After the pop icon opened her two-hour set standing atop a ceiling-high metal platform, donning a billowing bright red dress and matching beret for Liberation track “Maria,” Christina said from offstage, “Let’s take it back to my earliest days.” Text then flashed across a series of screens: THE... QUEEN… IS… BACK. The opening chords to “Dirrty” kicked in as a throne fit for pop royalty was revealed (picture the diva version of the throne Dave Grohl once toured with when his leg was broken). Christina then addressed the sold-out room: “New York, we come together as one tonight after 10 years. I know it’s been too too long, and it feels so good. You guys are giving me life.”
Not only was Christina, now 37, back on stage after a decade away, but she was fully candid about what kept her from performing. She graciously thanked fans for their patience and love, saying that the time away was spent being a mom (she has two children, 10-year-old son Max and 4-year-old daughter Summer). But, as she said herself, “I know when it’s time to come home to the stage. It’s long overdue -- trust me, my soul was suffering.”
Only four nights into her 24-date tour, her own soul appeared to be cured -- the soul of her songs, from throwback hit "Genie In a Bottle" to heartfelt ballad "Beautiful," was also stronger than ever. The set list was perfectly balanced between the old and new, and Xtina was well aware there was “a lot of catching up to do," so she invited everyone to take a trip down memory lane. “Let’s see if I can refresh your memory for a bit,” she teased, before hopping in a time machine of her own creation with a retro-medley of “What a Girl Wants” and “Come On Over Baby (All I Want is You),” before hitting hard with “Can’t Hold Us Down,” which she declared "still holds true today."
Elsewhere (in between eight outfit changes), Aguilera put on a The Last Supper-inspired production for “Deserve” -- not too dissimilar from Ariana Grande’s own take on the painting she performed at the same venue months prior for MTV’s Video Music Awards -- and let her dancers shine on a post-”Accelerate” club-themed dance party while she took a breather. But not once did she or her voice show any sign of fatigue. On “Fall In Line,” as she hit the key change, the screens fittingly depicted shattering glass.
With every video interlude and song that made up the set, Christina’s message of unapologetic actions and empowerment were heard loud and clear -- and not just because of how her vocals carry. She covered James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” roared through “Fighter” (as Hillary Clinton nodded and smiled along, as if internalizing the lyrics as a mantra) and ahead of “Twice” reminded the crowd to “forgive yourself, love yourself.”
After so much time being off stage and -- as much as a superstar can be -- out of the spotlight, it was clear Christina has done both of those things herself. She’s not trying to live in her past or recreate herself for the future. She’s embracing exactly where she is, right now. And in this moment, she’s more liberated than ever.