Christina Aguilera’s album title, Stripped, has an obvious double-meaning, one she’s been keen to point out to interviewers. Stripping off, yes, clearly, but also stripping back, removing the layers of industry wrapping to reveal the individual underneath. Raw or in the raw, she’s saying, this is the real thing. Or at least, realer than the last one.

So the specific nastiness of “Dirrty”’s show-stopping video is the point. “To say that this is normal young woman’s sexuality is just not fair”, worried one critic, but that’s exactly the trap Aguilera’s trying to evade – the way women who write or sing or dance about sex are turned into a spokeswoman for some fictional monolith of “female sexuality”. “Dirrty” rejects that idea, presenting a moment of highly individual sexuality – grease and muscle and sweat and mud and battle, aestheticized in all their filthy heat by director David LaChapelle.

You might say, well hold on, this all still ends up pandering to male fantasies, and it’s true that the male gaze is not an easy thing to escape, especially in a pop industry structured by it, and especially when your video career has already been defined by it. But “Dirrty”’s confident grubbiness is designed to challenge as much as arouse, to at least hold the gaze until it flinches. Unlike the video it’s closest to in vibe – Frankie’s bacchanalian “Relax” – Aguilera is protagonist and participant, not just a guide. She’s also stressed that “Dirrty” is her favourite of her videos less because of the end product than because of how much fun it was to do – dancing and splashing around in water, working with directors and rappers she respected, sparking joy.

Much of that aggressive delight survives in “Dirrty” as a song, but not all. As a record, it’s deliberately one-note, four minutes of pounding, chanting, get-in-the-ring music, borrowing the beat from guest star Redman’s own “Let’s Get Dirty”, a track about getting cross when a bouncer won’t let you in a club. But “Dirrty” is way busier than Redman’s track, falling over itself in a riot of incident, the rhythm forced to jostle with basslines and ugly keyboard stabs and vocal overdubs, which nudge the song closer to a pop sound without losing its roughness. I’d remembered the track as less cluttered than it is, something closer to the precisely slinky minimalism of a Neptunes production – instead it’s a tumult closer to the maximalist bro-hop approach of MOP’s “Ante Up”.

Yet the whole clamorous backing track plays second fiddle to Christina herself, as in the video the centre of this crush of activity. If “Dirrty” boxes in Aguilera’s vocal range, it makes up for that by how freely it lets her belt the song out, her ululating “whoa” before Redman’s verse like a victory howl. When she surges back in after for the climax the song has stopped being ‘about’ partying or sex or anything other than the physicality of her voice and the beat. That last minute is where the sound wrests back control from the visuals, where Aguilera’s ownership of her song and her moment is total.

Score: 8

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