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Does Christina Aguilera’s new album, ‘Bionic,’ mark her as this generation’s answer to Cher?

Christina Aguilera (r.) appears to be this generation’s answer to Cher (l.), particularly when it comes to her sense of style and her music, including new album, “Bionic.”

She favors the freaky in fashion, the nerdy in men and the bombastic in music. No wonder, as time goes by, Christina Aguilera keeps looking more and more like this generation’s answer to Cher.

This week she even endured a vintage Cher-like bit of critical drubbing. She postponed her new tour – due to poor ticket sales, they say. Aguilera insists she just needs more time to prep the full-on show she wants to give, which will come next year.

In the meantime, she’s got a new movie in the can, “Burlesque,” in which she stars opposite – you guessed it – Ms. Cher-tastic herself.
She also has a new album to promote, “Bionic,” arriving June 8, graced by a cover that depicts her as half-woman, half-machine. Could this be her space-age answer to Cher’s beloved half-breed incarnation of yore?

The singer will hype her new look and sound on the MTV Movie Awards June 6, then host her own installment of VH1’s “Storytellers” on the 13th. The new wonder-woman, robot/goddess persona she’ll rock at all these events isn’t just a whim. It makes genuine sense for her – on more than one level. The balance she has lately struck in her life openly courts the superhuman.

“Bionic” caps a personal and public campaign by Christina to bring the classic feminist insistence, “you can have it all,” to screaming life (aided, no doubt, by all the nannies that platinum records can buy). “Bionic” represents Christina’s first release since giving birth to Max Liron Bratman on Jan. 12, 2008. She had him with husband Jordan Bratman, a music marketing executive who can be seen as her Sonny. By all accounts, he’s a similarly levelheaded business guy, the furthest thing from a boy toy – like, for example, Britney Spears’ ex Kevin Federline.

Indeed, the contrast between the two singing icons (once seen as rivals) in how they run their careers clearly shows who has more focus and drive. While other child-to-adult stars have strained under the pressures of that transition, Christina seems to have surfed it with ease. The tangential “outrage” and “controversy” necessary to keep her in headlines haven’t come through scandals, but courtesy of carefully managed photo shoots and the occasional catfight.

While Mariah Carey, Pink and Kelly Osbourne have mixed it up with her in the press, none has drawn blood or reflected too poorly on Aguilera herself. (In fact, the Osbournes wound up selling Christina their old Beverly Hills house, where she now resides.)

Taking another page from Cher, Christina has found that her genius for ugly clothing can be richly rewarded in ink and camera time – even if that has led to multiple mentions on the late Mr. Blackwell’s Worst Dressed List. (Naturally, Christina shares that perverse point of pride with the “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” artist herself.)

In Aguilera’s case, think of her styles in the “Dirrty” video, which ranked as a skankfest of historic proportions. Add her intermittent love of kinky/fried hair and lacquered-on makeup, and even John Waters’ “ugly experts” would have trouble doing a makeover as grotesquely comic.

Still, no matter what scandalous shmattes and horrific hairstyles she sports, Aguilera has never fooled with her most enduring asset: her rockin’ (now bionic) bod. Less than two years after giving birth, the star has reemerged with a fitter figure than ever, a feat she made sure nobody missed by posing, birthday suit-style, for the cover of German GQ.

As she explained to an Atlanta radio show: “When you have a baby, you go through a period where your body is not your own. It becomes for your child and that’s it. Once you bounce back from that and kind of get your body back … I feel better than ever.”

She also sounds better than ever, which tips off her other “Bionic” quality: that voice. While you can criticize Christina for the way she uses her instrument – how recklessly and egotistically she can throw it around – there’s no denying its blunt and powerful thwack. At 29, she clearly owns the biggest voice of the under-30 generation.

She’s even making moves on the over-30 set, with Whitney down for the count and Mariah having fallen off her commercial game. Were Aguilera to cut an “Enough Is Enough”-style female diva-off today (à la Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand in the ’70s), only Celine Dion would have the pipes to go up against her.

The way Christina uses her pile-driving talent on the new album guarantees she’ll get a fresh rush of attention. Like the electro gimmick that relaunched Cher on the smash “Believe,” Christina has allowed her voice to be treated, or at least surrounded, by lots of futuristic effects on the new CD. To help her do so, she partnered with avant stars like M.I.A., Peaches, Santigold and Le Tigre.

The heavy use of electronics, and the switch to dance music, on the new CD have already inspired Web sniping, with accusations that she’s riding the long coattails of Lady Gaga. (Hey, Ke has done it, to great commercial effect.) Aguilera will have none of it.

“That, in particular, is not even worth wasting the breath to comment on,” the singer has said. “I’ve been around for over a decade. I think my work speaks for itself.”

By most accounts, Aguilera’s new sound isn’t quite like the neo-’80s new wave dance-pop of Gaga. It’s meant to be a broader take on the style. More, Christina has impressed fans by continuing to change her sound throughout her career. Not one of her four albums repeats the style of another. And, while Gaga goes for “art” with her look, Aguilera leans far closer to camp, just like the original babe of “I Got You Babe.”

For the upcoming “Burlesque” flick, Cher plays the owner, and headliner, of the club where Christina appears. It’s directed and written by Steve Antin, brother of the chick who started the Pussycat Dolls, which means he knows a thing or two about trashy dancing. With any luck, the pairing of the two stars will have an “All About Eve”/mother-daughter frisson of rivalry and rapport, making the connection between them more obvious than ever.

Given all this, can it be very long before we no longer even recognize Aguilera by her second name? At this rate, don’t be surprised if she soon enters that rare, Cher-like company of stars so intimately known, they require just a first.

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