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Image / Editorial

Christina Aguilera is a master of transformation with new Paper magazine cover


By Erin Lindsay
27th Mar 2018
Christina Aguilera is a master of transformation with new Paper magazine cover

Christina Aguilera has taken the internet by storm with a brand new Paper magazine cover, with a single word title – transformation. And transform she has – the pictures show Aguilera looking like a pre-teen version of herself, with no visible makeup, tousled hair and freckles galore. It’s a stark contrast from her typical heavy makeup look, so stark that many found her unrecognisable.

The series of pictures got a massive reaction, no doubt what Paper was aiming for, as this is what they do best. From Kim Kardashian’s iconic ‘Break the Internet’ shot to Nicki Minaj’s ‘Minaj À Trois’, they aim to shock and subvert our expectations about the celebrities we think we know. Which is why Paper was the perfect fit for an Xtina comeback.

Aguilera herself is a master of subverting expectations – there’s a reason why the title and theme of the piece is ‘Transformation’. In Genie in a Bottle she first appeared as just another all-American girl next door, but that was just the beginning. The following years saw many Xtina’s. Anyone who grew up in the 00’s will remember her famous (or infamous, depending on your views) Dirrty days. Gone was the generic blond hair and sweet features – it was now all two-tone long locks, leather chaps and good-girl-gone-bad vibes; all before Rihanna had even brought out her first single. This was an Xtina that was fighting for her individuality, and the individuality of her supporters – singles like Beautiful earned her a GLAAD Media Award and cemented her as an icon for the LGBTQ+ community.

Over the years that followed there was a stint as a 40’s pinup with music to match in Back to Basics; a futuristic cyborg in Bionic; and a meeting of dance, rock and rebirth in Lotus. It’s been six years since the last album and fans are still baying for new music. But before that, Aguilera has done what she has always done – shocked us once again.

What’s really smart about the Paper shoot is how Aguilera has not only shown us a ‘new her’, she’s also coloured our memories of the previous ‘her’s’. Each shot is reminiscent of her looks in years gone by – a curly blonde wig is a throwback to her Candyman days, but gone are the painted red lips and Minnie Mouse lashes, replaced with barefaced freshness. Another shot frames her eyes in thick black clumps of mascara – reminiscent of the black eyeliner of Stripped, but only just.

One wouldn’t normally combine the words “pared back” and “makeup free” with “shocking” and “transformational”, but there’s a reason why Aguilera’s comeback via Paper has viewers stunned. She doesn’t just look makeup-free – she looks youthful, in the extreme sense of the word. Artificially youthful. Freckles and full (perhaps not natural) lips, messy blonde hair and bouncy skin. She looks like more of a teenager here than she did when she actually was a teenager – Genie in a Bottle was released when Aguilera was 18 but looking at pictures of her then versus the Paper cover, there’s no denying which looks younger. The images are oddly sexualised, but it’s nothing like the overt, in-your-face eroticism of Stripped – this is more subtle but still impactful.

It’s confusing. It’s fascinating. You want to inspect the photos for signs of a wrinkle, anything to show that Aguilera is actually 37. But there’s no sign of that, so we dig deeper into the interview. Then into her social media. Then into her back catalogue. Before we know it, we’re waiting for a comeback single as much as her fans have been for the past 6 years.

Christina is more pared back than ever but not our definition of ‘pared back’ – that wouldn’t be very Xtina.

Image from Paper magazine