The best way to assess the current mix of her album, she says, is to play it in the car. So we call up her assistant, who calls up her driver, who quickly ushers us into an enormous black Escalade with shades for the (heavily tinted) windows. Inside, there’s an ice bucket filled with Tito’s vodka and white wine, which Aguilera refrains from imbibing, because despite how dark she has made it in the vehicle, it’s still only 3 p.m.
As we pull out of the driveway and past mansions I can barely make out through the window, I ask Aguilera if she’s friends with any of her neighbors. She grabs my hand and rolls her eyes. Some of them. But others remind her of “Bewitched’s old Mrs. Kravitz, peeking through the windows like” -- she lowers her voice to a witchy whisper -- “‘What is she doing now?’” She likes DJ Khaled, who lives up the street. “He rides his little golf cart around the neighborhood,” she says.
And Kendall Jenner is moving into the neighborhood soon. “I went to [the Kardashians’] Christmas party, and the mom introduced us and was like, ‘You’re neighbors!’” she says as she fiddles with the entertainment system. “So I was like, ‘Yes, I have allies.’”
Perhaps Aguilera’s unnamed snoops in the cul-de-sac have a thing against loud music. As her driver winds the Escalade through the streets of the gated community, she pops in a CD (she doesn't trust other “tech stuff”) and plays “Accelerate.” It’s a booming club song featuring Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz. Aguilera worries for a moment about blowing out the speakers, but then she turns it up even louder.
“I love 2 Chainz’s part,” she says, closing her eyes and bopping her head, just a little bit, to the beat. Before the last chorus blares, she makes a series of notes, in perfect cursive, on a small white pad. “There are some synthesizer sounds I need brought out a little bit,” she explains. “They’re a tiny bit pulled out, too weak.”
West produced the track. The two met in Rick Rubin’s Shangri La studio in Malibu, Calif., a few months before West released The Life of Pablo in 2016. He played her music off the album, and they talked “forever.” They also worked on “Maria,” which Aguilera says is her favorite song on Liberation. She fell out of touch with him when he later embarked on his Pablo tour. “There were some personal things that arose...” says Aguilera, alluding to West’s hospitalization for exhaustion in late 2016.
Less than two weeks after our conversation, West riles up the internet by tweeting about, among other things, his “brother” Donald Trump. But today, Aguilera speaks reverently of him. “I’ve always been a huge fan of Kanye,” she says, her pale blue eyes widening. “Outside of, you know, his controversial aspects, I just think he’s a great artist and musicmaker and beatmaker. The artists that he chooses to pluck from different walks of life are so interesting.”