On the second day of Xtina-mas, Xtina gave to me tuberose, gardenia, the illusion of mango, and DISAPPOINTMENT. Okay, okay, Inspire is your basic, wearable florals-and-gardenia fragrance, so it’s not that bad, but there’s no denying that the great irony of Christina Aguilera’s 2008 fragrance is that it’s a bit, well, uninspired. As before, though, let’s first have some context, shall we?
2008 was a helluva year to be alive if you were a fan of PVC catsuits and blunt bangs, because Lady Gaga was in–or perhaps more correctly, breaking out. While 2009 was arguably Gaga’s breakout year, 2008 saw the release of The Fame, so her star was inarguably already on the rise. Meanwhile, Christina Aguilera spent much of the year continuing to tour for Back to Basics, but she also released Keeps Gettin’ Better: A Decade of Hits, so we got this MTV VMAs performance that got Xtina clocked hard in the comments section of pop culture and music blogs everywhere for ripping off Lady G.:
This insinuation, in turn, caused Xtina to clapback in an L.A. Times interview with one of my favorite pop music mean girl moments of all time:
You know, that’s funny that you mention that. This person [Lady Gaga] was just brought to my attention not too long ago. I’m not quite sure who this person is, to be honest. I don’t know if it is a man or a woman. I just wasn’t sure.
I am willing to bet good money that it wasn’t funny when that reporter mentioned the comparison, but also, who cares? Lady Gaga was “inspired by” drag because she was surrounded by a posse of gays, Christina Aguilera was not (uh huh, wink wink) “inspired by” Gaga because she was also surrounded by a posse of gays, and a drag queen named Stripperella was definitely “inspired by” them both because look at video, girl:
Drag queens to drag queens, dust to dust.
My point is that while 2008 is the start of a feud we’ll see play out in various iterations over the next several years, it’s an odd feud to even start because it pretends either artist is or even needs to be groundbreakingly original. Gaga’s sound was clearly indebted to outside-the-mainstream, synth-heavy artists like Goldfrapp and scenes like Electroclash, and mid-aughts albums like Gwent Stefani’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and Madonna’s 2006 Confessions on a Dance Floor were already presaging the late-2000s electropop explosion. Most pop music is about chasing, not establishing, trends, so it’s peculiar–frustrating, even–that Xtina was the one to get dragged for basically being late to the scene.
But it’s also appropriate, then, that such an inane, petty celebrity sturm und drang would begin boiling the year Inspire is released. After being surprisingly delight delighted by Christina Aguilera, I was ready to fall hard for Inspire. Fragrantica lists notes of mango, tuberose, and gardenia. I go
gaga crazy for tuberose and gardenia even if the pairing is a tale as old as Fracas, and I love the idea of adding mango to the mix, but alas, Inspire falls rather flat to my nose.
There’s a giddy burst of tuberose at the front (which I love) joined by an equal and unfortunate plume of acrid rubbing alcohol (which I loathe). It’s brief, and Inspire isn’t so high-end as to make this unforgivable, but it’s disappointing all the same. What follows in the fragrance is what sticks around for the remainder: gardenia, mostly, adorned by a haze of white florals, a barely there base of sandalwood and musk to keep things soft, and the occasional hint of mango obscured by it all, a meek suggestion instead of a declarative statement.
The problem, I believe, is the gardenia. Depending on its use, the flower can either go light and floral or heavy and buttery. I have a bottle of Tuvache’s Jungle Gardenia because Joan Crawford used to wear it, and that scent uses a bouquet of other flowers to keep things airy and fresh, like a crisp jungle mist. On the opposite end, Bond’s Central Park West has a gardenia note so rich and buttery that it smells like the kind of luxe handcream best applied while swathed in pearls. Inspire’s gardenia lands somewhere in the middle, too creamy to feel light, yet too Bath and Body Works to feel fancy. I keep thinking it’d work if the mango distinct enough to add some character, but I don’t know. Inspire isn’t bad, but it never feels exciting or original either.
That all said, there is one thing about Inspire that I unequivocally love, and it’s this advertisement:
It combines everything I love: celebrities with oversized perfume bottles, a heavy hand with Photoshop’s Gaussian blur, and a wax figure that if you squint looks like a young Sarah Brightman. Talk about inspired!