Malik Pollard/MadFlavor TV
I have gone to many concerts at the Theater at MGM National Harbor: Bruno Mars, Kem, Comedian Gary Owen, and The Giz (among others). There is never a bad seat in the house. Pretty much no matter where you have seats, The Theater at MGM National Harbor is the perfect venue to give the performer(s) and audience an intimate feeling. The acoustics are just right so you can hear every note and sound. Yet, tonight, I experienced something that I have never happened to me at a concert before; and it was all in three words that Christina Aguilera belted out to the crowd that totally pierced my soul with emotion.
Before I go into the moment it happened, allow me to chronicle my night at The Theater at MGM. I arrived at the MGM at approximately 6:30 PM for Christina Aguilera’s Washington DC leg of her Liberation Tour. This was my first time ever seeing Christina Aguilera in concert and also her first tour in more than 10 years, and her first album after a 6 year hiatus. The last time fans got to see XTINA was in 2006 for the “Back To Basics” Tour [but I digress]. Traffic arriving to The MGM was actually not as bad as I anticipated, it was very easy getting into the parking garage and I was able to park relatively close to the elevators. Since I still had over an hour before the show, I along with three other writers and photographers decided to grab a bite to eat at TAP Sports Bar. The wait there wasn’t too bad; just 15 minutes and I was seated, order placed, and watching football on one of the dozens of tv screens. The waitress was attentive and pleasant and knew we were in a time crunch so she made sure my Buffalo Wings and Broccoli with Chili Sauce was ready almost as fast as The Saints scoring on The Giants in the game that was on in front of me. My cohorts decided on TAP’s signature Old Bay Wings. Either we were hungry, or the food was just that good because the only thing left one our plates were bones and the 20 napkins I used to wipe away the Buffalo Sauce and I didn’t get any on my shirt #WINNING.
After paying for the check, it was time to make my way to the theater. I was accompanied with a beer in hand. It wasn’t until I arrived at Will Call that I found out Big Boi from Outkast was actually the opening act. Now I know what you are thinking because I was thinking the same thing, “Big Boi and Christina Aguilera together on tour seems like an odd combination.” After a moment of pause, it started to make perfect sense: Christina Aguilera brings the Pop, Rock, Latin, and Soul and Big Boi brings the Hip Hop and Funk element. In fact, it turned out to be a pretty good combination. At 8PM sharp, Big Boi took the stage with Organized Noize Singer-songwriter Sleepy Brown, and from the word go, Big Boi delivered some Old school Outkast hits that we all know and love which was great. Now don’t get me wrong, I know artists like to promote their new music, but don’t we really just want to hear the hits? You know, the songs we used to groove to; the ones that we remember where we were when we first heard them. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what Big Boi was going to perform on stage without Andre 3000 being there on stage with him. I also didn’t know what he could perform legally since it has always been rumored that Outkast (the group) name is all wrapped up in drama and legal mumbo jumbo. However, as soon as I heard that bass drop, and Sleepy Brown uttered “Im Sorry Ms. Jackson…” all was right; #WINNING. Earlier I mentioned how the acoustics in The Theater at MGM National Harbor enables you to hear every word and every sound. Well couple the great acoustics with that Outkast bass, and you could feel the vibration underneath your feet. So much so, that I could see the ripples from the bass in my beer. Big Boi performed classic hits “Rosa Parks,” “The Way You Move,” “Ms. Jackson,” “So Fresh So Clean,” and “Kryptonite.” He also mixed in new music from his Boomiverse album: “Chocolate” and “All Night.” He delivered a perfect balance with his setlist. Times getting the crowd Crunk with songs like “Kryptonite” and other times delivering nostalgic songs like “Ms. Jackson” and inserting in his newer singles. The mix was strategically done so there wasn’t a dull moment or a string of songs where he lost the audience. As soon I thought to myself, “I can take a break on this song,” Big Boi would switch up the flow with a song to get me and the crowd back on our feet. Big Boi ended his set with the classic “Players Anthem,” a song that features many prominent rappers from the south. The first half of the song, he displayed Andre 3000’s verse on a screen, and ended the song with his verse and the chorus. For my first time seeing Big Boi, I was definitely impressed. However, it does beg the question of how dope it would be to see an Outkast reunion.
