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Torch Song Elegy, Volume 3: Bombshell!  An Open Letter to Christina Aguilera Exposing the “Dirrty” Secret She Doesn’t Want You to Know!

Torch Song Elegy, Volume 3: Bombshell! An Open Letter to Christina Aguilera Exposing the “Dirrty” Secret She Doesn’t Want You to Know!

Music

Christina Aguilera Silver retro

I will never forget the moment you turned to me and asked sincerely “have you ever heard of a singer named Blossom Dearie?”

Dear Christina,

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 Aguilera pink background

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 (Reflections), 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 2009, 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.

Blossom Dearie “They Say Its Spring
 

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 Men Strike Back 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!)

Sincerely,

David

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!)

Christina Aguilera handwriting

 

christina aguilera letter 2

Eartha Kitt’s I Want to Be Evil

Eartha Kitt “I Want To Be Evil”
 

 

More Christina Aguilera:

Melismania! The Art of Good Singing Has a Terrible Case of the Runs

 

You may also enjoy:

Torch Song Elegy, Volume 1: The Man That Got Away—How The Loss of a Generation of Gay Men Affected Our Ears as Well as Our Hearts

Torch Song Elegy, Volume 2: How to Reduce Twentieth-Century Gay History to a Stereotype in Three Lines or Less

Torch Song Elegy, Vol. 4: Pink is the New Blech, or, Whatever Happened to Phrase. Ing?

Torch Song Elegy, Vol. 5: (N)e(u)rotica: The Unbelievably Bitchy Thing Madonna Said to k.d. lang

 

Wasn’t it Woody Allen Who Said, “Those Who Can’t Do, Teach, Those Who Can’t Teach, Host American Idol? or, The Deterioration of Do, Re, Mimi

93 Comments

  1. KB
    April 10, 2013 at 5:28 pm
    Reply

    Christina’s rendition of “A Song for You” appeared on a duets album with Herbie Hancock, not Sergio Mendes.

    • David Munk
      April 10, 2013 at 6:13 pm

      Hey Kay Bee – You’re absolutely right. I’m correcting it now. Mea culpa and thanks David

  2. Farah
    April 10, 2013 at 6:14 pm
    Reply

    Hello

    As much as i understand that what you wrote is out of concern and love for X
    I also understand that if you love and care about someone that much you’d let them be whatever they want to be, so accusing X of chasing after radio hits is clearly wrong since she does take chances with her music and pour her soul into it without any regard to what the market asks for.

    I understand you knew her for a while but people change, and she did wonderful in back to basics in which she thanked and gave credit to all those idols in soul and jazz music.

    I dont see why you would take the time to say that lotus is what pushed you to write this instead of actually listening to it, it is not made for radio it is not made for pure promotion, its made from her to us fighters, its a throw back to stripped its her embracing where shes at and if that is not what alot people think she should be then so be it., its her life her decisions so if she wants to sail away from old soul let her,if she wants dive in electronica let her, i see a true fan as a supporting person no matter what.

    I appreciate ur support by showing interest in her work and taking time to write this advice for her u r clearly invested in X otherwise u wouldnt. Even bother but dont you think thats its up to her to be whom ever she wants to be and to do what ever she wants to do and not care what people think?

    Your letter is much more of a statement about good times with X for a true fighter like myself than a path correction advice to a person with little interest in X because as everyone should see it X CANT be faulted for doing what she loves to do.

    Thank you

    • David Munk
      April 14, 2013 at 6:19 pm

      Hi Farah,

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

      My role here is cultural observer not president of a fan club. I have no interest in supporting artists no matter what they do—I’m not their father or spouse. Rather, I am interested in constructive criticism, shining a light on what I think is important, and following my own instincts about what is true. I am more interested in sharing what I’ve learned with my readers and having meaningful conversations about popular culture. Of course, you are completely free to disagree with me, I only ask my readers to observe basic ideas of being respectful to each other.

      As for Christina she either will or will not pull herself out of this slump of sales and creative ennui and only time will be the ultimate arbiter of whether she succeeded or not.

      Thank you so much for reading!

      David

  3. cindy
    April 10, 2013 at 6:18 pm
    Reply

    Sure he’s a friend! side eye roll! I have to say I want to see Christina Aguilera sing those classic songs since she’s the only who can cover those songs! Hope we see her sing those songs in the future!

    • David Munk
      April 14, 2013 at 5:43 pm

      Hi Cindy,

      Not sure what you mean in your first sentence, but I do sense some sarcasm! I do appreciate you reading the piece and responding. David

  4. KC
    April 10, 2013 at 7:51 pm
    Reply

    And her At Last cover was in VH1’s Men Strike Back, not Divas Concert (she was never invited to Divas Live:( )

    • David Munk
      April 14, 2013 at 5:44 pm

      Thank you for the clarification, I will correct the piece. I strive to be precise but sometimes I make mistakes. I think the essence of what I’m saying was well conveyed (I hope)! Thanks again. David

  5. Sal
    April 10, 2013 at 7:54 pm
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. Maybe one day she’ll see the light.

    • David Munk
      April 14, 2013 at 5:55 pm

      Hi Sal. I certainly hope so. She is a great talent and a nice person. She deserves better than what she’s given herself. Thanks for reading.

      David

  6. NIP
    April 10, 2013 at 8:11 pm
    Reply

    Wow so much wrong info on here. I’m not even sure you were/are a fan. You know you love her songs Feel This Moment, and Moves Like Jagger too. There’s no problem being a so called hook girl. Rihanna’s great at it, and got 2 #1 singles doing so. Let X keep getting #1s that way. A #1 is a #1 no matter what.

    • David Munk
      April 14, 2013 at 6:14 pm

      Well let’s agree to disagree! A number one record is nice, but it has nothing to do with building an enduring body of work. Lots of folks who had number one records are completely forgotten today! For an exploration of this, check out my piece about Helen Reddy!

      Thanks for checking in. David

  7. RW
    April 10, 2013 at 8:16 pm
    Reply

    Great read, I agree. Been a fan since “Reflection” and it’s sad to watch her become the “cookie-cutter” artist her record label always wanted–I guess they won. She was on a great path with Stripped & Back To Basics but ever since she got divorced there’s been a disconnect with her music (although the Burlesque soundtrack was a glimmer of hope). Aside from her personal life I suspect there has been record label disputes as well, so it’s hard to put the entire blame on her. I do hope she finds her musical passion again because she is truly one of the great singers of our time.

