Christina Aguilera Lights Up Las Vegas With Meaningful 'Xperience' Residency
Kicking off her Sin City concert series over the weekend, the pop superstar served up impressive vocals, visuals and couture costumes — all while using her stage at Planet Hollywood's Zappos Theater as a platform to promote girl power and pride.
Christina Aguilera couldn't have picked a more fitting name for her new Las Vegas residency. The Xperience, which kicked off this weekend at Planet Hollywood's Zappos Theater following months of anticipation, indulges all five senses as the pop queen, 38, takes fans — whom she affectionately calls her "Fighters" — on a musical odyssey comprised of six carefully crafted acts that celebrate her biggest hits, along with her most meaningful deep cuts and covers.
"We've been through a lot, me and you, my Fighters," Aguilera said toward the start of her Sin City show on Saturday night, holding her hand to her chest and flashing a bright smile to the sea of admirers filling every corner of the general admission pit. Standing in the middle of an "X"-shaped catwalk, she acknowledged her fans' steadfast support since she first burst onto the teen pop music scene at the turn of the millennium. "We stay strong together, yes we do. What a beautiful night to have an amazing Xperience. Thank you so much for being here tonight."
Though Aguilera's career has spanned two decades full of countless performances and four world tours, her inaugural Vegas shows on Friday and Saturday marked a series of firsts — beginning with her opening number, a dynamic interpretation of 2012's "Your Body." Prior to this residency, she had never given a live performance of the Max Martin-penned track and lead single from her seventh studio album, Lotus. Moments after the opening chords of "Your Body" resounded throughout the venue on night two, a giant silver lotus aptly bloomed to reveal the singer.
Before uttering one note, the mere sight of Aguilera — resembling an intergalactic goddess in a geometric white bodysuit and matching halo — caused the audience to erupt in ear-shattering screams. When she did open her mouth, the powerful reverberation of her signature voice invited most of the crowd to stand up and dance. "Second night of Xperience! I'm so excited about this night with you tonight," Aguilera said as she closed out "Your Body." (She frequently touched base with her fans on Saturday night, chatting with them, sharing stories and even bending down to sign merchandise and memorabilia in between songs.)
Aguilera then launched into an energetic rendition of her suggestive 2010 banger "Not Myself Tonight," followed by a sparkling remix of "Genie in a Bottle," her debut single that spent five consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1999 and turns 20 on June 22. Recreating the sensual choreography made famous in "Genie's" music video, a de-haloed Aguilera shook her hips side to side as she once again made the lyrical plea for someone to "rub me the right way."
She continued her walk down memory lane and incited major nostalgia when she next introduced her performance of "Reflection," which Aguilera was chosen to sing for the soundtrack of Disney's 1998 animated feature Mulan, but only after proving that she was capable of hitting the "High E above Middle C" note required for the vocally challenging song. She has never included "Reflection" in an official setlist prior to The Xperience.
"This song has always been such a gigantic part of my history and my life, going from Mickey Mouse Club to the Mulan soundtrack, that's what really kicked it off," Aguilera said. "This aligns with the message of tonight. We all wear a mask in some way — for our kids, for our jobs, for our families, for other people in general. When we go home, we get to take that mask off and look in the mirror and be who we really need to be at the end of a long day. Tonight, I encourage you to take off your mask or put one on — feel free."
Aguilera certainly embodied her own message as she took on different personas throughout the two-hour spectacle. Garmented in eight couture stage outfits — the vision of Hollywood stylist Karen Clarkson, who commissioned custom pieces from the likes of designers Gareth Pugh and Bobby Abley — the performer transformed from a glittering celestial deity to a scantily clad monarch, all the way to a style-minded martial artist, each with a penchant for thigh-high boots. With the help of fashion and stunning visuals that signaled each costume change and convoyed attitude, Aguilera's show served as a prism reflecting just a sample of her varying identities: sex-positive seductress, fierce feminist, soulful chanteuse and committed ally of the LGBTQ community.
For the second act, Aguilera became full-on Xtina. Seated in a throne and sporting a pair of gilded chaps for a royal reimagination of "Dirrty" — the provocative club chorale from her beloved 2002 studio album Stripped — Aguilera commanded the entire stage. After a medley of "Vanity," a rare gem from the Bionic era; "Express," from her 2010 film Burlesque; and her memorable cover of Patti LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade," Aguilera seamlessly switched lanes for The Xperience's next section — a forceful display of female empowerment.
Set to the sound of "Fall in Line" — Aguilera's Grammy-nominated duet with Demi Lovato, widely considered a feminist anthem — a video montage played, featuring inspirational footage from the numerous women's marches that have taken place across the country in recent years amid the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. The clip ended with Aguilera's Burlesque co-star, Cher, delivering an iconic quote from a 1996 interview with Jane Pauley: "My mom said to me, 'You know, sweetheart, one day you should settle down and marry a rich man.' I said, 'Mom, I am a rich man.'"