Christina Aguilera was slated to grace the stage at 9:15 PM and by 9:20, this crowd was getting antsy with chants and claps urging her to come on. The lights dimmed at about 9:23, and the audience erupted. The show started with a ticking clock rewinding back in time, followed by images of Christina and a young girl (I’m guessing her daughter) wearing a crown adorned with flowers. The band played the intro from her new Liberation album and Christina reciting the words:
“Where Are You.”
“Are You There?”
That was when Christina Aguilera appeared suspended in the air amongst the clouds, and opened up with her new Single Maria. She descended onto the stage wearing a vibrant red gown. After 6 years in the studio and even more on stage, Christina’s voice hasn’t lost a note. Her runs are still perfect, but less frequent which is somewhat refreshing. She knows when to keep it simple and angelic and not overdue it. Having said that, she still can give you her signature run as she does at the end of the song. Following her new single, Christina immediately captures her life-long fans with “Genie In A Bottle.” The crowd immediately shows their approval with yells and screams and thousands of fans singing along. Christina had numerous outfit changes throughout the night, and they all went pretty seamless. Her band played and images and/or video of the Popstar would be shown on the big screen. In her first outfit change, she went from Christina and showed us her alter ego XTINA. XTINA must be a hot blooded Latina Scarlet that is not afraid to get “Dirrty;” which she is singing. XTINA wore Red and Black Chaps, a leotard, and low cut jacket clasped right underneath her breasts. On the cut out arms was the name XTINA (right sleeve), and 2018 (left sleeve). No RedMan in this version of “Dirrty,” but that’s just fine, he would distract from what’s going down on stage anyway. XTINA struts up the stairs back to her thrown and she is probably a little winded after that sensual performance she just gave. What a perfect time for her to say hello, and “WHATS UP DeeeCeee” to everyone. As Christina (I think XTINA has left the building) catches her breath, she thanks the crowd for patience and understanding in her 6 year hiatus. She also gets a little choked up in her explanation. Then, she takes us all down memory lane from when her career first started with songs: “What A Girl Wants” and “Come On Over Baby.”
Christina Aguilera took us on a journey on stage. She connected with everyone in the audience. In her performance of the song “Say Something,” Christina shows us her vulnerability, and her sense of doubt as she is sitting on the steps looking up to the sky. She followed with “It’s A Man’s World,” her own rendition of a James Brown classic, and showed us what Domestic Violence and Abuse looks like for so many people. I’m sure it was not lost on Christina Aguilera that October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
THEN IT HAPPENED! Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a Christina Aguilera Mega-fan. I respect her as an artist and enjoy her music, she is just of a different era than I. For me her biggest hit is “Lady Marmalade” and that’s probably because Patti Labelle sang it. After 16 songs, Christina Aguilera broke the 4 th Wall. I knew the song, and recognized it as soon as the melody from the piano began to play. The crowd new it too, and began to sing along. At that moment, I looked around at the faces of the women in the audience. I looked next to me at my wife. What I saw were women singing their truth. Women who were giving their testimony. These women were singing strength, empowerment, inspiration, and triumph. Three words: “I Am Beautiful…” Christina continues to sing. Each note was jarring. In this day and time and climate of #MeToo, #WhyIDidntReport, #BlackLivesMatter, #NoMore, #HandsUpDontShoot, and so many others, as Christina sang, I began to think about my teenage daughter and son and what cruelty and injustices that they may be faced with in this world. Suddenly, I was jarred. Christina was no longer singing words that I could hear, but words that I could feel. I, along with the audience felt Christina’s pain, insecurity, and conviction. We also were reminded of our individual pain, insecurities, and experiences. Christina’s words gave voice to many of us listening to her. She was no longer up there on stage, but hugging each and every individual and reaffirming:
“You are beautiful
No matter what they say
Words (nor bigotry, nor racism, nor sexism, nor hatred) can’t bring you down
You are beautiful
In every single way Yes words can’t bring you down
So don’t you bring me down today”