    • David Munk
      April 14, 2013 at 5:54 pm

      Hi RW. Agree completely, but being a really great singer is about more than having the pipes, it’s about knowing what to sing and honing your instincts about how to build a body of work. Without that skill the work, even if its successful in its moment (which recent Xtina albums certainly are not) is evanescent and is fated to be forgotten.

      Thank you for checking in. I hope you’ll continue reading. Perhaps sign up for my monthly Stargayzing newsletter on my homepage or follow me on twitter (@stargayzingone). many thanks David

  8. Leo
    April 10, 2013 at 9:28 pm
    Reply

    Amazing. So heartfelt. So much truth. Although, I would have left out that last P.P.S. – not because I disagree, but because she’s probably heard it many, many times before.

    I get the sense that, at this point in her career, she is making music that will make her relevant to the masses again. Her brand has diminished quite a bit in just the last four years. It’s unfortunate, because she really is one of the most talented singers to ever grace pop music. And she looks beautiful, too.

    I only hope that she actually reads this heartfelt letter from you. Bravo!

    • David Munk
      April 11, 2013 at 5:46 pm

      Hi Leo. I’m slowly working my way through the many comments I’ve gotten on this piece, which seems to really have struck a chord. I think your feedback is spot on, though I might disagree with your comment about my P.P.S. simply for this reason: I have observed over many, many years of working with entertainers and being fairly close to a number of them, that there is a shockingly low level of honest feedback within an artist’s inner circle. Quite the opposite actually. It seems like many people generally surround themselves with sycophants and others who are on the payroll. There is just something about power and success that seems to beget a real shortage of truth telling. Therefore, although my last comment might seem a bit harsh, I figured, wtf, it’s how I honestly feel and it’s only my opinion anyway.

      Thank you for reading. I hope that you’ll stay in touch. Consider following me on twitter @stargayzingone and signing up for the monthly Stargayzing newsletter on the home page! Best wishes. David

  9. Rachael
    April 10, 2013 at 9:56 pm
    Reply

    How about no mention of her complete disconnect with her fan base or her complete hypocrisy over her “creative control?”

    She promised Bionic was a futuristic album that would cross the boundaries of what we think of in terms of future. She had no limitations, no box to stay within and yet her definition of futuristic was rolling around in a bunch of dominatrix costumes? What a pure waste of working with a true talent like Alex Malka. That photo shoot and theme was an utter disappointment for all fans expecting a truly original and creative concept. I am one of Christina’s long time fans and was an unfortunate soul who was owed $700 from her canceled tour in 2004. I was fortunate enough to meet her at the B2B tour but after waiting years she promised a Bionic tour. Not only did she promise it was only being postponed she actually said it was so she could present her well deserving fans with a show of the caliber we expect from her. 6 months later she is blowing off mention of her Bionic tour and era as if it was yesterdays trash. Were our feelings ever considered? But of course we were patient because of all of her personal problems and lack of Bionics commercial success. Everyone convinced themselves she would come back stronger and better than ever for the next album. Instead she made a BFD about lotus and acted like it was such a masterpiece that truly reflected her growth as an artist and then gave yet another cliched album that sounds like everything out there today. Another chance for her to at least have a big dance hit like her peers and she cant even do that much! After hardly any promo and hardly any fan connections we stood patiently expecting her to tour (since she actually said out of her own mouth several times she would be touring for lotus) and then next thing we hear she pretty much says Lotus is done and over with and shes heading to japan for vacation (in the midst of her never ending vacation) So again her dedicated fans are left disappointed and wondering why they keep spending their hard earned money supporting this artist who doesn’t seem to even care rather they succeed or fail anyways.

    In all my years as a fan, I have never felt this disconnected from her. Its like she has put a wall up and acts like she is too good for anything or anyone. She acts like her concepts are so creative but they are mediocre at best. What happened to the Xtina we came to love during Stripped and B2B? What happened to her soul, her hunger, her passion? If she just wants to be a celebrity/mom thats fine. Then she should just come out and say it. Not keep leading her fans on that she still has the drive and passion she always had and keep promising us quality music and tours that never happen.

    • David Munk
      April 14, 2013 at 5:42 pm

      Hi Rachael,

      Wow, well I really hear your frustration. I think what your observing is very hard to process as it contradicts your impulses to be endlessly supportive to this artist whose work was so important to you. I am probably much older than you so let me share something that I have learned over the years in the business. Being super talented is only a piece of what makes someone a great or important artist when all is said and done. The other piece is having good instincts about creative choices, potential collaborators, and a strong and abiding sense of who you are. What I see in Christina is someone who is very frightened and uncertain. Fear is not a good place to making creative decisions as it compromises judgement. Additionally, when you are surrounded by sycophants and “yes” people who are endlessly telling you how great you are or otherwise in the thrall of your celebrity (which is, admittedly, a kind of aphrodisiac), the chances of you being bold are exponentially diminished.

      Truth is Christina has squandered her potential to become a great live singer through a consistent lack of initiative. To be great live, you have to perform. You have to go out and do it and connect with people. Connecting with people is generally anathema to rich, frightened, celebrities. What you end up with is work that is seriously disappointing that cost way too much money.

      If I were Christina, I would do a tour of small clubs with a combo to try out standards and connect with her fanbase. Then I would go into the studio with a producer and cut twenty songs, ten with a small combo and ten with an orchestra, and release it with a photo of her standing in a spotlight next to a piano. Old fashioned? Certainly. Authentic? Absolutley. Successful? We’ll see, but I suspect it would be.

      Please consider signing up for my newsletter on the homepage or following me on twitter (@stargayzingone). Thanks for stargayzing with me. David

  10. WWW
    April 10, 2013 at 11:33 pm
    Reply

    I agree with all of your points and I hope Xtina reads your open letter, but I can’t help myself from feeling a little sad that Christina isn’t good enough to you to be featured with the rest of your stars on the left.

    • David Munk
      April 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      Hi there! Of course she is good enough and that was actually on my to-do list over the weekend. You can’t imagine how hard it is keeping my blog completely up to date, typo free, social media etc. Whew, it’s exhausting. Have no fear! I hope you’ll stay in touch and consider following me on twitter @stargayzingone.com Thanks again David

  11. Alex
    April 11, 2013 at 6:09 am
    Reply

    I always felt she was an old soul, thanks for the article it’s such interesting insight into Ms. Aguilera’s musical tastes, I really hope she just does herself.

