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How Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" Made An Important Statement About Acceptance — For Society And Herself
Christina Aguilera performs in Paris in 2003.

Photo: Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage

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How Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" Made An Important Statement About Acceptance — For Society And Herself

As "Beautiful" turns 20, Christina Aguilera, video director Jonas Akerlund, and leaders from GLAAD and Trans Lifeline reflect on the song's powerful impact, from supporting LGBTQ+ rights to sparking a conversation on mental health.

GRAMMYs/Nov 16, 2022 - 06:52 pm

When Christina Aguilera began working on her second album, Stripped, 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 that when they got in the studio together.

Perry is the sole songwriter/producer of "Beautiful," which is not only one of Aguilera's biggest hits to date, but one of the biggest self-acceptance anthems of her generation. And though Aguilera didn't write the song, she knew it fit perfectly within the narrative of Stripped.

"I'd always been given a schedule, and an agenda, and told the places I need to go, how I needed to dress," Aguilera says. "It was a machine, and at that point in my life… I just felt like there was so much inside of me that I didn't get to say and that I wasn't able to share, and I wanted to connect deeply with my fans."

That's the urgency — and also, the insecurity — that made Perry realize Aguilera was the perfect singer for the "Beautiful" narrative. And that's likely why "Beautiful" has connected so widely for so long: it's as authentic as songs come.

"Beautiful" was released as a single on Nov. 16, 2002, and quickly became a touted part of her discography. Along with topping multiple 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 an anthem for anyone struggling with self-acceptance — one that has arguably become more meaningful than ever.

As the song celebrates its 20th anniversary, GRAMMY.com 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 is still important today.

"It really did change my whole concept of what 'Beautiful' really meant."

Perry was very protective of "Beautiful" because of the importance of its message. She had previously previewed the song to Pink for the Missundaztood sessions, however, ultimately decided to keep it for herself. And as Perry told American Songwriter in 2021, she initially didn't 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, that's got everything going on, at least that's what you think, and she's wanting this song about singing about being beautiful? How vain is that?" Perry said. 

Even so, she let Aguilera record a demo. Just before they got started, Aguilera told a friend who was in the studio with her, "don't look at me" — and that changed everything. "I realized this beautiful girl, that's riding high on the charts, everybody knows her, is just as insecure as I am," Perry recalled. "It really did change my whole concept of what 'Beautiful' really meant."

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

"[Linda] really did an amazing job at breaking me free of that mental pressure that we all can have in striving for our best possible selves," Aguilera says, "and embracing the vulnerability in the fact that what we do might not be perfect, but in actuality, it is, and it makes us unique."

The song's recording holds true to that sentiment, as the demo version was what was released — complete with the "don't look at me" at the beginning. 

"I never would have even kept the vocal that was on there," Aguilera says, "but [Linda] really pushed me to do so. I didn't punch into it and perfect it in any way, and I had kept things on it I would never normally live with. But I did embrace the honesty of it, because it was the sentiment of the song — to really tap into what you feel insecure about. But in all actuality, it's the flaws and seemingly the imperfections that are super rare and beautiful."

"The video for 'Beautiful' did a really unique thing for the 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 home, her solitude his juxtaposed with clips of people feeling a similar sense of disconnect via body dysmorphia, gender non-conformity, same-sex relationships, and racial suppression. 

While sexual fluidity and gender non-conformity weren't necessarily new phenomenons within pop visuals — take Madonna's videos like "Justify My Love," or George Michael's video for "Outside," which recreated his arrest for soliciting sex from an undercover cop — it did mark a first for Aguilera's generation of pop stars. Britney Spears' "Overprotected" and *NSYNC's "Pop" contained similar themes of feeling overwhelmed by everyday life and wanting to break free from other people's expectations, but until that point, none of Aguilera's peers had a song or video that fought society's expectations quite like "Beautiful." 

"Back then, music videos were all about selling albums," Jonas Akerlund, who directed the "Beautiful" video, says. "Nobody gave a s— 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 suited me, because I always wanted to make an impact with my videos. I love her for that, and I'm proud I was a part of that."

"The video for 'Beautiful' did a really unique thing for the time and genre, and that was to break down the binary between things like disgust and desire, self love and self hatred," Myles Markham, Development Coordinator for Trans Lifeline, adds. "[It] really opened up a conversation of what it could mean to be yourself against the expectations and pressures of a patriarchal society."

"It was such an important part of who I was becoming as an artist and who I was as a person."

The song's self-acceptance message, as well as the LGTBQ+ representation in its video, earned Aguilera the Special Recognition award at the 2003 GLAAD Media Awards. "Beautiful" has become an unofficial anthem for the LGBTQ+ community, in part because it "explored gender expression in a time when this type of representation was rare," as GLAAD's Vice President of Communications & Talent Anthony Allen Ramos suggests. 

