How I hoped to never have to go public with this, but your reluctance to embrace your true musical identity as represented by a series of misguided and utterly depressing CDs—Bionic anyone?— has really forced me to spill the beans. Let me me offer heartfelt apologies in advance for breaking your confidence and sincerely say, at the risk of sounding didactic, that I am doing this for your own good. You see, with the truth exposed you just might be forced to acknowledge that the bulk of your discography is an act of treason against the great artist you longed to be but are clearly afraid of becoming. Clearly the failure of these albums, a series of increasingly misspent efforts chasing radio trends with exponentially more lackluster results (made worse with each album’s concomitant and public announcement that the new collection “truly reflects your personal growth and authentic self,”) has not chastened you.
While I know it’s fun to be a TV star and spin around in your chair on the The Voice after six hours of hair and make-up, this strikes me as a betrayal of your tremendous early promise. For Stargayzing readers, permit me to tell the story from the beginning, which will make my motives clearer and, at the risk of sounding grandiose, might give you pause to consider that you are, in fact, standing at a creative precipice.
Christina, you may remember the first time we met was sometime in the early months of 1999. I was working for the great songwriter Diane Warren (who wrote I Turn To You for you, among others) and she took me along with a few other staff members to a party in your honor at your A&R guy Ron Fair’s house. Remember? You had finished recording your debut album and the party was celebrating that milestone and essentially sending you off into the world to become an international pop star. I remember clearly being so impressed when everyone crowded into a smaller room and you sang a few songs with just a piano, like it was 1948. You had real, true talent and were sweet, friendly to everyone. Everything about you seemed filled with promise.
At that point you had only had that one Adult Contemporary hit from Mulan (Reflection), and there was something completely lovely and utterly sympathetic about you. Of course, you did venture forth into the world and become a major pop star, first singing somewhat younger pop fare written by topnotch writers like the aforementioned Diane Warren, Steve Kipner, David Frank, and Pam Sheyne (Genie in a Bottle). The world did indeed seem to be yours for the asking.
I got to know you much better a few years later when you were married to Jordan Bratman who I knew through producer Dallas Austin. I would see you at parties and we would talk. Even though you were now really famous I still found you to be approachable and down to earth. If you remember, our most enjoyable outing was in the mid-aughts. In what I considered a major coup-celebre to help my then-boss, songwriter Denise Rich, I put together a dinner at Asia De Cuba restaurant at Le Mondrian Hotel for you, Jordan, Denise, myself, Stevie Wonder and his then-wife, clothing designer Kai Milla. Kai convinced Stevie to come because she hoped you would wear her clothes and you came because you wanted to have dinner with Stevie Wonder. Everything turned out fine except Kai was sick so it was just Denise, Stevie, me, you and Jordan.
The dinner was a bit awkward in terms of Stevie because you were a little shy and he is probably also shy which probably isn’t helped when you’re blind, so you and I ended up talking to each other for most for most of the dinner. I will never forget the moment you turned to me and asked sincerely “have you ever heard of a singer named Blossom Dearie?” This question was so unexpected and wonderful. I don’t think of younger singers as having any interest in pre-rock era pop music (I’m reminded here of the time Mariah Carey snorted “I know who Edith Bunker is” when I asked her if she was an Edith Piaf fan one day up at Diane’s studio), so I was fairly suprised that you knew who Blossom Dearie was. For Stargayzing readers who are unfamiliar, Blossom Dearie was a popular jazz/pop singer in the 1950s and 1960s who was closely associated with the original hipster movement of the time. She was adored by fans of good music for her very quirky, straightforward style both as a vocalist and as a piano player. A cabaret favorite until her death in 2002, Dearie was about the furthest thing away from the hip-hop flavored Can’t Hold Me Down that one could imagine. This is Blossom Dearie singing They Say It’s Spring, a side recorded in in 1956 for her first Verve Record, the eponymous Blossom Dearie.
After the Blossom Dearie revelation on that long ago evening, I realized that you were—musically speaking— an old soul, and our conversation about the American pop standards repertoire and great female vocalists was both animated and passionate. We name checked half of the great singers of the 20th century that night, didn’t we? In that moment, my respect for you grew exponentially—I felt like I was talking to an old queen at the Duplex or the Gardenia (or insert your local piano bar here), not a young pop star in her mid-20s—and the pleasant evening passed quickly. You never did speak to Stevie much.
To thank you for coming, the next day I went to Amoeba Music on Sunset and literally bought you 50 vintage jazz and pop albums from the 50s and 60s and sent them over to your house with a note encouraging you to explore your musical passion sooner than later and stop worry about having radio hits. In case you don’t remember, I remember saying that you would create a more important and lasting body of work if you were a credible, contemporary incarnation of a great pre-rock era pop singer than a mature woman chasing radio trends with a series of ridiculously expensive producers and dwindling record sales. Unfortunately you seem to have taken the latter path.
Certainly the fear of losing your younger audience and not getting on the radio has prevented you from exploring your musical inclinations any further than some of the cutesy retro stuff on Back to Basics (a misnomer) and completely overwrought covers of At Last (from the VH-1 Divas Concert) and A Song For You (from a Herbie Hancock duets album). But what of your clear interests in classic pop music?
Maybe now that you’ve established yourself on TV, you have money, and you’re a mom, you will realize that it’s not too late to rent Capitol studios and go in and record some of the great songs you love for a new generation. But my fear is that you are drifting irrevocably toward being more of a celebrity than a great singer, which is why I’m going public. The fact that on your last two hit songs, Maroon 5′s Move Like Jagger and Pitbull’s Feel this Moment you have relegated yourself to incidental hook singer only solidifies my belief that you are musically lost. As you sang on one of the decent songs on Back To Basics, I’m trying to save you from yourself because only when you bravely stand up to the pressure to be hip will you actually become who you really are. If you take a chance, I feel certain that the world will reward you not only with a successful record, but something that has heretofore proven elusive: respect and the satisfaction of being regarded as authentic.
In case you need a reminder in a more familiar voice, here is the note you wrote me to thank me for all the vinyl, as well asa special musical reminder of our conversation). And for God’s sake, record those old Eartha Kitt songs already—ain’t no young auto tuned chickee gonna steal I Wanna Be Evil anymore (it should only happen!)
P.S. Don’t be mad. I didn’t want to do this, but Lotus pushed me over the edge!
P.P.S. Try to stop riffing so much. Your endless vocal runs are incredibly distracting and actually undermine your ability to convey the lyrics of a song (see Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, and—yes—Blossom Dearie for reference!)