August 9, 2022

In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Scorching 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my manner up into the current.

Typically, the tune will get misplaced contained in the tune. “What A Lady Needs,” Christina Aguilera’s second #1 hit, looks like it ought to be easy. It’s a giddy love tune, a thank-you to a boyfriend who understands the way to not be an overbearing asshole; co-writer Shelly Peiken was desirous about her husband when she got here up with the lyrics. However “What A Lady Needs” additionally has a lot occurring — sputter-clap drum-machines, synth-string blinky-blinks, a bizarre little baroque breakdown. In the midst of the entire thing, there’s Christina Aguilera, seemingly bent on proving that she will sing 58 notes per second. It’s an excessive amount of.

“What A Lady Needs” went by way of a number of completely different iterations earlier than reaching its chart-topper kind. The model of “What A Lady Needs” on Christina Aguilera’s self-titled album isn’t the model that made its technique to #1. It’s additionally not the only that Christina Aguilera needed to launch. Even earlier than Christina first recorded it, her A&R man made the tune’s writers change a key lyric. In all these tough drafts and re-recordings, “What A Lady Needs” grew to become its personal out-of-control beast, like a would-be blockbuster film that has manner too many studio execs’ fingerprints on it. All that chaos didn’t cease “What A Lady Needs” from reaching #1, cementing Christina’s maintain over the TRL nation, or supplying a title for an Amanda Bynes high-school comedy. At present, although, “What A Lady Needs” stands as one of many lesser smashes of the Y2K-era bubblegum renaissance. It’s not a tune that anybody wants.

Christina Aguilera was at an important profession level when she launched “What A Lady Needs” as a single. “Genie In A Bottle,” the primary single from her self-titled album, had turn into a straight-up summer time smash, dominating the Scorching 100 for greater than a month throughout a aggressive second in chart historical past. However Christina was nonetheless younger and untested, and the specter of one-hit marvel standing nonetheless hung over her. Christina hadn’t needed to launch “Genie In A Bottle” as her first single. She’d considered herself primarily as a balladeer, a younger Mariah Carey kind, however her A&R rep Ron Truthful had as a substitute despatched Christina into the pop zeitgeist that her former Mickey Mouse Membership castmate Britney Spears had helped to create. For the second single, Aguilera as soon as once more needed to launch a ballad. However teenage hormones had paid off properly, and Ron Truthful needed to maintain her in that lane for so long as he may.

Earlier than “Genie In A Bottle,” Christina Aguilera had already discovered some success with a ballad: “Reflection,” the end-credits tune from the Disney film Mulan. However whereas “Reflection” had carried out simply wonderful on adult-contempo radio, it wasn’t a moment-defining smash anyplace close to the extent of “Genie In A Bottle.” Earlier than Christina launched a correct “Genie In A Bottle” follow-up, she did get an opportunity to indicate off her vocal vary. Throughout 1999’s Christmas season, Christina launched a deeply sentimental, wildly oversung tackle the outdated normal “The Christmas Music (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fireplace).” Aguilera’s model, which wasn’t on her album, made it to #18 on the Scorching 100 — a severe accomplishment in an period when vacation songs didn’t typically do properly on the pop chart. I actually don’t like her model, although.

Even after these successes, Christina Aguilera didn’t have a lot say in choosing her huge “Genie In A Bottle” follow-up. As a substitute, Ron Truthful merely picked the second tune on the album, the one which in all probability sounded essentially the most like “Genie In A Bottle.” That tune got here from Shelly Peiken and Man Roche, two songwriters who had began working collectively not lengthy beforehand. Peiken, a Lengthy Island native, had gotten her begin within the late ’80s, writing tracks for individuals like Samantha Fox and former Quantity Ones artist Taylor Dayne. Peiken had restricted success, largely writing album tracks, proper up till 1997, when she co-wrote a bunch of songs on her buddy Meredith Brooks’ LP Blurring The Edges. A kind of songs was “Bitch,” which went all the best way to #2. (It’s a 4.)