Minutes later, Aguilera emerged onstage in a black leather trench coat and coordinated bodysuit to sing "Can't Hold Us Down," her Lil' Kim collaboration that the duo wrote in the early 2000s in response to society's gender-based double standards. "This song still rings true today," Aguilera told concertgoers on Saturday, surrounded by a septet of female dancers rocking an array of suits paired with high heels. During the performance, black-and-white images of an inclusive group of women flashed on large screens accompanied by pointed phrases, including "Saying no is OK," "Feel free to be strong," and "Suck my d%@k," among others. "Sick of Sittin,'" a rock-tinged paean to female independence from Aguilera's last album, Liberation, closed out her salute to sisterhood.
The superstar then took her Fighters to church. Dancers wearing priest-like garb traversed through the aisles of the Zappos Theater, waving canisters of incense that carried an intense rose scent, instantly making one feel like they were kneeling in a pew rather than standing in a Las Vegas venue. (Scent bombs were employed throughout the show to match each section; the smell of fire also permeated the air whenever pyrotechnics were used.) It wasn't long before Aguilera gave reason to worship as she belted out her Kanye West-produced track, "Maria," while standing atop a tiered staircase dressed like a modern-day saint in a blue robe cinched by a navy corset. The stage's screens then turned into stained-glass windows for Aguilera's spiritually charged "Twice," before she paused to impart another anecdote from her days as an industry ingenue.
"So, my record deal story. I was so green and new. Like I've said, I had to audition for the Mulan soundtrack and also my record deal in the same week. It was crazy. I had to prove that I could hit a certain note. Back then, you had to ship things in. It was just, like, a different generation, I know. We've been through it! We are Fighters together, standing strong," said Aguilera, who has been signed to RCA Records since 1998. "But my A&R guy, upon coming out to L.A., Ron Fair at the time, who actually signed me, took me to his office. I was super intimidated and shaking like a leaf, [thinking], 'Oh, my gosh!' It was a sink-or-swim moment and he was like, 'I want you to prove that you can sing for real.' I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, what do I sing? What do I do?' And, a cappella, I was super inspired by the Preacher's Wife soundtrack and Whitney Houston. And it's so fun to be able to share this moment with you because I've never sung this in a concert before and tonight is extra special."
Added Aguilera, "And, you know, I hope you enjoy this song. It's one of my favorite songs. It's the song I auditioned with when I got my record deal. It's called 'I Love the Lord.'"
The singer's heavenly voice captivated the audience as they grew more and more quiet to hear her execute every note, run and riff just as well, or arguably better, than the late Houston. The silence was only broken when one galvanized fan loudly exclaimed, "You better sang, Christina!"
And sang she did for the rest of her robust set, which included standout reincarnations of staples like "What a Girl Wants," "Come on Over (All I Want Is You)," "Ain't No Other Man," "Beautiful," "Fighter" and "Candyman," for which Aguilera and her dancers handed out sweet confections to lucky nearby fans. Also mixed in was the promise of a sophomore Spanish-language album, her long-awaited follow-up to 2000's Mi Reflejo. "Let's not forget the Latin album is coming!" Aguilera said while singing her bilingual fan-favorite "Desnudate."
She ended The Xperience with an encore performance of her dance-pop hymn "Let There Be Love," which she dedicated to the LGBTQ community as cannons of rainbow confetti exploded above her and fell into the hands of the crowd. (On 2018's Liberation Tour, Aguilera routinely orchestrated gay proposals during this song.) "Happy Pride Month!" said the GLAAD Award recipient and longtime gay rights activist, recognizing the significance of June for her most ardent Fighters. "If I leave you with anything tonight, please, let there always be love!"
After Saturday night's show, Aguilera slipped out of her formfitting red finale ensemble and into something a bit more comfortable — a black Chanel mini dress, white platform boots and a leather jacket emblazoned with lyrics from her 2006 song "Mercy on Me" — and mingled with press and VIP guests in a private cocktail reception inside the Zappos Theater. During the intimate midnight gathering, she graciously posed for photos and basked in the glow of immediate praise for weekend one of her Vegas venture.
"Thank you guys so much for coming tonight. I am so excited about this whole Xperience. Cheers to all of you," she said in a champagne toast with The Hollywood Reporter and other media outlets. "Thank you so much for being here and sharing this moment with me in my life. It's such a beautiful time and I hope you really enjoyed it. It was a creation from my heart."
With more dates set throughout June and this fall, Aguilera joins current Planet Hollywood resident Gwen Stefani and soon-to-be resident Def Leppard, whose stint at the Zappos Theater begins Aug. 14. For The Xperience, Aguilera is donating one dollar from each ticket sale to The Shade Tree, a 24-hour accessible emergency shelter in Southern Nevada for women and children in crisis, including those who are victims of domestic violence, human trafficking or both.
"I Feel Love" (Intro)
"Not Myself Tonight"
"Genie in a Bottle"
"Fall in Line" (Intro video)
"Can't Hold Us Down"
"Sick of Sittin'"
"I Love the Lord" (Whitney Houston cover)
"What a Girl Wants"
"Come on Over (All I Want Is You)"
"Ain't No Other Man"
"Telepathy" (Intro video)
"Feel This Moment"
"Let There Be Love"