Party Like It’s 1999: Christina Aguilera’s “Genie In A Bottle”

In Party Like It’s 1999, I’m marking my birthday June 25th by reviewing every Billboard Hot 100 #1 hit from my birth year 1999 along with other notable hits from the year.

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Christina Aguilera- “Genie In A Bottle”

HIT #1: July 31, 1999

STAYED AT #1: 5 weeks

It’s no secret that the music industry is about chasing whatever is popular at the moment. When a new young artist gets signed, the label heavily controls that artist packaging them into what is happening in music in order to compete with their contemporaries despite that artist wanting to be something else but doesn’t have the creative control to make their own music and artistic decisions..

That’s the story of Christina Aguilera and her breakout single “Genie in a Bottle.” She initially saw herself as a big-voiced balladeer/R&B girl in the vein of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. But with the success of Britney Spears and teen-pop in 1999, her label had plans to mold her into a Spears-esque pop princess to get with the times. And it wound up succeeding despite Aguilera’s later objections to it.

Born on New York’s Staten Island and raised outside Pittsburgh, Christina Aguilera grew up in a turbulent household with an abusive military father before her parents divorced finding music as a refuge showing her talent for singing at an early age. (The #1 song the week of Aguilera’s birth: Kenny Rogers’ “Lady”) During her childhood, Aguilera sang in local talent shows and wound up performing on the TV competition show Star Search but was eliminated during the competition. Soon after, she joined Disney’s revival of the Mickey Mouse Club alongside Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake for two seasons before its cancellation. After the Mickey Mouse Club, Aguilera worked her way through music before being picked by Disney to record “Reflection” the theme song to their hit 1998 film Mulan

“Reflection” wasn’t a major hit but it got Aguilera noticed by Ron Fair, an A&R head at RCA Records, who signed Aguilera to the label shortly after. In recording her self-titled debut album, Fair and the label were more concerned about capitalizing on the late ‘90s teen-pop craze than what Aguilera wanted to record. Fair wasn’t secret about it as he told Fred Bronson in Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits, “Christina wanted to start off her career with a ballad because Mariah had started with a ballad. I was adamant about grabbing the world’s attention with a rhythmic song and wasn’t so concerned about showing every aspect of her talent on the first song.” 

“Genie in a Bottle” came from three industry songwriters: Steve Kipner, David Frank, and Pam Shayne. Both Kipner and Frank had been kicking around the industry since the ‘80s. Kipner had a hand in a few ‘80s hits which included co-writing Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 smash #1 hit “Physical.” Frank was a member of the ‘80s R&B synth-pop group The System which played on many hits throughout the ‘80s including Phil Collins’ 1985 #1 “Sussudio” and they even had a major hit of their own peaking at #4 with 1987’s “Don’t Disturb This Groove.” (It’s a 5.) Kipner and Frank came together as a songwriting team through an EMI executive and soon after a rising songwriter from New Zealand Pan Sheyne joined at the suggestion of friends. After “Genie In A Bottle,” the three of them would write one other major pop hit the next year with Dream’s “He Loves U Not” which peaked at #2. (It’s a 4.)

It was during one of their songwriting appointments that Frank came up with the music track for “Genie in a Bottle” in the middle of the night that he described as an eight-bar loop with different changes happening throughout. Together, the three of them wrote the lyrics initially calling it “If You Want To Be With Me” until Aguilera’s manager told them to rename it as “Genie in a Bottle.” They sent their song demo out initially intended for Innocence, an up and coming girl group, before Fair called the writers wanting the song for Aguilera. The demo track is the same that’s used for the official version. Aguilera impressed the writers with her singing but felt her initial take was too harsh and powerful wanting it to sound more innocent, vulnerable, and softer. 

Lyrically, “Genie in a Bottle” is Aguilera singing about self-respect telling a prospective lover that he has to treat her right to get with her. It uses the whole genie metaphor to get its point across. Aguilera is feeling lonely comparing it to how a genie is locked up for so long before being released. But just because guys try to flirt and get it on with her doesn’t mean she’s into it even expressing second thoughts, “My body’s saying let’s go/But my heart is saying no.” She warns these guys that they’ll have to pay a price to get with her by rubbing her the right way like a genie lamp. 

Many have interpreted “Genie in a Bottle” to be about sex though Aguilera has stated otherwise though it’s not hard to see it. Some of these lyrics are clear sexual innuendos, “You gotta rub me the right way/Hormones racin’ at the speed of light.” Even in the vocals, Aguilera sings the post-chorus in a very flirty style that makes it sound like she’s into fucking, “I’m a genie in a bottle, baby/You gotta rub me the right way, honey/I’m a genie in a bottle, baby/Come, come, come on and let me out.”

As far as the song goes, it’s an average piece of late ‘90s teen pop boosted by Christina Aguilera’s singing. Like with “…Baby One More Time,” “Genie In A Bottle” is essentially a bubblegum teen pop version of late ‘90s R&B. It’s got a recognizable piano intro, blocky futuristic hip-hop sounding drum beat, and a synth melody that sounds like arcade noises. It’s not the greatest but passable for what it sets out to be. Same thing with the music video directed by Diane Martel showing Aguilera and her friends getting together at a Malibu beach house while Aguilera and her dancers do a genie dance routine.

Aguilera has come out stating that she didn’t enjoy making “Genie In A Bottle” and her first album saying to VH1’s Behind the Music that she found the song “vocally stifling” and how her image and music was heavily controlled by the label. It’s not hard to hear what she’s saying. On “Genie In A Bottle,” you can hear the early trademarks we’ve come to associate with Christina Aguilera: the big voice, the oversinging, and the showy melisma vocal runs that have become fodder for parody but it all sounds restrained at the behest of a label looking to capitalize on the then-current pop landscape that didn’t exactly favor showy vocals. Like with Spears, Aguilera pulls off the innocent but playful sexy tone of the song but unlike many of her teen pop contemporaries showcases actual vocal ability. It’s far from her best performance but she does the best with what she’s got. 

Despite Aguilera’s issues, “Genie In A Bottle” did help her break out into pop music and her self-titled debut wound up a #1 album-hit going 8 times platinum and spawning three more Top 10 hits including 2 more #1 hits. She would eventually break away from her manufactured teenybopper beginnings going through various styles showcasing her vocal prowess before settling for subpar guest verses to get big. She rubbed us the right way before being set free from the bottle.

GRADE: 6/10

BONUS BEATS: Here’s Zoey Deschanel singing “Genie In A Bottle” to Max Greenfield on a 2014 episode of New Girl:

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Camila Cabello interpolated “Genie In A Bottle” on her 2017 single “Crying In The Club.” Here’s the video:

(“Crying In The Club” peaked at #47. Camila Cabello will eventually appear in my The Ones of the ‘10s column.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Erika Jayne performing “Genie In A Bottle” on a 2018 episode of Lip Sync Battle with Christina Aguilera making a guest appearance:

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