“[Abley] is a genuine, amazing, supportive fan. He's incorporated a lot of my music, the Xs and chaps into his fashion lines over the years, and I was finally like, ‘You need to design for this show,’” Aguilera told Billboard on Sunday, following her first two Vegas shows. “It's just such a perfect moment coming out in a feather [coat] for ‘Candyman,’ dropping that and getting into such a cool moment where you have light-up hearts in all the right parts.”
And then there is New York-born, London-trained designer Edwin Mohney, who reinterpreted Aguilera’s infamous “Dirrty” video chaps in iridescent liquid gold. “He is so gifted and so great and the gold was so beautiful with the elements of the red fire,” she says.
The outfits ooze her trademark powerful femininity -- a theme that carries throughout The Xperience, imbued with images from women’s marches and slogans of female empowerment, leading into songs like her feminist rally cry “Can’t Hold Us Down.”
“It's truly a blessing to feel the female energy here [in Las Vegas]. It’s always important to me too that I'm not just stepping into a man's world and that this is an opportunity to be yet another kick-ass female to own fucking Vegas,” she says.
This is a path Aguilera first owned when breaking free from her Mickey Mouse Club image in 2002 with the emancipation album Stripped, which produced the fiery singles “Dirrty,” “Fighter,” “Can’t Hold Us Down” and “Beautiful.”
“I've always been one to try and open up a conversation, even if I'm criticized for it -- ‘Dirrty’ being one of those times, with the chaps and sexuality. I was owning my power; I was tired of older men telling me how I needed to be, what I needed to wear. You know, ‘Is this OK? Is this PC?’ 'Oh sexy, but not too sexy!'” she recalls. “For Stripped, I took my mask off, and I was like, ‘Screw everything and everybody who's trying to box me into some kind of stereotype in this pop world.’ I want to be who I am and give other people a voice to be who they are.”
As the celebration of 20 years since “Genie in a Bottle” winds up this month, Aguilera has arguably become one of the feminist matriarchs of pop music. “I grew up in a very complicated and chaotic environment that was full of domestic violence. When you're in that, the biggest emotion and feeling is helplessness. To see my mom endure what she did, and to feel so helpless as a child, to not be able to step in or have a voice or a say because you're too little to do anything,” Aguilera says. “We're all given the tough tasks that we endure for a purpose, and I feel that has totally inspired me to be the artist that I am, to create the lyrics that I make. [Fans] show me their Fighter tattoos and share liberation stories about how my music has helped empower them. It's everything, because it turns full-circle, why I experienced that. If I can be that sanctuary or safe space for somebody else who's going through it, who has no voice and feels helpless, then my job here is done.”
When Aguilera takes off her mask at the end of the day, her job begins as self-described “mama bear” to 11-year-old son Max and 4-year-old daughter Summer, who she gives the freedom to exercise their individuality.
“[Summer] was insisting on wearing a dress to all of the shows, the same exact dress. Even though it didn't even get washed. I was like, ‘OK, I'll let it go with your Peppa Pig pants and your bow,’” Aguilera laughs. “But then she was at the pool today, she wanted to wear her Spiderman boy trunks. You know? And I'm just like, OK, ‘You be you.’”
In January, Aguilera told Billboard that the decision to do a Las Vegas residency was in part one she made for the sake of her kids after seeing how well they adapted to life on the road during her Liberation Tour.
“Now it's in their blood. It worked out perfectly. They would get mad at me sometimes if they weren't able to come onstage,” Aguilera says. “It was a family affair by the end. It was a heartwarming, loving experience and I was, like, ‘OK, I need to do more of this’ and expand on it and allow more fans and more audience members to enjoy what this is all about.”
And while her day job may be not quite like the other moms, she rules her roost with grounding energy. “I wonder how they view me, because they're growing up so differently than I did. I get nervous about them seeing too much of the work stuff because I want them to have their own childhood. When I'm home, it's sweatpants on, makeup off, and just real time,” Aguilera says. “Being in the business since I was 7, and being pushed and pulled and prodded and so many opinions getting thrown at you, you have to have a protective shell on a certain level or else you're going to let people take and take until you have nothing left to give. That's why it's important for me to provide that safe space for my kids and allow them the freedom to be inspired by creativity, not superficiality."
Never one to shy away from hard work, since she’s already juggling mom life and Las Vegas residency life, Aguilera has recently teased that the long-anticipated follow-up to her 2000 Latin album Mi Reflejo is in the works.
“I've been wanting to do it for years,” she says. “But I want to do it the right way. I want to work with musicians and beautiful people from the Latin world who just eat, sleep and breathe it, and live it, and learn from them. I want to really experience it from the ground up. I always heard my parents speak it in the house, but I never fully learned [Spanish]. I'm even digging in and trying to start the lessons -- it'll take a little time balancing the show and the recording hours, but it's coming.”