In scanning the press release for Christina Aguilera's forthcoming album, Liberation, something jumped out at me: the part where it says "executive produced by Christina Aguilera."
If you recall from earlier this year, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative did a study on representation of women in music and found that among the myriad ways they are underrepresented, women served as a producer on only 2% of the most popular songs in the country.
There are multiple reasons why this title is important, and all of them have to do with her actual liberation. First of all, the producer is the person who calls the shots on a track. They pick the beat, tell the singer how to sing, the players how to play, and execute their vision. On an album with multiple producers, the executive producer oversees all the producers who come in to work on a track (i.e., Kanye West produced the first single, "Accelerate"). The executive producer makes sure the elements various producers bring in all work together for the greater concept of the album, also helping the artist find, cut, and sequence songs. It signals that Aguilera is truly taking creative control on this project. She's not just hopping in the vocal booth to do whatever a Max Martin-type tells her to do. She is Max Martin.
Oh, and those producers and executive producers all get back end points on album sales, as do the songwriters. More credits means more money. And that is the point of all this representation talk: women having less opportunity as songwriters and producers means they make less money in addition to having less creative control.
The world already has a tendency to undermine the contributions of women in music: Even Björk, an artist whose creative caliber is difficult to top, says she isn't given the artist credit she deserves if she gives a male producer a co-credit. We tend to assume there's always a man behind a creative woman, telling her what to do. Aguilera is doing something remarkable to smash that narrative by putting herself on the topline of her next album. I am going to be very interested to see how people talk about the album; if they give credit to West for her debut track (which is such a juicy tidbit given his current...um, status), if that trend continues as she rolls out more music, or if she just gets the bag to hold should this album be less than a successful, chart-topping, creative reimagining of her image.
It has been bothering me that people write gleeful pieces about Britney Spears living her best life on Instagram while she neither writes nor records any new music and stays locked into a greatest hits tour in a theatre in Las Vegas. Is that how low the bar is for the divas of the 2000s? Are we willing to write them all off into "their best years are past"? Neither of these women are even 40. It's not that I expect more from Britney — she's clearly been through a lot. But, with the arrival of "Accelerate," an unexpected dip back into uber-relevance from Aguilera, I think she may be on the save wavelength as me in thinking that women in music can and must do more.
I suspect Aguilera's history working with Linda Perry, one of the strongest and best-known female producers, played a role here. She's been in the studio and seen that sort of female power modelled. That is so important, and it's an experience that disappointingly few female pop artists ever have.
Xtina finds herself in a position of power after dropping nearly 20 years of hits. If she wants to experiment, find what liberates her musically, and be the boss, there's not a damn person who is going to tell her no. She is Christina Aguilera, executive producer.
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