In her acceptance speech at the GLAAD Media Awards, Aguilera implied that the impact of "Beautiful" was exactly what she hoped. "This song is definitely a universal message that everybody can relate to — anyone that's been discriminated against or unaccepted, unappreciated or disrespected just because of who you are," she said. "It was so important to me that I support the gay community in this sense."

For Aguilera, the Stripped era was all about getting a message across and freeing herself of the narratives and comparisons that were forced upon her. While the album was liberating for Aguilera herself, she wanted to make an impact on others who were dealing with similar feelings. Most importantly, she wanted to be raw and honest, through both her lyrics and her visuals — and "Beautiful" did just that.

"Jonas came through sharing such a heartfelt sentiment of honesty, and not just making it stereotypically beautiful," she says. "Bringing up really hard 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 as to why the video was impactful to them. He also proudly keeps a collection of fan letters he's received over the years.

"I'm from Sweden, and back then, I didn't really understand what an impact these kinds of [videos] could have," Akerlund says. "I thought it felt like the most natural thing to incorporate all these elements into the story [of 'Beautiful']. I didn't really think too much about it, but it was amazing to see the reactions."

"It's the same universal message in all parts of the world."

On the 20th anniversary of Stripped this October, Aguilera shared a new video for "Beautiful" — a "2022 version," which touched on the ways technology has infiltrated society, particularly how it has affected younger generations. At the heart, many of the themes in the original video are mirrored in the new visual — body dysmorphia, mental health issues, and unrealistic beauty standards. All the while, their internal struggles are magnified as their lives are on display via social media.

"The original 'Beautiful 'video set out to bring awareness and a sense of compassion in the face of judgment, criticism, and outside opinions," Aguilera wrote in an Instagram post upon the release of the 2022 Version. "It still carries an important message to remember our core values outside of what's being fed to us…to find a sense of balance and accepting ourselves for who we are."

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

The song's message remains evergreen and intersectional. From its raw, unedited vocals, to the forlorn piano chords, to its groundbreaking video, "Beautiful" encapsulates the feelings of loneliness many people felt in a time when gay rights were still in limbo, and before conversations surrounding mental health became table topics. 

"Beautiful" continues to help people find comfort, and reminds listeners that outside forces, as Aguilera sings, "won't bring us down." That lasting connection is what Aguilera loves most.

"To be able to perform ["Beautiful"] on stage and see people of so many different ages and walks of life — and to know that it represents something very different for each person, but in actuality, it's the same universal message in all parts of the world — it's just really beautiful to see that in person, in real time," Aguilera says. "To know that it meant so much to so many people is just the greatest reward, ever."

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Christina Aguilera Recalls Singing "Beautiful": "GRAMMYs Greatest Stories"

Christina Aguilera

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Christina Aguilera Recalls Singing "Beautiful": "GRAMMYs Greatest Stories"

Learn how show producer Ken Ehrlich's suggestion helped shape Aguilera's iconic performance; tune in to "GRAMMYs Greatest Stories" Nov. 24 on CBS

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2017 - 10:00 pm

Christina Aguilera has made six trips to the GRAMMY stage as a featured performer. Over the years, she's shared the spotlight with GRAMMY winners such as Herbie Hancock, Lil' Kim, Missy Elliott, and Pink. She even helped pay tribute to the legendary Aretha Franklin in a stunning medley with Jennifer Hudson, Florence Welch, Yolanda Adams, and Martina McBride.

It's tough to pick a top moment among so many iconic performances, but Aguilera's personal favorite is her intimate, vulnerable performance of "Beautiful" at the 46th GRAMMY Awards in 2004.

Integral to the success of the performance was Aguilera's posture and presentation, which she reveals was a difficult pose to hold while singing, but ultimately a challenge she overcame.

"Ken Ehrlich suggested I get down on my knees, and sing the song in sort of a kneeling position," Aguilera reveals. "I think it added to the vulnerability I was trying to pull off in the performance."

Watch Aguilera and other artists discuss the most memorable performances in GRAMMY history on the TV special "GRAMMYs Greatest Stories: A 60th Anniversary Special," airing Friday, Nov. 24 from 9–11 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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MusiCares MAP Fund Benefit To Celebrate Women In Recovery
Betty Ford and Susan Ford Bales

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MusiCares MAP Fund Benefit To Celebrate Women In Recovery

Benefit to honor Betty Ford and the Betty Ford Center and feature musical performances

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

The sixth annual MusiCares MAP Fund benefit concert will celebrate women in recovery and salute former first lady Betty Ford and the Betty Ford Center at Club Nokia in Los Angeles on May 7.

