The finale of “The Voice” on Tuesday featured a rare moment of pop diva bipartisanship: Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera unleashed powerhouse vocals (and gold dresses up the wazoo) for a rousing duet rendition of the former’s current single, “Do What U Want.” The result was awesome, a Brave and the Bold style pairing of superheroes that also doubled as a Golden Girls-cum-Solid Gold tribute act. (In last evening’s performance, the role of Dorothy Zbornak’s shoulder pads and Sophia Petrillo’s geriatric dance moves were played by Lady Gaga; Rose Nyland’s hair and Blanche Devereux’s sassitude were played by
If you watch the video , beware: Glitter and Ridiculous ahead.
As far as pop titan team-ups go, this was a pretty grand performance. But if you’re a keen (or at least somewhat obsessive) observer of pop culture, you probably appreciated it for another reason. The hand-holding belt-a-thon featured two singers coming off dicey professional years and rumors of a feud; paired with Gaga’s song, which compares the patriarchal music industry’s build-em-up-tear-em-down sadism to a form of misogyny, it was also a “sisters are doing it for themselves” moment of solidarity.
After all, both had years that made fan clubs cringe. Aguilera’s last album, November 2012’s solid but unspectacular “Lotus,” was a commercial disappointment that achieved just one (barely) Top-40 single and saw its promotion abandoned almost immediately thereafter. She then had to weather the indignity of tabloids constantly pouncing on her for her supposedly-unlikable (by whose standards?) TV persona and weight gain. (If you’re inclined to un-ironically call out the weight of a woman while she sits next to the unassailed CeeLo Green, roughly twice her size, you’re an especially oblivious strain of sexist.)
Gaga’s new album, “Artpop,” has also underwhelmed, gaining little traction outside her Little Monsters and earning a distinction she’d probably not care to have: Two of her three full-length studio albums now hold records for largest second-week sales drops. It has led to pronouncements — which Gaga, always eager to pounce on martyrdom, has been happy to use to her sympathetic advantage — that she is “over.” (For the record, she’s not. The bloom is off the rose, so to speak, and her days as a capital-P Phenomenon are marked. But unlike other here-today-gone-tomorrow acts, Gaga is too legitimately talented to fade away. Unless, one day, she wants to.)
Both women, likely at the behest of very tired publicists, have tried to temper their public images lately. Aguilera has slimmed down (sigh), started smiling more, and been dressing in outfits that appear more tasteful to — well, people who watch “The Voice” and expect to see Cher’s Burlesque costar in a cardigan. (Always criticized for showboat over-singing, she also did an uncharacteristically stripped down collaboration with indie outfit A Great Big World, “Say Something,” that left people misty-eyed and raving.) Meanwhile Gaga has been a little less outrageous lately (at least by Gaga standards), refocusing attention on her voice and musicianship. It doesn’t hurt that “Artpop,” whatever its commercial prospects, actually has some cool songs.
To be honest, and I say this as a die-hard fan of Aguilera (my relationship with Gaga has been a waffling love-hate), their recent bouts with bad press weren’t solely about schadenfreude. Yes, the media loves to backstab even the more beloved pop idols. (And then twist the knife.) And you better believe that both women deal with far more pundit BS than their male counterparts. But both Gaga and Aguilera could actually benefit from being humbled a bit. Outside of devout fans, they’ve often failed to connect with audiences — even those who respect their talent — because they are too eager to disappear in their own perceived Awesomeness. Sometimes, when Aguilera is strangling the umpteenth note in a single measure, you wish she would just stop and sing. And sometimes when Gaga shows up dressed like a waffle iron on a horse-drawn carriage pulled by mimes, talking in nonspecific terms about her devotion to her Art, you wish she would shut up and let her art speak for itself. (Good art usually can.)
That’s exactly what they did (finally and fabulously!) last night. They came out pipes a-blazing, maintaining their unique styles while still working together seamlessly as strong female performers. They reminded us why they’re stars.
And at the end of their 1970s- and New Year’s Eve-inspired fantasia, they gave each other a hug, poured some champagne, linked arms and raised a toast. You can practically read it in their glance: “Been a bad year, girl. 2014 will be better.”