x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Christina Aguilera, Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi

As silver confetti spewed over the audience during Fighter, the finale, you couldn't fail to be impressed by her spirit.

Christina exclaimed about the heat as her customary make-up began to slide from her face.
Christina exclaimed about the heat as her customary make-up began to slide from her face.

As she stalked across the stage, belting out Ain't no Other Man in white suit, stole and trilby askew over her trademark platinum locks, it was hard to imagine a time when Christina Aguilera was cast as the underdog. Britney's spectacular fall from grace aside, she was always more talented and resilient than her Mickey Mouse Club co-star, and her reinvention as a 1940's siren for her third studio album, Back to Basics, was a stroke of genius, channelling her out of teen pop and into a more sophisticated sound. For her Abu Dhabi debut, the Jean Harlow coiffure had been replaced by a snappy fringe, and her reworking of the jazz, blues and soul styles that had garnered her a Grammy nomination for Best Vocal Pop Album, was slick and oozing with diva attitude. Images of Gladys Knight, Otis Redding and Billie Holiday flashed up on a screen, leaving us in no doubt as to which eras she was referencing during Back in the Day, and energetic flapper routines from her spat-sporting backing dancers warmed the stage with frenetic sizzle. Her complicated and almost unrecognisable reggae version of What a Girl Wants worked less well, making us want to shout, "don't be ashamed of the old pop hits, Christina!" as we struggled to sing along. But nothing prepared us for the titillating black-and-white film that should have had a parental guidance certificate attached, shown as leather-clad dancers appeared, cracking whips menacingly. Aguilera was soon hoofing around in spray-on PVC, growling to Dirrty. But before long, it was a return to her more tasteful material, and Candyman had teenagers jiving madly in the aisles. "It is HOT in Abu Dhabi," she gasped, as her customary inch-thick make-up began to slide from her face, but a pause to introduce the dancers and band gave her a chance to recover, before she bounced back in a trashy boudoir chic leopard print gown with feather trim and settled atop a giant circus drum to coo the self-chastising ballad, Hurt. This was a night of visual extravagance and perhaps the highlight was the spectacular burlesque showpiece, Lady Marmalade, which transformed the stage into a sea of pink feathers and booming vocals. No Christina concert would be complete without a rendition of Beautiful, that anthem for awkward teenagers everywhere, which she soared through before gearing back up to a clever electro-pop reworking of Genie in a Bottle. As silver confetti spewed over the audience during Fighter, the finale, you couldn't fail to be impressed by her spirit.
kboucher@thenational.ae