    • David Munk
      April 11, 2013 at 5:40 pm

      Hey Alex. I completely agree (obviously) and appreciate your taking the time to read and check in with me. I hope you’ll stay in touch. You can follow me on twitter (@stargayzingone) and maybe sign up for the stargayzing monthly newsletter on the home page of the blog. It would mean so much to me! David

  12. Ashley
    April 11, 2013 at 10:06 am
    Reply

    I full Agree with this article/letter, but in a way i feel for Christina because regardless of the quality music she creates, shes always torn down.Its kinda a media hobby to tear her down, i mean music WAS always (post debut and up until Bionic) her labour of love, but whats the point of making it if the world does nothing but make a mockery of it ? Back To Basics was a great album,and critically accalimed but I mean Stripped is her defining Era and in my opinion one of the greatest and rawest albums ive ever heard, yet critically Kesha albums are better rated despite the general public loving Stripped more.get my point?

    • David Munk
      April 11, 2013 at 5:38 pm

      Hi Ashley. I hope you and anyone else who reads this doesn’t feel like I am tearing her down. There is an important distinction between constructive criticism expressed respectfully and malicious gossip. I am only interested in music—indeed that is the connection that I shared with Christina during the period of time that I knew her. I hope that she gets the message and hears what her fans are saying to her. Please feel free to sign up for the Stargayzing monthly newsletter on the home page and follow me on twitter @stargayzingone. I’d love to stay in touch. David

  13. Luca
    April 11, 2013 at 11:25 am
    Reply

    You know what David? You exactly wrote what i have been thinking for almost a couple of years.
    It’s sad to admit, it’s completely true and i really hope that these words arrive to Christina.
    I just hope that she comes backl doing her best, That she still loving music.
    The Music industry plays a big role in this, and i am pretty sure that RCA is more worried about her weight then her music at the moment.
    Making music has to be her priority because God had a project for her which was SINGING.
    Bionic was completely wrong, and that few amazing ballads in it gone completely eclipsed.
    Why it could be so difficult to understand that when you want to be to bizarre, original and extremly aggressive it means that Music is leaving you?
    I completely accept this attitude from Lady Gaga, who “born this way”. Not for her. Everybody can change, but this is not a change, this is a desperate persuit of celebrity.

    “When a door closes you have two choices: give up or keep going, let them shut you down or prove them wrong”.

    I just wish her all the best, because i want to be sure that when i am old i can drink a good whiskey listening to her voice and enojoying my rest moments.

    Ps: i am sorry for my english, hope the message is clear enough.

    Luca

    • David Munk
      April 11, 2013 at 5:36 pm

      Hi Luca! Thank you so much for taking the time to read an respond – it means a lot. Yes, your English is quite good! I hope you will stay in touch with me. Maybe sign up for my newsletter on the home page or follow me on twitter @stargayzingone I appreciate hearing from you! David

  14. Ariel
    April 11, 2013 at 1:42 pm
    Reply

    Wow, just wow…. She really Reply you… Hand Write… wow!!! Thank u for recognizing her great job since day 0 till now! we all fighters hope she gets in her direction!! And we will always support her!! Greetings from Dominican Republic!

    • David Munk
      April 11, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      Hi Ariel! Yes, whatever else one might say about Christina, she was well-mannered! Not many folks take the time to send a personal thank you note any more. Thank you for reading. I hope you’ll sign up for my newsletter on the homepage so we can stay in touch. You can also follow me on twitter @stargayzingone

  15. Roxy
    April 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm
    Reply

    And who’s this? And why Christina should care about what he says of Lotus? This is ridiculously sad. What a sad person

    • David Munk
      April 11, 2013 at 5:33 pm

      Hi there. I’m sorry you disagree with my opinions but, at the risk of dignifying your comment by seeming defensive, I don’t think making judgements about character is a very nice response to having a difference of opinion. Can we respectfully agree to disagree without name calling? Thanks for reading! David

    • David Munk
      April 11, 2013 at 5:33 pm

      By the way, if you want to know who I am, may I recommend reading the “About Me” page on Stargayzing’s home page. It’ll tell you everything.

  16. Serena92
    April 11, 2013 at 9:09 pm
    Reply

    Hi David. I think that what you wrote express exactly what every fan does.
    I’m 21 years old, I grow up listening to her, I went trought all her “ERAs”.. and I can honestly say that I’m very sad about what’s happening.
    I always supported her, as I will always do, because she was DIFFERENT. She didn’t have to “sell herself” doing silly pop-songs just for money, she was the one who said “that’s how music should sound”.. and now? She was the one people wanted to duet to, not that she has to duet with somebody to remember the world she still exists.
    I believe that Lotus too has some “old christina’s kind of songs”. Like Empty words, light up the sky, songs which texts make you cry because you think “wow.. that’s exactly how I feel!!!!”
    Her fans will always be here for her, even if,like us (I’m italian), we don’t see her doing a concert since a long time (I think was in 2002).. But I think that we deserve something more from her.. We always supported her, we always fighted like she teached us..We want as a gift to see our idol singing live in front of us, with us.
    Sorry for my mistakes, but i’m not a native speaker!
    Serena

    • David Munk
      April 13, 2013 at 2:53 pm

      Hi Serena,

      Your english is great actually, I understand everything. I appreciate you taking the time to check in and share your thoughts. Please help spread the word and maybe Christina will find the courage to really find “her voice within”

      Thanks for stargayzing and I hope you’ll stay in touch (@stargayzingone on Twitter).

      Ciao!

      Davide

  17. Mario
    April 12, 2013 at 1:28 am
    Reply

    Really hope she read this. It’s harsh on some parts, but it’s sincere and she needs this right now.

    I’m a fan of hers because she’s not just someone with a big voice. We see toons of that in reality shows like The Voice and American Idol, but Aguilera is a real talent. She has one of the most soulful and deep voices around and is also brave enough to take risks. She also has really greats references and influences, but we haven’t seen that in her recent work.

    I don’t think Lotus is a total crap. For me it

  18. Mario
    April 12, 2013 at 1:38 am
    Reply

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Really hope she read this. It’s harsh on some parts, but it’s sincere and she needs this right now.

    I’m a fan of hers because she’s not just someone with a big voice. We see toons of that in reality shows like The Voice and American Idol, but Aguilera is a real talent. She has one of the most soulful and deep voices around and is also brave enough to take risks. She also has really greats references and influences, but we haven’t seen that in her recent work.

