2019 / Oct / 20

Christina Aguilera poses at a portrait session for People Magazine before a show in March 2, 2007.

2019 / Oct / 19

Christina Aguilera attends the JW Anderson front row during London Fashion Week September 2019 at Yeomanry House on September 16, 2019 in London, England.

2019 / Oct / 19

Christina Aguilera performs at the Virgin Voyages and Gareth Pugh collaboration launch party at The Royal Opera House on September 15, 2019 in London, England.

2019 / Oct / 18
Christina Aguilera opens up about her turbulent childhood, growing up in the music industry and embracing her sexuality.

I meet Christina Aguilera in a vast hotel suite that overlooks the rooftops of central London — she floats into the room, her hair we, wearing nothing but a fluffy white dressing gown and red lipstick. She shakes my hand with a firm grip that instantly becomes a floppy, loose one. My God, I think, if she gets bored of a handshake before it’s finished, how is she going to do a whole interview?

Then she starts to talk, and I’m gripped. We discuss how she presented Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club alongside Britney Spears in the 1990s, before they both went on to become world-famous pop stars in their late teens. The week we meet, Spears had court hearing about the future of her conservatorship — her money and affairs have been under the guardianship of her father since 2008. I have always wondered if fame at such a young age also caused an explosion in Aguilera’s life. One that we didn’t see. “You know,” she says, curled up on the sofa, her tone of voice constant, warm, intimate and slow, “it’s definitely hard growing up in this business, any way you want to spin it.” Her saving grace, she says, was that she “never tried to claim virginity. I never wanted to keep up a facade. Whenever you start lying or trying to live so much by other people’s expectations, then I’m sure you’re gonna explode that much more.”

Aguilera is in London for fashion week, and she’ll be back here in November for a series of shows. The night before we met, she surprised the audience at the launch of the Gareth Pugh and Virgin Voyages collaboration by bursting on stage to sing. She tells me she finds British design more avant-garde than anything you can get in LA, where she lives with her partner, Matt Rutler, their five-year-old daughter, Summer, and her son, Max, 11, from her former marriage to Jordan Bratman.

Photographed by Jackie Nickerson

It might sound unlikely for such a commercial superstar, but the avant-garde is something Aguilera knows about. Her first hit single, Genie in a Bottle, was released in 1999, eight months after Spears’s … Baby One More Time, and reached No 1 in nine countries, but it was the 2002 album Stripped that redefined Aguilera’s career. She took charge of the lyrics, the production and her image, shedding the “pop princess” alter ego in favour of platinum hair extensions, facial piercings and leather chaps. Now we are used to pop stars owning their narrative, but Aguilera was truly shocking at the time. Not since Madonna had a mainstream pop star embraced her sexuality so boldly. Her single Dirrty changed the pop game. There she was in the David LaChapelle- directed video, half-naked, oiled up, gyrating and twerking in a boxing ring surrounded by the seething flesh of others. She followed up with the Grammy- winning Beautiful, the ballad about loving yourself that became an LGBT anthem long before inclusion was the zeitgeist.

“That record [Genie] was me playing a puppet, doing what the label wanted me to do and be at a time when the pop explosion was super big,” says Aguilera, now 38. “And it’s fun to look back now because you have Kylie Jenner, you have Miley Cyrus, people reinventing the chaps look, which I definitely got a lot of heat for. But I was interested in opening up that conversation at the time, comfortable in my own skin, sharing that sexuality and part of myself. Woman are not just one-dimensional creatures who should only view our sexuality from a man’s point of view,” she says. “If you look back at my body of work and the decisions I made, you’ll see it’s been very progressive. Fearlessness is something that I always wanted, because I saw my mother in so many positions where she was weak and so very dominated. That was one of my decisions, as a woman, that I would never feel helpless to a man.”

Aguilera grew up in New Jersey with her younger sister, Rachel, in a household that she describes as “chaotic”. Her mother was a musician and her father was sergeant in the US army who, she says, was violent. She remembers sometimes “running away with my mom in the middle of the night, driving on the interstate from New Jersey to Pittsburgh to my grandma’s house out of fear for our lives. That’s a seven-hour journey, but you just had to go. It was a scary situation and I wanted to be as far away from the chaos as possible.” At the same time, the young Aguilera was starting to sing on stage. She first auditioned for The Mickey Mouse Club at nine, finally getting the job at 12. “I definitely gravitated towards it as an escape from my environment,” she says.

Everyone knows what that level of early fame did to Britney: after the most public breakdown of the Noughties in 2007, her father took control of her finances and, though her career picked up, in April this year she again checked in to a mental health facility, reportedly due to stress related to her father’s health problems. More recent Disney alumna such as Demi Lovato, 27, have also spoken about their struggles with mental health and entered treatment facilities multiple times. Meanwhile, Aguilera and Spears’s male Mickey Mouse Club co-stars Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling emerged comparatively unscathed.

Photographed by Jackie Nickerson

Child stardom left Aguilera in the company of adults she had to defend herself against. “It was a business with so many wolves,” she says. “Older men who had other intentions. When you’re that young coming up in a male-run business, you’re going to see the darkest sides of things and hear how men talk about woman, how they talked about my breasts. I do look back at that younger me, who needed a hug, and I want to tell her that not all men are like this. When people just accept it and say, “Oh well, you know, boys will be boys,” I disagree. Because I do feel men should be held accountable.”

