums :(

    Relistening now for the first time in ages… well, she’s more in control of the record than I ever gave her credit for, for sure. But Redman’s interlude tells the story of what the song really is, and I still don’t like it. Club stompers and R&B party bangers are never going to be for me, I guess. And I don’t know entirely what point you’re trying to make, but learn to spell. 4.

  13. 13
    ThePensmith on 16 Sep 2019 #

    One other crucial thing I overlooked about this – this entered at number one on Mark Goodier’s final show as host of the Top 40 on BBC Radio 1, which was both the 50th anniversary of the charts, and thus the basis of this very blog, and it was broadcast live from Maida Vale and had Robbie Williams playing four songs live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxL_ptHDAf8

    You can hear in his voice from the above clip that it was time for him to move on. I do remember thinking that it was an end of an era when he left because he’d been my chart host since I started listening. Between now and February the following year, a host of Radio 1 DJ’s filled in in the slot – some good (Mark Radcliffe), some terrible (Jo Whiley) before Scott Mills did the whole of January to keep the seat warm for the big relaunch. He incidentally wasn’t given the slot full time until as recently as a couple of years ago.

  14. 14
    lonepilgrim on 22 Sep 2019 #

    I can remember the video playing repeatedly at the gym I half-heartedly frequented at this time and it’s hard to ignore or forget. The song is also compelling to listen to but it’s an indication of its repetitive nature that the rap comes as a welcome break (at least to my ears).
    I had no sense then of how, or if, this was reframing CA’s image as I had only a superficial knowledge of her career. Reading the wiki entry for the song the US backlash seems nonsensically puritanical however the Mad Max style bump and grind nature of the imagery presents a rather joyless vision of female empowerment that leaves one woman knocked out on the floor.

  15. 15
    General Bounce on 27 Sep 2019 #

    “Dirrty” is a much better record than I remember it, but I can’t get past the fact that compared to CA’s other songs there is far too much going on in it. It’s a cluttered, fussy record, and maybe that’s the point, but it doesn’t make it any easier to listen to. Which is a lot of the reason it became so tiresome at the time.

    There are some songs which just seem made for common trollops in town centre nightclubs to slut-drop and jiggle their breasts to, and this is one of them. Still, I’d rather hear this than “All About That Bass” or “My Humps” any day.

  16. 16
    Alan on 9 Oct 2019 #

    This is doing well in the reader score chart!

  17. 17
    Mark M on 27 Oct 2019 #

    I’ve always found this shouty and little else. Relentless, and not in a good way.

    Kind of fitting that Redman’s only appearance in the UK Top 10 should come on a guest spot – although he’s a reasonably distinctive-sounding MC, he’s mostly thrived in collaboration: initially as part of Erick Sermon’s Hit Squad/Def Squad, and then as part of a music-and-acting duo with Method Man. Although notionally an equal partnership, I’ve always – maybe unfairly – regarded Red as the sidekick.

  18. 18
    Gareth Parker on 3 Jun 2021 #

    #12 Bad spelling never hurt Slade! 5/10 for Christina.

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