    I don’t think Lotus is a total crap. For me it’s an above average pop record but that feels quite disappointing for her truly potencial. She can be in the same spot that Justin Timberlake is right now: making music for the masses with authenticity and boldness just like the greatest pop idols from the past used to do. It only depends on her.

    • David Munk
      April 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      Hi Marius,

      I agree with your comment. It would take real courage to make a record of standards, just as it did for Linda Ronstadt in ’83, Natalie Cole in ’91 and, believe it or not, Streisand in ’85. No one ever thinks this is a good idea until it happens and wins every award and puts the singer back at number one. Trust me, I’m old enough to have seen this personally over and over again!

      I hope you’ll stay in touch. i have a monthly newsletter that you can sign up for on the first page, or you can follow me on Twitter @ stargayzingone.

      Thanks again Marius. Your feedback is great. David

  19. Leslie
    April 12, 2013 at 8:43 am
    Reply

    After reading this, I felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness yet kind of a relief.
    Ive always loved Christina and especially her music, but over the years some of her songs in the albums are questionable…”why did see include this in the album?” I want more of her soul and R&B style of music.

    I too feel that the media tends to pick on her but I realize media is media and they can never change my view on how great of a person she is and an artist.

    I totally agree with your constructive criticism and I wish I knew Christina and be able to have conversations with her like you did, tell her whats on my mind. I hope she does read this letter.

    • David Munk
      April 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      Hi Leslie,

      I wish I knew her well enough to have this conversation personally as well, but I no longer work for Denise Rich and she is no longer married to Jason, so my to real connections to her are gone. If I could have told her this over dinner I would have preferred it to blogging, believe me! I hope you’ll stay in touch. I have a monthly newsletter you can sign up with on the home page and you can follow me on twitter @stargayzingone.

      I’m still hoping I will hear back from Christina directly on this one. I would like to recommend some producers to help her out of the musical rut she is in.

      Thanks again Leslie

      David

  20. Ragheb
    April 12, 2013 at 9:27 am
    Reply

    I Love This Women! <3

    • David Munk
      April 13, 2013 at 2:46 pm

      Me too. That’s why I took the time to write this!

  21. Judy
    April 12, 2013 at 10:00 am
    Reply

    Hey David,

    I’m from germany and will turn 24 this year. I have been with Christina since “stripped”, she kind of raised me like a big sister I never had, being a role model to me in many different ways. I developed my taste of music just because she gave me so much inspiration, that’s why to me every song has a chance to reach me.
    Christina even gave me important values which is why I carry her name on my back as a tattoo – and will never regret it.
    So now I want to thank you for speaking out loud what I was thinking – she lost touch with what she really lived for and you can’t imagine how sad I am about this, she lost her voice within. I want someone close to her to take her hand,bring her to a jazz club and make her feel again, she needs to feel herself again,because that is what made her sing Nina Simones “I love you porgy” with so much love…another idea I had was to get her see a really good soul singer like Emeli Sandé – she has that personal tone and atmosphere that makes you shiver like I had it with Christina doing “at last” back then…but Christina prefers to see rhianna…what a pitty… but I will stay, no matter what,although it is hard, but otherwise I wouldn’t be a Christina-Fan…so David, any words to cheer me up?

    • David Munk
      April 13, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      Hi Judy,

      Thank you for your passionate note. I have two suggestions. The first is to help spread the word to Christina about recording an album of standards. You can do that by making sure that other fans like you see my open letter to her. The more fans that speak to her about it the more she will feel confident enough to follow her heart musically. Feel free to share my letter with anyone you’d like.

      The second thing I would recommend is to spend more time listening to the classic pop music that secretly inspires Christina, like Blossom Dearie and Eartha Kitt. To that list I would also add Nat “King” Cole, Julie London, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis, Jr., Carmen McCrae, Billie Holliday. I will be writing about all of them in the months coming up. I hope you’ll sign up for the newsletter on my homepage or you can follow me on twitter @stargayzingone. Thanks again for staying in touch Judy! David

  22. DNNY
    April 12, 2013 at 6:33 pm
    Reply

    I think your way of thinking on the Christina-Issue is very well articulated, and I kind off envision what you really want/expect from her, but I’m kind off missing the point here, are you suggesting she does a cover/standars record? If so, you’re suggesting the swan song for a pop singer.

    As a fan of hers, I must admit the whole Bionic / Lotus fiasco is nervewrecking for fans, but she has the final say on any of this matters, I sureley wouldn’t mind her being that “pre-rock vocalist” kind of type, but since you know her personally and know her catalogue, you know the woman has a taste for uptempo songs, and most of us fans, expect cool uptempo songs from her.

    The thing is, she needs to believe in her work, as of today, I don’t believe nor think that she had her heart on Bionic nor Lotus, because of her reluctancy to promote both of them, Lotus had great pop potential and could’ve gone far up the charts both singles and album sales wise… I do not expect her to be the second coming of Nina Simone or the late reincarnation of Etta James, I just want her to get her stuff together, work on her vissions, and just be ready to do something that truly comes out of her heart and inspires her, if that thing is that jazzy 20’s, 30’s stuff you want her to do it’s fine, if it’s a full heavy metal album with pop orientation it’s fine too, the thing is that she has to believe in her work, not just throw us a pop album that fans will love and then see her walk out on us…

    • David Munk
      April 13, 2013 at 2:37 pm

      Hi there. I appreciate your comment and taking the time to share your thoughts. I’m not sure if you meant “swan song” in its actually meaning— a “farewell”. I think Christina doing a record of standards combined with new songs in that style recorded with a huge orchestra would in actual fact probably save her music career. Think about Linda Ronstadt’s “What’s New” for example, her album with Nelson Riddle from 1983, which was one of the biggest of her career. Carly Simon’s “Torch” is another example of an excellent standards record. Natalie Cole’s record label didn’t want her to record “Unforgettable” either back in 1991. Even if this proposed Christina record for some reason did not sell, which I can’t imagine frankly given the feedback I’ve gotten to this piece from fans as passionate as yourself, she would be respected for being authentic (these sorts of records always tend to get a lot of Grammy nominations too, btw).