The evening will pay tribute to Ford, a woman who inspired so many through her courage and strength by publicly revealing her personal struggles with addiction, and her work in establishing the Betty Ford Center. Susan Ford Bales, chair of the Betty Ford Center, will accept the MusiCares MAP Fund award on behalf of her mother.

The evening will feature special performances by Charlotte Caffey and Kathy Valentine (the Go-Go's) with vocalist Annabella Lwin (Bow Wow Wow), bassist Leah Randi (Pink) and drummer Patty Schemel (Hole); Beth Hart with GRAMMY-winning guitarist Slash (Guns N' Roses, Velvet Revolver); Exene (X); Corey Parks (Nashville Pussy) with GRAMMY-winning artist Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead) and GRAMMY-winning drummer Matt Sorum (Guns N' Roses, Velvet Revolver); and Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes) with Paul Ill (Alicia Keys, Courtney Love, Tina Turner), John Perry (Courtney Love, Linda Perry), Kellii Scott (Failure, Year Long Disaster), and Peter Thorn (Chris Cornell, Don Henley). Samantha Ronson will DJ live during dinner in memory of the late DJ AM, who DJed at the event last year.

The evening's focus on women in recovery is prompted in part by recent data — from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Transportation, respectively — indicating that only 8 percent of women who have a problem with addiction seek help, and the number of women abusing alcohol, as indicated by related traffic arrests, has risen 28 percent over the past decade. Women facing addiction often encounter challenges that may be barriers to treatment — a woman may want to avoid the stigma associated with drug addiction and rehab and try to "treat herself" without help, or she may fear losing her children, losing her job, going to jail, or other repercussions. In addition, women may need assistance with childcare or medical attention if they are pregnant that many drug rehabilitation centers may not offer. As a result, MusiCares is focusing attention on the issue through this event and other future activities.

"When we looked at the troubling statistics about women and addiction and found that women, in general, are less likely to get the treatment they need, we recognized that our annual MusiCares MAP Fund benefit would be an ideal opportunity to draw attention to this important issue," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy and MusiCares. "Not only will this evening help generate critical resources for members of the music community who are struggling with addiction, but by honoring Betty Ford and her enduring commitment to recovery, we hope to shed light on the obstacles to treatment that women continue to encounter and the vital paths to recovery."

"In accepting this award you honor not only me, but all women and families who have taken a step toward recovery," said Ford. "I am proud of the women who have struggled with the disease of addiction, and have the courage and determination to help not only themselves but their families." Ford Bales said, "I know my mother is honored and even humbled by this award. I hope that it serves as motivation and a beacon of hope for other women and families to follow her example."

All proceeds will benefit the MusiCares MAP Fund, which provides members of the music community access to addiction recovery treatment and sober living resources. Over the past four years, the MusiCares MAP Fund has provided more than $3.1 million for addiction recovery treatment and sober living care for close to 1,000 clients. In addition, the MusiCares MAP Fund offers free aftercare group weekly meetings across the country.

For more information on the MusiCares MAP Fund benefit, including ticket information, click here.

Linda Perry, Natasha Bedingfield & More Talk Creating A Collaborative Community For Female Artists At The GRAMMY Museum

Anna Bulbrook, Kerry Brown, Natasha Bedingfield, Linda Perry and Monica Zhang

Photo by Timothy Norris/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Linda Perry, Natasha Bedingfield & More Talk Creating A Collaborative Community For Female Artists At The GRAMMY Museum

In an hourlong talk during GRAMMY Week 2020, the panel discussed the necessity for artists to feel safe and supported, the rapidly changing music industry and Perry's company, We Are Hear

GRAMMYs/Jan 24, 2020 - 12:46 am

Excitement percolated through the air yesterday afternoon at the "Creating A Collaborative Community for Artists" panel at the GRAMMY Museum where GRAMMY Award-nominated singer/songwriter/musician and record producer Linda Perry, GRAMMY Award winner British pop singer/songwriter Natasha Bedingfield and attorney Monica Zhang (Reed Smith) took the stage for a discussion moderated by Anna Bulbrook (musician and founder of women-led festival and collective Girlschool).  

In an hourlong talk, they talked about their youth, the necessity for artists to feel safe and supported, the rapidly changing music industry and Perry's company We Are Hear - the record label, publishing and management company she co-founded with her business partner Kerry Brown to which Bedingfield is signed. 

Though Bedingfield signed her first record deal 16 years ago, when she was just 22 years old, she said she still vividly remembers her days busking on street corners at Christmastime, making no money. "I grew up with not a lot of money. It really sucks to grow up with no money and to feel beholden to people. The feeling of finally making money gave me a lot of self-confidence. I remember having student debt and feeling like it was crippling and never wanting to be in that position again." In fact, Bedingfield’s first job was stacking shelves at a pharmacy when she was just 11 years old. 