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Across the time “Bitch” took off, Shelly Peiken began writing songs with Man Roche, a Tahiti-born producer. Roche had began off within the mid-’80s, producing tracks for singers like Michael Bolton and Cher. (He co-produced Cher’s 1989 hit “If I Might Flip Again Time,” which peaked at #3; it’s a 9.) Within the ’90s, Roche did a ton of labor with Céline Dion, and he additionally produced “Dreaming Of You,” the only that was alleged to be Selena’s English-language breakout. (In 1995, after Selena’s homicide, “Dreaming Of You” grew to become her solely Scorching 100 hit, peaking at #22.) Peiken and Roche had been each trade insiders, and so they appreciated working collectively. In 1998, the 2 of them teamed as much as write “Nearly Doesn’t Rely,” a #16 hit for the previous Quantity Ones artist Brandy.

In the future, Man Roche performed a observe that he’d made for Shelly Peiken, and he or she began singing over it, freestyling lyrics. One of many bits that she sang would ultimately turn into the “What A Lady Needs” refrain. The 2 writers completed the tune. In 1998, the French pop star Ophélie Winter recorded a French-language model of the observe; a few years later, “Ce Que Je Suis” made a minor dent within the French singles charts. The existence of that French-language model didn’t cease Peiken and Roche from pitching the tune to Ron Truthful, the A&R rep in command of Christina Aguilera’s undertaking. Initially, Peiken and Roche had known as the tune “What A Lady Wants,” and Truthful steered that they modify the “Wants” of the title to “Needs.” Peiken and Roche went together with it, and Christina recorded the tune for her album.

The primary model of “What A Lady Needs,” the one which appeared on Christina’s album, continues to be fairly cluttered, nevertheless it’s very completely different from what would come later. Christina sings it in a decrease key, over sparkly and heavily-treated acoustic guitars. There are some DJ scratches in there, and a few bursts of drum-machine syncopation. However in comparison with what would come later, that unique “What A Lady Needs” is sort of bluesy. It sounds manner higher than the model we all know at the moment. Regardless that Christina’s album offered a bajillion copies, that unique model would possibly as properly not exist anymore. On the model of Christina Aguilera that’s at the moment obtainable on streaming companies, the album model of the observe is gone, changed by the re-recording. And the re-recording is a mess.

Right here’s how Ron Truthful describes the only model of “What A Lady Needs” in Fred Bronson’s Billboard Ebook Of Number one Hits: “The unique model of ‘What A Lady Needs’ was carried out a lot decrease, a lot smokier, a lot sultrier, and so the refrain didn’t have the raise it wanted. We modified the important thing and freshened up the rhythm and took a way more aggressive method in re-recording it.” What Truthful means is that they tried to show “What A Lady Needs” into the form of hammering teen-pop anthem that may refuse to fade into the background. Truthful needed “What A Lady Needs” to work just like the slippery futuristic R&B and the titanium-plated Max Martin tracks that had been throughout TRL on the time. Truthful’s trick succeeded commercially, nevertheless it made the observe into one thing tough.

Look, I ought to like “What A Lady Needs.” The tune is certainly memorable; I can’t see the title with out getting the hook caught in my head. That’s a superb factor. The tune is playfully sexy, too, and I like playfully sexy pop songs. I additionally just like the modern, tourettic manufacturing of millennial R&B, and the re-recorded “What A Lady Needs” a minimum of goals for that. However all these modifications work as a gaudy-ass paint job on a tune that didn’t want or need one.

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A complete lot of individuals had success by imitating Timbaland’s manufacturing type within the late ’90s and early ’00s, however that doesn’t imply it was straightforward. Somebody like Rodney Jerkins or She’kspere knew that the difficult, off-kilter beats wanted to be constructed into the material of the songs themselves. You couldn’t simply take a beforehand present tune, change the pitch, and have somebody mashing on an 808 at irregular intervals. However that’s virtually what we get with the only model of “What A Lady Needs.” In its re-recorded model, “What A Lady Needs” has no sense of area. The tune appears to lose observe of its personal beat greater than as soon as, like on the breakdown the place these fancy string rondos are available. That a part of the tune appears to exist simply in order that Christina Aguilera can costume up like Marie Antoinette within the video. It utterly loses the thread of the tune. I’m not even certain what that point signature’s alleged to be.

Some songs is perhaps sturdy sufficient to face up to that sort of overhaul, however “What A Lady Needs” isn’t considered one of them. In its unique kind, “What A Lady Needs” is a decent-enough love tune with out a lot of an thought behind it. Christina Aguilera’s narrator is grateful that her dude has given her “time to breathe,” and it’s not instantly clear if she’s speaking about intercourse or simply about not being too possessive. On the bridge, Christina enthuses about this man who’s delicate however powerful and who shall be there when the going will get tough. However we don’t get any specifics or peculiarities; it’s all simply pure Hallmark drivel.