      I hope you’ll stay in touch as I continue to try and reach Christina with my message! You can sign up for my newsletter on the home page if you’d like and follow me on twitter @stargayzingone. Thanks again! David

    • DNNY
      April 13, 2013 at 5:34 pm

      Thanks for answering :), well, as I said in my previous post, I’m good with whatever she comes up with, just as long as she believes in it, I’ve always considered that standards albums were the kind of records that stars like Barbra or Celine would be more likely to do, since they have lenghty careers, and since their orientation is the AC market, Christina does have a soft spot for AC but her main focus is on pop, and as you said it on your article, it may be wiser to swich lanes this time, however I do think that she should be leaning towards modern R&B, pretty much the stuff Beyoncé presented on her “4” album in regards of sounds and aestethics would suit lovely to Christina, mixed with a little bit of pop, because after all, Christina is a pop artist.
      Nevertheless I hope she takes all the time she needs and finally work on something she wants as she said on a red carpet event, music has to come up “if it feels right”, I wouldn’t mind waiting 4 o 5 years, but it’s all up to her this time…

    • David Munk
      April 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      Hi there. Well “pop” is just a big umbrella term that means “popular”. There was certainly a time when standards actually was the pop music of its day. Truth is, Christina could make a standards album that’s very “her” combining different elements and influences. It would certainly be more truthful than most of her post-Back to Basics output. In reading the extensive feedback to this piece it seems like Christina has bigger problems than sub-par musical output, namely a real rift with her core fan base. This is a very dangerous problem for someone interested in career longevity and I hope that Christina is reads and heeds what people are saying here. Thanks for your feedback. David

  23. TheEmanueleCastelli
    April 12, 2013 at 8:00 pm
    Reply

    Amazing letter David!
    Very well said! I think the same… She disappoint me a lot over the last years and I’m a HUGE fan of her… Hope she’ll back “stronger than ever” with her own style!!!
    Have an awesome WE!

    Emanuele from Como (Italia)

    • David Munk
      April 13, 2013 at 2:30 pm

      Ciao Emanuele! Mille grazie. That is pretty much the extent of my Italian, but it comes from my heart! Please stay in touch. I have a monthly newsletter that you can sign up for on the homepage, if you haven’t already. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece about Christina and there will be much more that I think you will like over next few months. David

    • TheEmanueleCastelli
      April 13, 2013 at 3:42 pm

      Awww, sooo cute! Thank you for your italian thanks… Probably my english isn’t good as your italian! I’ll enjoy your pieces!!! Subscribed!!! And let me tell… U r so sexy dude
      LOL

      LeLe

    • David Munk
      April 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm

      Hi there. Well usually I’m happy if someone compliments my writing, so it’s very special that someone noticed my face! Thank you for subscribing LeLe xo

  24. David Munk
    April 13, 2013 at 2:27 pm
    Reply

    Hi Anabel,

    Thank you for taking the time to read Stargayzing. You make some really interesting points and it means so much that you took the time to comment! I love the fact that YOU know who Eartha Kitt and Blossom Dearie are! I hope that you’ll stay in touch. You can follow me on twitter @stargayzingone or sign up for the monthly newsletter on the home page. Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts. David

  25. Groovybeans
    April 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm
    Reply

    It’s truly disappointing when promise and talent give way to the commodification of mediocrity. You’ve captured that disappointment here. Great post, David.

    • David Munk
      April 14, 2013 at 5:15 pm

      Thanks Jeff! Much appreciated.

  26. Jackie
    April 14, 2013 at 1:16 am
    Reply

    After reading this letter, I was almost in tears. I hate listening to the radio, watching music awards including the grammy’s because Christina isn’t there. This just seems impossible to comprehend because nobody compares to her. Her talent is immeasurable. It just brings me to tears to listen to all the hate that surrounds Christina. I have bought all of her albums and I credit her for saving my life through her music. ALL OF IT. I agree with this entire letter, I really wish her the best. I will always support her no matter what. I really hope that she can get back in touch with her musical identity. I honestly don’t care about her sales its the quality that matters and with that she will get acclaim she deserves. I hope she gets this letter and does not take it the wrong way. We all love her and support her! Christina your Fighters love you. <33

    • David Munk
      April 14, 2013 at 5:25 pm

      Hi Jackie.
      As I’ve mentioned in responses I’ve written to other comments, it seems like Christina has a bigger problem on her hands than shitty music, i.e. a disconnect with her most supportive fans such as yourself. Perhaps you would find it comforting to begin to explore some of the influences that Christina alluded to in her conversation with me and look for answers in the enduring music I referenced. You can begin with Peggy Lee, Eartha Kitt, Blossom Dearie, and Carmen McRae. These are the singers that Christina actually identifies with emotionally, but I suspect she is terrified to really let that genie out of the bottle. She probably doesn’t have the courage to take that risk. The irony is that by not doing so she is gradually losing all credibility and short selling her early promise to become an artist who really took chances or, even worse, just being a celebrity or TV personality. Pity that. If you want more specific recommendations on what to listen to I would be glad to direct you.

      If you haven’t signed up for my blog’s newsletter on the home page I would love you to. You can also follow me on twitter at @stargayzingone

      Thanks again,
      David

  27. Zac Miller
    April 14, 2013 at 2:43 am
    Reply

    I agree with everything you said, but I think that another one of her major problems is her voice deterioration, she has the best vocal tone since Ella Fitzgerald and Whitney Houston, but her lack of vocal technique is really damaging her voice and she’s just 31 years old!! She needs to learn how to to sing in her mix voice urgently or she won’t be able to sing in the next five years , which is really sad because she’s really talented. She really needs read to this!!

    • David Munk
      April 14, 2013 at 5:30 pm

      Hi Zac,

      You obviously know a great deal about singing. I didn’t really get into that aspect of the issue, though I am in agreement with you. I did make an oblique reference to your point in my double post script when I criticize her endless runs and riffing. Mariah Carey is a great example of someone who screamed entire pieces of her vocal range away (see my Stargayzing piece “the deterioration of do, re, mimi” for more on that)

      I hope you’ll stay in touch and would love it if you’d sign up for the monthly newsletter on the homepage. I’m also on twitter @stargayzingone. Thanks again Zac.

      David

    • Winter
      October 8, 2013 at 1:30 am

      The piece you write is not very accurate.

      Mariah did not “scream” her range away. You can’t just look at a slideshow through time and determine the CAUSE of her vocal deterioration – that’s not how it works.

      If you LISTEN to her voice, you can see her technical competence. When Mariah belted, it was resonant, and her flexibility illustrates the effortlessness in her utilization of that register. Her vibrato was extremely even. She placed her notes well (in the mask for lower notes and in the head for the upper belts) and her higher notes (an whistles) were on-key always. She struggles nowadays, but it’s not because of “screaming.”

