From her Mickey Mouse Club beginnings in the '90s to slipping into that spin-happy judge's chair on NBC's talent show The Voice in early 2011, Christina Aguilera's personal and professional life has had its belt-a-note highs and barely dressed lows. The singer has careened back and forth between being a role model wannabe, a big-voiced risk-taker, a motherhood-loving spouse and an oversexed pop idol.
And as she releases this her seventh studio album, Aguilera is coming off one of her not-so-high stretches. Within the last few years she's struggled through a bombed attempt at Hollywood fame, a critically panned album, a cancelled music tour and an emotional roller-coaster of a personal life that's included an angry divorce, various tabloid mishaps and an arrest for public drunkenness.
So it shouldn't be a surprise that the 31-year-old songstress would want Lotus to signal something of a new beginning for her. And she told ABC News as much:
"This album represents a rebirth for me, going through a few interesting years and coming out stronger. Even the title itself is symbolic of a flower that can withstand even the harshest conditions and still remain strong and beautiful. I have always been one to encourage perseverance. This album represents that."
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Aguilera got even more detailed saying, "I wanted to share all the different sides of me, as a woman, and as a creator and an artist. Part of that is being a mom. Part of that is sexuality. Part of that is vulnerability. Part of that is aggression and angst. All those pieces make me who I am."
Indeed, the song "Army of Me" grapples with a number of those components in a positive light ("One of me is wiser/One of me is stronger/One of me's a fighter") and talks of rising from failure and drawing on an inner strength. Other songs—such as the title track "Lotus" and the Deluxe Edition bonus track "Light Up the Sky"—continue that theme of wiping away the tears and rising from the ashes.
"Empty Words" shrugs off hurtful comments others make ("The funny thing about lies is they're only lies/ … The funny thing about healing is I'm alright"). "Cease Fire" calls for an end to relationship conflicts. And the piano ballad "Blank Page" regrets hurtful choices made ("If I could undo, that I hurt you/I would do anything, for us to make it through/ … I'm a blank page, waiting for life to start").
"Sing for Me" speaks of standing strong and singing out your heart, and "Make the World Move" takes it all a step further, encouraging listeners to "Turn up the love/Turn down the hate" and take a new attitude of hope beyond themselves and into the world.
Despite those words of healing and new beginnings, though, Aguilera also lashes out in anger and points fans to far less healthy pursuits. "Just a Fool," for instance, speaks of tossing back shots of whiskey till the singer can't remember a lost love any longer. And the breakup tune "Circles" doesn't mince crudities as it spits out the wish for offenders to "Spin around in circles on my middle, middle finger/ … M‑‑‑‑‑f‑‑‑er." Bonus track "Shut Up" cuts away at its object of scorn with a raw "Shut up, shut the f‑‑‑ up!" and "Kiss my a‑‑!"
Other songs ("Red Hot Kinda Love," "Let There Be Love," "Around the World") advocate rebounding from the pain of lost love with random "burning up" sexual encounters. "Your Body" makes the singer's intentions plain: "So don't even tell me your name/ … All I wanna do is love your body/ … If you don't know where to go/I'll finish on my own." Its video shows Christiana going all praying mantis on a succession of lovers, killing them after using them for sex. Lots of skin and sensual images mingle with the "violence," with blue paint and pink glitter standing in for blood.
The album's cover features a full-length shot of Aguilera facing the camera while wearing only her long hair. White mist obscures her waist. (We've cropped the image for this review.) Interior liner pics are also sexually themed.
Stylistically, Lotus is a mix of sounds that include belty nods to a variety of pop star approaches (a little crass Rihanna here, a bit of bombastic Katy Perry there, even a throwback dash of Donna Summer). Two numbers include a little duet help from her Voice mates Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton.
"I took an entirely different approach as typically I go for one look, one sound and a very distinct genre," Aguilera told ABC News. "For this album I really wanted to put music on the record that felt good, that moved me and just let myself be less limiting."
It might have been wiser to be a bit more limiting. The album's raw-mouthed rants and sex-laced tableaus surely aren't going to do much in the way of leaving young listeners (or their parents) with feelings of empowerment and renewal. Those mental images of a beautiful and resilient flower? Maybe not so much that either.