The “What A Lady Needs” hook is memorable, and Christina Aguilera belts it out with a complete lot of pressure. However the tune doesn’t have the teasing flirtiness of “Genie In A Bottle,” and Christina doesn’t actually promote its banalities. As a substitute, she simply goes full berserker on the melisma, as if that’s her manner of getting revenge for not attending to launch a ballad. Christina undoubtedly realized the way to oversing from Mariah Carey, and a minimum of on this tune, she doesn’t deploy her huge voice with the sort of artfulness that Mariah typically introduced. As a substitute, she simply pushes the ad-libs into overdrive. That doesn’t cease her from delivering the refrain straight-up, however every part else within the tune will get misplaced within the vocal twister.

It’s potential that the “What A Lady Needs” video was extra vital to Christina Aguilera’s profession than the tune itself. “Genie In A Bottle” director Diane Martel got here again for the clip, and he or she as soon as once more set issues in a no-adults-allowed hangout spot the place children all do elaborately choreographed dances collectively. This time, it’s all taking place in a large loft-style clubhouse with neon indicators and pinball machines, the kind of place that solely exists in music movies. (If I used to be hanging on the market as a youngster, I’d be the one man asking everybody to attend on the dance routine as a result of I can’t simply stroll away from a pinball machine till I’ve gotten my quarter’s value.) Christina presents her entire dance quantity as a present to her blandly good-looking boyfriend, and he or she appears like she’s having enjoyable, particularly through the inexplicable costume-drama interlude. Movies like this had been complete TRL-bait, and this one did its job. It made Christina look, as soon as once more, like a star.

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The music enterprise was undoubtedly comfortable to just accept Christina Aguilera as a star. Her self-titled album was platinum when the “What A Lady Needs” single got here out, and it was quintuple platinum when the tune reached #1. A couple of weeks after that, Christina received the Grammy for Greatest New Artist, notably beating out her fellow Mouseketeer revolutionary Britney Spears. (Christina additionally beat Child Rock, Macy Grey, and Susan Tedeschi. Bizarre record of nominees.) Christina’s victory makes a sure sort of sense. Grammy voters may not perceive teen-pop, however they’ve at all times been type to the oversingers of the world. To a Grammy voter, perhaps Christina regarded like extra of a profession artist than Britney — or, for that matter, Child Rock, who’d launched his debut album a decade earlier.

After “What A Lady Needs” reached #1, Christina Aguilera lastly acquired to launch a ballad as a single. Diane Warren had written the sluggish jam “I Flip To You” a number of years earlier, and former Quantity Ones artists All-4-One had recorded it for the soundtrack of the 1996 film Area Jam. All-4-One had made an “I Flip To You” video and every part, however their tune had by no means come out as a single. Christina recorded a canopy of the tune with Man Roche, and her model peaked at #3. (It’s a 4.)

“I Flip To You” wasn’t a failure. It wasn’t precisely a business triumph like “Genie In A Bottle” or “What A Lady Needs,” both. It simply existed. Possibly it was an itch that Christina Aguilera wanted to scratch. Christina would launch different, higher ballads in a while, however her most profitable songs had been often her up-tempo jams. She nonetheless had extra of these within the chamber. She’ll be again on this column earlier than lengthy.

GRADE: 3/10

BONUS BEATS: One of many largest box-office hits of 2000 was What Girls Need, the completely deranged Nancy Myers comedy the place Mel Gibson can abruptly learn girls’s minds after being struck by lightning. Right here’s the bit the place “What A Lady Needs” soundtracks a montage of Gibson watching his daughter Ashley Johnson strive on outfits:

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s the Norwegian producer Cashmere Cat utilizing a re-recorded and pitched-up “What A Lady Needs” pattern on his 2019 observe “Watergirl”:

(Cashmere Cat’s solely Scorching 100 hit as lead artist, the 2015 Ariana Grande collab “Adore,” peaked at #93. As a producer, Cashmere Cat will ultimately seem on this column.)

The Quantity Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The Historical past Of Pop Music is out 11/15 by way of Hachette Books. You may pre-order it right here.