      What you CAN tell from Christina’s belts is that they are strained, vibrato-less and have this “choked” sound, and there’s that brittle edge that’s a sign of a raised larynx. Her head voice is often off-key, and her lower notes are foggy and unclear. Mariah’s low notes were supported by breath from her diaphgram – she actually sings her low notes with clear diction, Christina just breathes low, which is why it’s hard to understand her enunciations in the lower register.

    • David Munk
      October 8, 2013 at 6:42 pm

      Hi there.

      I appreciate your enthusiasm and detailed perspective on this whole riffing business. (You might be interested in reading today’s post Melismania! The Art of Good Singing Has a Terrible Case of the Runs

      While I don’t agree with all of your points (for the record, my feelings about Mariah’s voice were not shaped by watching videos as much as they were by being in the studio with her) I definitely agree with your conclusion. Differing opinions are beside the point — the conversation is really what matters.

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to respond. I hope you’ll sign up for the newsletter on the home page and keep reading Stargayzing.

      David

    • Winter
      October 9, 2013 at 1:05 am

      I don’t disagree that nowadays she may be particularly careless/lazy or whatever, but I honestly don’t blame her.

      During the 90s, she was completely overworked, touring back-to-back, night-after-night, internationally. You can totally see that she was a completely different person at that point in time. Back then, Tommy Mottola really squeezed every drop from her. It all seemed to culminate to her breakdown in the early 2000s and her vocal decline – I think these two things were definitely connected. I mean, you don’t get straight #1s for a decade without putting that much effort in.

      That’s besides the point though – she’s already left a huge legacy and made a huge dent in the industry. Yes, there will always be people abusing runs, but then again, there are always imitators who don’t live up to their predecessors. It’s not her fault that the AI generation don’t know how to use melisma effectively.

      I do agree and can definitely see that she wouldn’t be able to name some of the people who you’re familiar with, but honestly, I don’t think that really matters. For one, we know that Mariah looks up to the likes of Aretha – she’s spoken reverently about her. However, I think her musicianship speaks for itself. Here’s an example: she doesn’t even know the lyrics to “Fly Me to the Moon” – there’s a Youtube clip where she’s sings – impromptu – with this lounge singer who’s singing this song and she cuts in with an improvisation that’s perfect connected to the song’s jazz scale, it’s meter and rhythm, creating coherent and complex musical ideas – all while making up the lyrics. See, I don’t think she really cares about name dropping because she knows who she is and what she’s capable of as a musician.

      Again, I’m not even a huge Mariah fan, but I do respect her ability. I will concede, however, that she’s not everyone’s cup of tea and that there ARE better musical interpreters out there, like Aretha, Ella, and Barbra.

    • David Munk
      October 9, 2013 at 2:03 am

      You make strong points and I appreciate the effort it took to share your thoughts. I hope you’ll keep reading the blog.

      David

  28. Lauren
    April 14, 2013 at 11:49 pm
    Reply

    Pretty sure Blossom Dearie died in 2009.

    • David Munk
      April 14, 2013 at 11:54 pm

      She did Lauren. I’ve already corrected the text. Many thanks.

  29. Juan
    April 17, 2013 at 9:56 pm
    Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing your personal experiences with xtina. It was a nice reminder of the potential we all saw when she was first on the scene.

    I truly hope this open letter gets to her because the way she is going, she’s about to lose a die hard fan.

    Bionic had a couple misses but overall I enjoyed the album. Lotus on the other hand, I found myself making attempts to convince myself that I liked it.

    I hope we get to see the xtina full of potential, warmth and sincerity you had the pleasure of meeting. Not this trend chasing pop star with a lack of gratitude that leaves a terrible taste in your mouth.

    I love xtina and love her music even more, but her personality and work ethic are such a turn off.
    Holding on to a glimmer of hope though…

    • David Munk
      May 8, 2013 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Juan,

      Sorry for the delay in publishing your comment. It fell through the cracks.

      Although my little piece on Christina was extremely well-read, I don’t know if Christina herself read it, as I never heard from her or from anyone in her camp. At least my thoughts may have struck a chord with so many of her (frustrated) fans.

      Thanks for reading and I hope you will stay in touch (if you haven’t already signed up, there is a monthly newsletter on the front page!)

      David

  30. Emmanuel
    May 10, 2013 at 3:10 am
    Reply

    Hi David,

    First of all, you are so lucky to have actually gotten to meet and talk to the one and only Xtina. I really wish that she could see this open letter AND take a moment to read what her fans (including me) have to say about this.

    I think she should definitely let go of RCA, it’s clearly not helping her at all. She is, without a doubt, one of the best vocalists of ALL time! I’m more than a fan, I’m a Fighter and a follower. Her music has helped me to come out of some pretty tough situations and just keep challenging myself to do better in everything. I honestly believe that Christina could do anything, sing anything … BUT, she has got to sing what she really loves. It’s only my humble and sincere opinion.

    Mexico loves you Christina.
    God bless!

    • David Munk
      May 12, 2013 at 1:48 am

      Hi Emmanuel! Thank you for checking in and for sharing your feelings. I hope you’ll stay in touch and keep Stargayzing with me! David

  31. Ella
    May 26, 2013 at 3:02 am
    Reply

    Hi David,

    You said that there’s hardly any honest feedback within an artist’s inner circle and that people generally surround themselves with sycophants and others who are on the payroll, and so, that is why your comment is a bit harsh, but at least it’s honest, and for that, I do respect you, but- I was wondering… If you’re such good friends with Christina and proved it by showing us her ‘thank you’ note (though she tells you to keep it quite for the songs she plans to use eventually), why not tell her in person? I think she would appreciate your honesty better if you tell her your concerns rather than writting something so public and having others comment or criticize. As a friend, doesn’t that seem a bit underhanded- backstabbing?

    • David Munk
      May 26, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      Hi Ella,

      First of all, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I think you’re misunderstanding—I knew Christina for a period of time primarily through her ex-husband Jordan. I would love to talk to her directly but I don’t know her anymore and am, as they say, “out of the loop.” I would not say she and I were friends as much as acquaintances who shared common interests, as noted in my piece.

