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When Christina Aguilera started working on his second album, Bare, she had what every pop star dreams of: multiple No. 1 hits, a No. 1 album, a headlining tour. But she was unhappy and Linda Perry could see it when they entered the studio together.

Perry is the sole songwriter/producer of “Beautiful,” which is not just one of Aguilera’s biggest hits to date, but one of the greatest self-acceptance anthems of his generation. . And even though Aguilera didn’t write the song, she knew it fit perfectly into the story of Bare.

“I was always given a schedule and an agenda, and told where to go, how to dress,” says Aguilera. “He was a machine, and at that point in my life…I just felt like there was so much inside of me that I couldn’t say and couldn’t share, and I wanted to connect deeply with My Fans.”

It was the urgency — and also the insecurity — that made Perry realize that Aguilera was the perfect singer for the “Beautiful” narrative. And that’s probably why “Beautiful” has connected so widely for so long: it’s as authentic as the songs come.

“Beautiful” was released as a single on November 16, 2002 and quickly became a vaunted part of her discography. In addition to topping several charts, the track earned Aguilera both a GLAAD Media Award in 2003 and a GRAMMY for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2004. Twenty years later, “Beautiful” still serves as a anthem for anyone struggling with self-acceptance – one that has arguably become more meaningful than ever.

As the song celebrates its 20th anniversary, spoke with Aguilera, video director Jonas Akerlund, GLAAD’s Anthony Allen Ramos and Trans Lifeline’s Myles Markham about the impact of “Beautiful” and why its message still matters today.

“It really changed my whole concept of what ‘beautiful’ really meant.”

Perry was very protective of “Beautiful” due to the importance of its message. She had previously previewed the song to Pink for the Missundaztood sessions, however, ultimately decided to keep it to herself. And like Perry said American songwriter in 2021, she didn’t initially see Aguilera as a fit for the song when they first met at Perry’s home studio.

“I was just thinking, I’m looking at this hot chick, who’s got everything going on, or so you think, and she wants this song about singing about being beautiful? At how vain is that?” said Perry.

Even so, she let Aguilera record a demo. Just before she started, Aguilera told a friend who was in the studio with her, “don’t look at me” — and that changed everything. “I realized that this beautiful girl, going high on the charts, everyone knows her, is just as insecure as I am,” Perry recalled. “It really changed my whole concept of what ‘beautiful’ really meant.”

As Aguilera herself admits, she “felt a lot” on that fateful demo day, but Perry helped her dig deeper into those feelings and ultimately realize that it was okay not to feel perfect.

“[Linda] really did an incredible job of freeing me from that mental pressure that we can all have by striving to be the best we can be,” says Aguilera, “and accepting the vulnerability in the fact that what we do is not can. – not being perfect, but in reality, it is, and that makes us unique.”

The recording of the song is true to this sentiment, as the demo version was what was released – with the “don’t look at me” at the start.

“I never would have even kept the voice that was on it,” Aguilera says, “but [Linda] really pushed me to do it. I didn’t drill and perfect it in any way, and I had kept things that I would never normally live with. But I embraced the honesty of it, because that was the feel of the song – to really tap into what’s worrying you. But really, it’s the flaws and seemingly imperfections that are super rare and beautiful.”

“The video for ‘Beautiful’ did something truly unique for its time and genre.”

The official music video for “Beautiful” premiered a few weeks after the song was released as a single. The four-minute clip sees Aguilera huddled in the corner of an empty house, her loneliness juxtaposed with clips of people experiencing a similar sense of disconnect via body dysmorphia, gender nonconformity, same-sex relationships and racial suppression. .

While sexual fluidity and gender nonconformity weren’t necessarily new phenomena in pop visuals – take Madonnavideos such as “Justify My Love” or george michaelThe video for “Outside,” which recreated his arrest for soliciting sex from an undercover cop – was a first for Aguilera’s generation of pop stars. Britney Spears“Overprotected” and *NSYNC“Pop” contained similar themes of feeling overwhelmed by everyday life and wanting to break free from the expectations of others, but until then, none of Aguilera’s peers had a song or video that fought the expectations of reality. company as “Beautiful”.