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Perry said that when she was 14 years old, she worked on the docks of San Diego sanding the bottoms of and refurbishing boats. When she got a little older and began working at fast-food chains, she said she’d inevitably be fired for giving her punk rocker friends free food through the drive-thru window. She recalled her first moneymaking gig in San Diego when she showed up at a lesbian bar and convinced the owner not only to let her perform but also to let Perry keep a percentage of the door's ticket sales. “She thinks ‘She’s not going to bring in anybody’ but I ended up promoting that show so hardcore that I ended up making $750 as my first pay in 1989, and that’s a lot of money.” She said that the first money garnering show was a fluke and that it took years before she began to make really good money. 

As to why she started We Are Hear, Perry stressed the importance of honoring artists. "We wanted to create something that was creative, for artists to feel their vision was being heard, that we can help execute their ideas and basically be a good mentor or creative partner. All we want to do is create a community and empower all these creatives and put it in a place where people feel safe and supported."

Perry said when she sat down to start her company, which currently has just one male artist (Pete Molinari) signed to its roster, her intentions weren't deliberately women-oriented. She said she’s just organically gravitated towards women. "We didn’t think about it, like, ‘Let’s be a chick label.’ It just kind of happened and it’s kind of cool, but it wasn’t on purpose that our roster and company is very female-fronted. The artists who were showing up had a sensibility about them that was strong. We felt creatively connected and we felt like this is something we can stand behind. That’s all we look for. We’re not looking for whether you have a pussy or a dick or whatever. We're looking for who can we get together with and advance and get creative with and succeed and it happened to be women."

As soon as Perry finished speaking, the crowd broke into applause and hoots. 

Accordingly, Bedingfield said she switched from a major record label to We Are Hear due to having grown increasingly disheartened with her situation. "I had always been on a major label and I had great success in that structure, but there was a lot of fear in these big corporations. They could sense things were changing and they couldn’t figure out what the new way of listening to music is. I was getting a lot of that frustration of being at big corporations that weren’t able to put their fingers on the pulse to figure it out. They’d just get new executives thinking that maybe the solution is to get a shiny new businessman. There was an emphasis on a savior, finding someone who’s gonna save us. I was feeling a lot of frustration within that system and I asked my label to let me go but, as soon as I left my label, it was, ‘Oh no, I’m out on my own.' That’s scary. I’m a team person. I love writing songs and I love singing onstage, but I need a great team and when I heard Linda started her label and management team, it felt like such a good fit."

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A visionary and strong leader, Perry described herself as "macho" and said she was "born very aggressive." She said an abusive background helped her to become stronger, more focused and driven. "I just have a very strong...There’s a very sad and angry emotion that hums and rumbles through my body and that has always been my guide, my fuel, my mentor, my love, my villain, all of it. It’s helped guide me constantly to make these decisions I’ve made in my life."

Bedingfield finds solace, inspiration and strength in Perry. "We focus on those who don’t love us and people who say awful things. But there are signposts and good people around so it’s about being able to receive that. Linda’s been that at this stage of my life. I’m standing up and finding my power and she’s like, ‘Yes and you can even do more. Don’t settle."

We Are Hear’s attorney, Zhang, whom Perry described as incredibly "smart, cool, and a badass," was equally effusive about Perry. "Linda's an inspiration for me because she really, really believes in the artists and the creators."

Much to the delight of the audience, midway through the panel, Bedingfield treated the crowd to a two-song acoustic performance: her hit single "Unwritten," for which she won a GRAMMY Award for Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2007, and "King of the World," a new song she co-wrote with Perry.

Christina Aguilera Hints At New Album, Talks Starting "From Scratch"

Christina Aguilera

Photo: Valerie Macon/Getty Images

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Christina Aguilera Hints At New Album, Talks Starting "From Scratch"

Xtina takes to Twitter to tease what would be her first new album in six years

GRAMMYs/May 2, 2018 - 07:37 pm

It's been six years since Christina Aguilera's most recent album, 2012's Lotus. Now, a new video posted by the GRAMMY-winning singer on Twitter seems to reveal that new music is on the horizon.

The video opens with a silhouette in water before showing Aguilera lying in bed and eventually speaking, as she declares, "You feel in life when you get to a place where you feel so comfortable and so routine, then you know you have to stop and start from scratch."

The video ends with her lighting a match in front of her face as a mere half-bar of a beat plays softly behind the image. All together, the video runs just 14 seconds.

This latest tease of new music comes two days after Aguilera shared a more cryptic Twitter post and a subsequent fan post that has caused fans to suspect the project might be called "Liberation."

Aguilera won Best New Artist at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards and has picked up four additional GRAMMY wins since, most recently for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Say Something" With A Great Big World at the 57th GRAMMY Awards. A new LP from Aguilera would be the sixth of her career.

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