      I would not categorize my comments as backstabbing—I am not saying anything personal about her character—rather just critical of some of her professional choices. I am not saying that she is a bad person, just that she is not following her heart musically. I think that my comments are actually quite loving and, if the feedback I’ve gotten on the piece is any indication, many, many of her fans are in complete agreement.

      Thank you for reading Stargayzing! David

    • Ella
      May 29, 2013 at 3:19 am

      I never said that you were talking about her ‘personally’ I was just saying if you think her career choices were bad, to just tell her directly.
      And what I meant about ‘backstabbing’ was because you claimed to have gotten along pretty good with her and, well I’m someone who when I have an issue with somebody or just to share my thoughts of concern I tell them. But since you lost touch with her, thats different, however, you knew her so there are other ways to get in touch with her. I didn’t mean to offend you or anything, it was just a question and opinion perhaps not what you wanted. And yes, your feedback was positive, but thats in agreement of your dislike of her choices not against me, so its got nothing to do with my question to you. But thats fine. So take care.

  32. Maggie
    May 28, 2013 at 1:22 am
    Reply

    Beautiful letter!

    Was she talking about Beyoncé and ”at last” when saying certain people stealing songs?

    • David Munk
      May 28, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      Hi Maggie,

      Well she wasn’t specific about her ideas being stolen so I can’t really speculate. “At Last” has been recorded so many times that it would seem unlikely that anyone but Etta James would be entitles to have a proprietary feeling about it. The thing about standards is that they are always being recorded decade after decade, that’s why they’re called “standards”!

      Thank you so much for reading Stargayzing and sharing your thoughts. I hope you’ll stay in touch. The best way is to sign up for the newsletter on the home page. I only send out messages about once a month so you won’t feel inundated!

      Thanks again.

      David

  33. A
    September 27, 2013 at 6:52 pm
    Reply

    Hi David,

    I loved reading your open letter to Christina Aguilera and you definitely showcased a more personal side of her that the public never gets to see as revealed from your intimate conversations together. I’ve been a huge fan of hers forever. I think she is a music lover, bottom line.

    One of the key components to her talent is her extreme versatility. She can pretty much sing in any genre you name. There are so many different opinions on what she “should” be doing musically. People tend to draw on the careers of other musicians and artists when trying to give her a blueprint to follow. However, she is blazing her own kind of trail. Christina has always been vocal about not being labeled or put into any kind of box and that goes for “music” too. As far as musical identity, it can be very limiting to her artistic ability and “safe” if she were to stay with one sound. Sure she named dropped some great musicians of past but she also surprised me with her knowledge of electronica and synth pop acts that either inspired her or she had the opportunity to collaborate with. She loves it all and it isn’t fair to restrict her to one sound. I like that she experiments. Some of it may be commercially appealing at times and some of it won’t but that’s the risk you have to take.

    She tends to blur the lines between pop star, celebrity, musician, artist, singer and vocal talent. Let’s face it, being each one of these things affects how people think her music “should be”. For example, as a pop star she should be making commercially appealing music but then as an artist she should focus on a message in her songs however as a vocal talent she’d be better suited to singing ballads to showcase that voice. It’s a lot to live up to, being all these different things. Her career is still growing and there is so much we have yet to see. This personally always excites me as a fan.

    I have to disagree on your dislike of the way she riffs. To each their own, I personally love all the runs and trills in her voice when she goes into a melisma. Having your own vocal sound is such a hard thing to pull off especially in the light of other vocal Divas like Whitney, Mariah and Celine. There’s a certain way she riffs that is instantly recognizable and a lot of up and coming artists try to emulate it nowadays. She’s done very will to put a stamp on her “Aguilerian” runs.

    As far as conveying the lyrics of the song it depends on how you personally interpret it. I like to use “At Last” as an example. There are the tender vocals of Etta James original interpretation of the song and then there are the powerhouse vocals of Christina’s rendition. Some people may feel a more tender way of expressing their love as Etta did, while others are so happy they want to “scream it from the rooftops” in the way Christina does. It’s all in the interpretation.

    Anyway, thank you though for this wonderful article and insight into her musically. Have faith in her! I think she knows what she’s doing! Even if it gets lost on others, I would just like her to pursue what’s in her heart and not what’s on other people’s minds.

    ~A

    • David Munk
      October 3, 2013 at 4:03 pm

      Hi Sparky boy (a.k.a. “A”),

      Thanks for your thoughtful response to the Christina Aguiera piece. While I appreciate your perspective though I definitely don’t agree with your thoughts about melisma in general and Christina’s “Aguilerian” vocal runs, (a great appellation, but one which has the unfortunate effect of imbuing a degree of seriousness upon them that I don’t believe they deserve). I suspect I might be a bit older than you and, with your indulgence, would like to take a moment to respond in some detail, stating in advance that this is just my belief and I don’t wish to impress it too forcefully upon anyone (okay, I just lied a little bit. I would actually love for you to read this and have a “vocal epiphany”, that’s why I’m a writer).

      For the record, here is my opinion about riffing which was shaped over many years of listening to pop and R&B and working with of few of the greats: melisma only impresses me when it serves the singer’s ability to convey the meaning of a lyric and evoke an emotional response in the listener. At the end of the day, or recording session, the only thing that matters is the singer’s skill at communicating. Or as Natalie Cole said to me once in the studio, “to make a musical point.” It is my opinion that singers who riff constantly are not interpreting the lyrics and the only “musical point” they are making is that they’re ears are not very sophisticated. Constant or reckless riffing undermines the piece of being a singer that has to do with acting ability, creating a character, etc. (For more on this, perhaps read my recent review of jazz singer Annie Ross, a much older woman who compensates for reduced vocal agility with outstanding acting skill).

      While I understand that on the surface, vocal runs can be exciting (even thrilling when they are well executed), for the most part they are, in fact, a terrible distraction from the business of communication and quite poorly executed. Chronic riffing is so prevelant because this is what younger people think is indicative of good singing. “Chronic riffing” does like a condition and I do wish there was a remedy. For every singer that is skillful at melisma, from Aretha Franklin to Stevie Wonder to Celine Dion and beyond, there are literally millions of kids who grew up in malls who sound like they have Parkinson’s disease. To expand on my point, I would suggest that any young aspiring singer go back to the greats and study: from Mahalia Jackson (a gospel singer who did not riff, imagine that?), to Gladys Knight (a classic soul great who riffs minimally but strategically and can easily break your heart), to Luther Vandross (the greatest R&B crooner of his era who also riffed minimally and only when it served the song), to Barbra Streisand (the singing movie star who exemplifies that holding one note can be more thrilling than running through 88), great singing has never been strictly about melisma.