I ask if things ever turned dangerous for her, and she is, understandably, reluctant to answer. Last year Lily Allen wrote in her memoir that she had been sexually assaulted by an executive who still works with other musicians; Kesha is still fighting to get out of a contract with the producer she alleges raped her — allegations he denies. While the #MeToo movement has been led by actresses, it feels as if the music industry hasn’t quite had its moment. Aguilera agrees: “I’ve got some names that I won’t say or go into, but I’ve definitely had my fair share. And coming up really young, too, there were certain scenarios when it was ultimately just the hardest to tune it out, to stay focused on what I was doing.”

Music has always been her passion. To date she has sold more than 58m records worldwide, won five Grammys and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In the UK nothing has matched the success of the six-times-platinum Stripped, but Aguilera’s albums have always been hits — most recently, Liberation, her eighth studio album, for which she toured America in 2018. There was also a Los Vegas residency this year. “The stage is my home,” she says. “It’s always been my home. But going on tour now is crazy. I hadn’t toured in 10 years. I was, like, ‘How do people do this with kids?’ They need their bedtimes, they need their structure. Kids thrive under a routine. Getting off stage and then going home and reading a bedtime story because you want to get that quality time in — it’s a lot. It’s definitely a lot,” she says. “But who am I to complain? I’m doing what I love to be doing again, in the driver’s seat again, in control of my creativity — that is ultimately freedom.”

Her children had two months off school over summer, so Aguilera had them with her for the first leg of her European tour, Paris to Moscow, and then on a family holiday in Japan. “It’s nice for them to see what Mommy does, besides being in sweatpants and a robe around the house. They see the work I put in on tour, and they see the grind.” She laughs because the other day Summer asked her: “Why do people go to work?” Aguilera replied: “Well, you know the nice cosy bed that you’re sleeping in, the roof over your head, the food that we eat? Mommy has to work for all of that.” You have to talk to your kids. Try to get these real experiences in life.” Max can sing, “and he has really good pitch”, she says. “They’re both not trying to pursue anything, I was such a weird kid with that. But I am always, like, ‘If you wanted to do something with that, Max, if you wanted to go there, you have it.’”

She does worry about their level of privilege. “My kids are not going to be having the same struggles that I had growing up, and heaven forbid too, but they are being raised in an environment that I didn’t grow up in. With that comes a fear of making sure they do appreciate what they have.” She ensures they see her charity work for the World Food Programme and that they donate their old toys. “I tell them about kids who don’t have any toys, kids who are being raised in shelters, who escaped the way I did — when it’s age appropriate, obviously. And when they donate, we visit the places themselves, to see what goes on beyond dropping it off.”

Photographed by Jackie Nickerson

Aguilera married the music executive Jordan Bratman in 2005 and they divorced in 2010. She reportedly met Rutler in 2010 on the set of Burlesque, her Hollywood acting debut, in which she co-starred with Cher. The film won her a Golden Globe nomination for best original song. Rutler was a set production assistant on the movie and now works with tech start-ups.

How has Aguilera learnt to make relationships work in her own life, if she didn’t have parental role models? “It’s hard if you don’t grow up with a great idea of what a relationship is or what functionality is,” she says. Max spent half the summer with Bratman, “because we co-parent really well together. It’s so great that my son has both of us, both homes. What’s most important whenever a marriage doesn’t work is that kids are taken care of emotionally, their needs are met, and you try not to bring them into the heaviness of it. I think we’ve done a great job of that, but it really takes a lot of communication and putting your kids first, beyond your own needs.” She rolls up her sleeve, shows me the tattoo she still has of Bratman’s name in Hebrew and Spanish. I ask if she is going to have it altered like Johnny Depp changed Winona Forever to Wino Forever and she splutters, laughing, definitely not. She says she accepts her body as it is. Once she was skinny, now she has a fuller figure: “I feel more confident about my body now. I never want to go back to that 20-year-old, those insecurities and feeling a certain way about yourself and having to be certain way. I feel like I’ve put in the work for my body too. The work as a mom, as a giver.”

Then her phone rings, and it’s Rutler, because their daughter is sick and off school. Aguilera is keen to know if Summer is all right, but then she giggles when she gets off the phone, “because he was, like, ‘You didn’t call home in eight hours!’ He’s keeping tabs on me.” I ask her how they got together, but her manager has entered the room with her glam squad, and as she’s about to answer, he breezes over: “We’re not even going into that tonight.” She, does, however, deliver her final thoughts. “I know that it might sound corny, but the best thing about life and getting older is a deeper sense of acceptance in yourself. A connection with the root core of feeling beautiful, no matter…” She pauses, realises the accidental reference to her famous song and sings the words from Beautiful ”… what they say” — and everyone in the room sings along with her. It’s impossible not to.

Photographed by Jackie Nickerson

Christina Aguilera’s X Tour is in the UK November 7-14. For tickets, visit christinaaguilera.com

Styling: Stella Greenspan. Hair Rob Talty at Forward Artists. Makeu-up: Kali Kennedy at Forward Artists. Prop styling: Maxim Jezek at Walter Schupfer Management. Local production: Rosco Production

2019 / Oct / 17

I hope they submitted “Haunted Heart” by Christina Aguilera for the Best Original Song #Oscars2020

Haunted Heart: chance 100%

My Family: Not eligible because it contains samples.