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14 March 2019, 15:53
She’s all about vocal gymnastics and high drama – and her growl is one of the most iconic things to come out of ’00s pop music. Here’s the analysis.
We’re going to dissect this particularly memorable MTV Video Music Awards performance of her 2006 ballad, ‘Hurt’ – which uses pretty much every coin in Christina’s bank of vocal tricks.
Christina’s vocals are very exposed throughout the performance, with only a piano accompaniment and pianissimo strings to back her up. It’s a surprising decision considering her diva status, but one that really shows off the depth and power of her voice.
One of Xtina’s strongest traits is her ability to switch between head and full voice.
She starts the first verse of ‘Hurt’ with a vulnerable sound and plenty of breath in her voice. Her most vulnerable lyrics, like ‘by hurting you’ are placed at the top of her range, so it sounds on the edge.
But then, we get moments of that spine-tingling mezzo belt peeking through in the words ‘how proud’. She shifts effortlessly from her very bright head voice to a mid-range belt, and has a great knack for putting her head voice moments right next to her low mezzo sections. So when she launches into ‘I would hold you in my arms’ (0:35), we get the full effect of her hard-hitting belt.
She’s a clear soprano, but with incredible mezzo notes along the way.
Christina has a phenomenal range, spanning four octaves from around C3 to C7.
In her Carpool Karaoke sketch she reaches an F6, putting her ‘limitations’ down to the fact that “it’s daytime”. An F6, by the way, is what Mozart’s Queen of the Night sings.
Ah, the Xtina growl. Have a listen to the line ‘there’s nothing I wouldn’t do’ at 1:59 – although it doesn’t always guarantee the best intonation, the growl adds an essential sprinkling of grit to her performance.
Talking to James Corden in Carpool Karaoke, she described the growl as “an angsty thing – you’ve got to get your Fighter on”.
Definitely easier said than done…
‘Hurt’ is a really difficult song to perform – and part of what makes it so demanding is that it requires a colossal amount of breath.
Not only is Aguilera able to hold notes for an impressively long time (see: ‘Ain’t No Other Man’), she is very good at singing all the way through phrases. Listen to how she sings through the line ‘I would tell you how much that I missed you since you been away’ at 2:38, and still comes out the end of it with control and volume in her voice.
Xtina has the upper range and melismatic runs to rival a coloratura soprano.
But her voice is also heavily influenced by the old-school sounds of vintage jazz, soul and blues, with Aguilera herself citing her vocal inspirations as Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone.
You know who else transcends genres? The great Renée Fleming:
Christina’s voice is all about high drama – and she mirrors it in her performance.
At first, she keeps it simple: sitting on a stool, draped in a '50s-style ball gown with the spotlight directly on her. At a crucial moment of high emotion in the song, she gets up and makes her way towards the audience, folding in on herself as the lyrics get more passionate.
Then, right at the end of the performance she falls to her knees to sing a final heart-breaking, pianissimo version of the chorus. What was that about high drama...?