      To give you some historical perspective, this cultural fetish for vocal runs only began in earnest when Mariah Carey exploded around 1990 and begat the hellish legacy we live with today, with millions of clueless children riffing like some zombie vocal apocolypse, completely unbothered by the knowledge that there was ever a time when the perception of good singing was ever anything more emotionally resonant. Of course this was only exacerbated by what I witheringly refer to as “American Idol Syndrome,” wherein judges appear to validate this approach to the unilateral undermining of the art of good singing. Singing judges on T.V. shows are frequently chosen because they are “good T.V.”, not good singers. Though ostensibly experts, these individuals in actual fact range from studio singers (Mariah Carey) to people who are all but tone deaf (Jennifer Lopez), or just hot messes (guess). For more on this, I recommend reading the coverage of when Harry Connick Jr. lost his temper when he was a guest mentor on “Idol”).

      I appreciate your opinion and especially how respectfully you acknowledge those who feel differently (a classy and unique touch nowadays, don’t you think? While we all love what we love, I encourage everyone to always be expanding what you listen to…stretch a bit. If you love Christina (and let me be clear that I think she is very talented and, at least in my interaction with her, a likeable person), go back and study early Aretha Franklin (particularly 1967-1974). Go boldly into the past, it holds incredible treasure for those who take the time look. It is the foundation of Stargayzing’s philosophy and has personally served me well throughout my career.

      Thank you again for taking the time to read and respond. It’s very gratifying and makes all of the hard work worth it. Did I already encourage you to sign up for the newsletter on the home page?

      Warmly…and with my sincere hope that you discover the joy of a gloriously sustained note,

      David

  34. Winter
    October 8, 2013 at 1:08 am
    Reply

    She oversings her riffs and doesn’t sustain notes because she CAN’T. When have you EVER heard her sing anything above a C5 without straining like holy hell? Face it, you want her to be Ella or Aretha, but she doesn’t have that kind of voice or technique – she far more limited vocally. Her runs are a crutch, and she KNOWS that she can use them to her advantage – to distract her audience.

    Comparing her to Barbara is a bit a stretch, because Barbara unbelievable control over her voice – something Christina wishes she had. It’s a joy listening to Barbara’s vibrato, yet I rarely hear Christina utilize vibrato while belting high notes – probably because it’s hard to do with a raised larynx.

    Anyhow, runs are not the problem. Whitney and Mariah (in their primes) had runs that were placed perfectly within the structure of the song. Say what you will about what Vision of Love spawned within others, Mariah herself was always on point when it came to her melisma. Her runs were always rooted in the chord progressions, and she can do it in any meter, during any interval, with a variety of vocal colors, and it always has a place to go and sets up a spot for the next phrase.

    Overall, there are many people who riff tastefully, Christina is not one of them – she just throws her voice around.

  35. Anya
    November 30, 2013 at 5:01 pm
    Reply

    Hi David,
    I agree with everything you said. She is an amazing singer, of course her voice has ” flaws” like some people might say but I think it’s because she IS NOT on her comfortable zone.
    I have to say, she is INCREDIBLE TALENTED, and as she said, “when I sing my whole heart comes out”. Nowadays, inside of music industry it’s rare to find a song that the singer has his “whole heart” on it. It’s seems to me it’s all based on sex, drogs and being party all the time.
    I understand her message on “Bionic”, it’s feminist, dancing and catchy but Christina Aguilera is more than that.
    Lotus is COMPLETELY out of her TRUE passion, it was made for sell and probably made without her “heart”. She simply can’t denied that she has lost her way.
    I can see that she has something different when compared with other artist, she knows how to sing and performing, so I beg – please my dear Christina, sing your true soul, and don’t be afraid of losing “fans”or losing position on Billboard top, because real fans will understand what good music is about. I’m only 17 and I enjoy listening to Nat King Cole, Etta James, Peggy Lee, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington and the list goes on… Christina Aguilera talent is being wasted.
    David, I really appreciate the work you do, please keep sharing your toughts.
    Ana, from Portugal 🙂

    • David Munk
      November 30, 2013 at 8:14 pm

      Hi Ana. Thank you so much for reading my blog and sharing your thoughts with the community. I hope you’ll stay in touch. Happy holidays. David

  36. Mot
    March 21, 2014 at 10:30 am
    Reply

    Heartfelt and Sincere. David, you’re spot on with your musical advice. I picked up that same vibrational energy from her. My strong belief is that she’ll get there. It’s her destiny and she knows that. It’s nice that you cared enough to put yourself Out there at the risk of much criticism. You know that Music is always changing just like the “wheel in the sky keeps on turning” 😉 and I think it’s incredible that you touched on the spirituality of her situation. She must be an amazing person for you to write this. She has been selected to influence masses of people with her brilliant angelic archy voice and I truly believe that she will follow her star eventually. She must be aware that she is indeed an old soul and is likely in the process of her acceptance of it and her journey ahead. The saying goodbye to the old life and what is safe cause its all ya know, is Not always easy. The internal process is grueling for both her and her fans and friends because of expectations from fans and excited anticipation from close friends/family of what they know is her best yet to come.
    She’s shedding off old skin and when it’s officially all off, I have a feeling that you’re gonna be sitting having laughs again! <3

    P.S.
    I don't know her. I liked your blog and got what I like to call torets so I wanted to comment and let you know, you're not out of line. Very supportive. Hope the doll read it.

    • David Munk
      March 21, 2014 at 1:22 pm

      Hi Madalyn,

      I so appreciate your thoughtful comments. I think you really felt my intention which makes me so glad, as some felt I was attacking her (though many even diehard fans appreciated my approach and shared my sentiments).

      I’ve mentioned it before but it merits restating, that her performance with Great Big World on “Say Something” was, at least for me, a stunning return to form: completely straightforward, elegant, understated, and highly emotive. It truly showed what she is capable of doing when she just pulls back and gives herself some room to feel. All of the riffing and runs take up the space where acting the lyric should go. I’m not saying a singer should never riff but, as Natalie Cole says, it should be to make a musical point—a choice.

      I could say a lot more about this and will in future posts. I hope you’ll stick with the blog and let me know your thoughts about what you’re feeling. I have a monthly newsletter that you can sign up for on the home page that will make it super easy to keep up with my writing.

      thanks again for chiming in. It made my day.

      David

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