Over a synth-heavy dance track, Christina Aguilera sings on her new album: "Every day I see myself I love me even more. … Let us not forget who owns the throne."
Then, her son Max’s voice pipes up: "You do, Mommy." Does she?
Aguilera is returning to music after four years away from stadium tours and Billboard charts: The multiplatinum Grammy-winner took some time to just "be married," as she says, and spent the last two years raising her son with husband Jordan Bratman. And while she’s confident she’ll regain her old spot at the top of the pop world, the comeback so far hasn’t gone exactly according to plan.
First single "Not Myself Tonight" peaked at 23 on the Hot 100 and is now at 73. Its black leather-and-lace, S&M themed-video was picked apart as hewing too close to clips from current pop queen Lady Gaga. A summer tour was announced but cancelled within weeks.
In an interview, the 29-year-old singer makes no apologies. Aguilera says she nixed the tour to gain more time to prepare and gauge which songs on "Bionic" fans will want to hear live.
"I put on a big show. I create sets, costumes. There’s major choreography and dance numbers. All of that goes along with a huge production. And I started to feel this is not the right time," she said. "It’ll be a much better and bigger show when I have time to properly plan."
She notes that she’s sported big, bold hairstyles, fashion and makeup since 2001’s "Lady Marmalade" and says this of the 24-year-old Gaga: "I’ve always done what I’ve done as far as push boundaries and take risks. … I think now more than ever, it’s being accepted to do those kinds of things. So more power to her. And she’s obviously a hard-working, focused young woman. And I have nothing but respect for that work ethic."
"I’m no stranger to comparisons in this business and being pit(ted) up against other female artists unfairly," Aguilera adds. She says the two haven’t met "but I’m sure that we would get along."
Aguilera says she got along grandly with the likes of Cher and Stanley Tucci last year on the set of her first movie, "Burlesque." Set for Thanksgiving release, it follows a small-town girl who joins a Hollywood burlesque club, with a focus on sexuality that Aguilera says was right up her alley. But the shoot knocked her out of her comfort zone.
"Being the star of the film, it was a lot of hours for me. A very demanding schedule and a completely different animal as far as a creative world," she said. "All of a sudden you’re thrown into expressing someone else’s vision and someone else as a character, instead of me being so used to releasing myself and my words and my lyrics and my sound and my ideas onto paper and onto audio."
Among those helping release ideas on "Bionic": Australian singer-songwriter Sia and dance-friendly artists like Ladytron, Santigold and M.I.A. The album is more diverse than 2006’s soulful double disc, "Back to Basics." It veers between the playful, bass-filled tease "Woohoo" featuring Nicki Minaj and the stripped-down ballad "You Lost Me," which she performed on the "American Idol" finale.
Aguilera says the electro sound that dominates the album was inspired by "play" with her son and a desire to go beyond her reputation as a once-in-a-generation singing voice.
"It’s no question at this point. It’s like yawn, yawn, boring, boring," she says, pantomiming a wide-mouthed, sleepy yawn. "OK, I can sit down and sing a ballad. But let’s have some fun thrown into the mix. … There’s a side of me that wants to get up with all my dancers — which have now become like family to me after all these years — and put on a song and dance to it and sing to it but not have to go to these crazy insane vocal places. And you don’t have to try so hard on every song to be vocally acrobatic or whatever you want to call it."
But by moving into territory already crowded with the likes of Ke$ha, Katy Perry and, yes, Gaga, Aguilera risks losing her edge, her niche.
"To me, what Christina Aguilera has that most other people don’t have is an unmistakable voice," says producer Jonathan "JR" Rotem, who has worked with Rihanna and Britney Spears, but not Spears’ fellow former "Mickey Mouse Club" member Aguilera. "If I was producing Christina Aguilera, I would want to capitalize on that amazing voice. That’s what she has. With that voice, I’m sure she can sing the dance stuff but she can also sing the timeless ballads."
She’s certainly faced down critics before. The sexually-charged video for 2002’s "Dirrty" was initially derided as trampy but aided the former teen princess’ move into grown-up themes and images. (It’s the same road taken recently by Miley Cyrus with "Can’t Be Tamed" as she departs Disney and "Hannah Montana.")
"I don’t do anything that I’m going to regret, basically," Aguilera said. "Would I do certain things again? No. But there was a time and a place for it when I did it. So that’s always how I go in looking at things. I can never look back. I won’t ever look back. And I won’t ever take anything too close to heart. There are certain things that can be said that can be hurtful and mean-spirited, but at this point in my life … I have a decade under my belt that I’m very proud of."