“Back then, music videos were all about selling albums,” Jonas Akerlund, who directed the “Beautiful” video, says. “Nobody gave a…about a message. So the fact that Christina and a few other artists actually brought attention to something more than just an artist singing a song was amazing. And that was fine with me, because I’ve always wanted to make an impact with my videos. I love it for that, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”

“The video for ‘Beautiful’ did something really unique for the era and the genre, and that was to break the binary between things like disgust and desire, self-love and self-hatred. “, adds Myles Markham, development coordinator for Trans Lifeline. . “[It] really opened up a conversation about what it might mean to be yourself against the expectations and pressures of a patriarchal society.”

“It was such a big part of who I was becoming as an artist and who I was as a person.”

The song’s message of self-acceptance, along with the LGTBQ+ portrayal in its video, earned Aguilera the Special Recognition Award at the 2003 GLAAD Media Awards. “Beautiful” became an unofficial anthem for the LGBTQ+ community, in part because it “explored gender expression at a time when that kind of representation was rare,” as GLAAD Vice President of Communications and Talent Anthony Allen Ramos suggests.

In her acceptance speech at the GLAAD Media Awards, Aguilera hinted that the impact of “Beautiful” was exactly what she hoped for. “This song is definitely a universal message that everyone can relate to – anyone who has been discriminated against or not accepted, unappreciated or disrespected simply because of who you are,” she said. “It was so important to me that I support the gay community in this way.”

For Aguilera, the Bare The era was about getting a message across and breaking free from the narratives and comparisons forced upon it. While the album was liberating for Aguilera herself, she wanted to impact others struggling with similar feelings. More importantly, she wanted to be raw and honest, both in her lyrics and her visuals — and “Beautiful” did just that.

“Jonas came through sharing such a heartfelt sense of honesty, and not just making it stereotypically handsome,” she says. “Starting really tough conversations and instilling hope was such an important part of who I was becoming as an artist and who I was as a person.”

To this day, Akerlund says he still has people thanking him for making the “Beautiful” video and sharing stories about why the video impacted them. He also proudly keeps a collection of fan letters he has received over the years.

“I come from Sweden, and at the time I didn’t really understand the impact of this kind of [videos] could have,” says Akerlund. “I thought it was the most natural thing to incorporate all of those elements into the story [of ‘Beautiful’]. I didn’t really think about it, but it was amazing to see the reactions.”

“It’s the same universal message in all parts of the world.”

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Bare In October, Aguilera shared a new video for “Beautiful” — a “2022 release,” which touched on how technology has seeped into society, particularly how it’s affected younger generations. At its core, many of the themes of the original video are reflected in the new visual – body dysmorphia, mental health issues, and unrealistic beauty standards. All the while, their internal struggles are amplified as their lives are exposed via social media.

“The original ‘Beautiful’ video was meant to raise awareness and show compassion in the face of judgment, criticism and outside opinions,” Aguilera wrote in an Instagram post as soon as Version 2022 is released. “It still carries an important message to remember our core values ​​outside of what is fed to us…to find a sense of balance and accept ourselves for who we are.”

“Beautiful” remains one of Aguilera’s signature songs and a staple on his setlist. She says she still feels a sense of pride seeing fans sing the song to her at her concerts, especially those who bring their kids “to the table and the conversation.”

The song’s message remains persistent and intersectional. From its raw, unreleased vocals to desperate piano chords to its groundbreaking video, “Beautiful” encapsulates the feelings of loneliness felt by many at a time when gay rights were still in limbo and before conversations about mental health do become table topics.

“Beautiful” continues to help people find comfort and reminds listeners that outside forces, as Aguilera sings, “will not bring us down.” This enduring connection is what Aguilera loves the most.

“To be able to accomplish [“Beautiful”] on stage and to see people of such different ages and backgrounds – and to know that this means something very different to each person, but in reality it is the same universal message in all parts of the world – it’s really beautiful to see only in person, in real time,” says Aguilera. “Knowing that it meant so much to so many people is simply the greatest reward of all time.

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