Much of the early online reaction to "Not Myself Tonight" (and its racy, S&M-inspired video) wondered whether Aguilera was feeling the need to play catch-up with Lady Gaga, who's more or less come to dominate the dance-diva space in the years since "Back to Basics." "In these post-Gaga times," a post on New York magazine's Vulture blog asked, "can Aguilera carve out her piece of the pop-star pie?"
"I'm in it for the long haul, and a decade later in my career, I have nothing to prove," Aguilera says. "To anyone who wants to be negative, it's like, 'I'm obviously
relevant enough to you for you to care and to talk and to evoke negative feelings inside of you.' "
Rather than reflecting a desire to keep up with her successors, the singer says the new album is an expression of her femininity in all its forms: wife, mother, singer, actress. (After marrying Jordan Bratman nearly five years ago, Aguilera gave birth to the couple's first son, Max, in 2008.) " 'Bionic' to me is the definition of the superhuman abilities we as women have in everyday life," she says, adding that the outré spirit of much of the music is a reaction to "feeling stifled" by the supposed exclusivity of any of those roles. "I've grown and changed, and I've learned so much. I've never felt more confident, more secure, more sexy in my life than I do now."
There's no doubting that change: From an early stint on "The All New Mickey Mouse Club" (alongside Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake) to the boy-crazy bubble gum of "Genie in a Bottle" to the supremely raunchy "Dirrty" to the Andrews Sisters homage "Candyman," Aguilera's career has been a study in contrast.
"For me this album is simply a continuation of Christina's genius," says Aguilera's manager, Live Nation Entertainment chairman Irving Azoff. "Every time she breaks new ground and does amazing stuff. And she has the courage to sit there and say, 'What's good for the longtime brand? What's going to work in the live show?' She doesn't play the game of trying to create a record of what someone might expect. She grows as an artist every time, and this one is just another indication of that."
"There's two things you need to know about Christina Aguilera," says Polow Da Don, whose credits on the album include "Not Myself Tonight" and an especially spirited number called "I Hate Boys." "The first is that, as far as her singing goes, she's a professionally trained animal. And the other is that she knows exactly, absolutely what she wants."
Sia Furler, an Australian singer/songwriter (and former Zero 7 member) who co-wrote several songs on "Bionic," says she didn't perceive any anxiety on Aguilera's part in regard to the album's relatively left-field roster. "I don't think she thought it was a risk," Furler says. "She was just excited to get to work with the artists she loves. There's this misconception that she's a middle-America kind of person. But she's a little hipster. You go back to her house and sit by the fire with some wine, and what's playing over the sound system? The Knife and Arthur Russell. She doesn't listen to pop music."
"I get off on working with creative energy," Aguilera says emphatically, her hands punctuating her point. "That's when I'm most at home and feel happiest. And all these people brought about new sides of me. It was a big collaboration-fest, and it felt so good and rewarding in the end, because I was just so happy with the work and the new territories that I ventured out to."