VMAs

Christina Aguilera’s Infamous Two-Toned Hair Was So Much More Meaningful Than We Realized

The singer revolutionized the two-toned hair trend.
Christina Aguilera
Christina Aguilera (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)Jim Spellman

Long before skunk stripes, dip-dyed ends, and two-toned neon became viral TikTok hair trends, Christina Aguilera broke beauty ground with her legendary take on dual-colored, black-on-blonde hair. It was an especially bold look, even for the infamously experimental early aughts. Though it's only now, 20 years later, that I realize the true meaning of Aguilera's statement hair, and how it symbolized so much more than anyone recognized at the time.

Hear me out. It’s August 29, 2002, the 18th MTV Video Music Awards (or VMAs). It was a wild night for everyone: Jennifer Lopez was cosplaying as a sexy prime-time lawyer, and Donald Trump inexplicably and aimlessly, roamed the red carpet. But Christina Aguilera? Her eclectic ensemble actually made perfect sense.

To set the scene: Aguilera was on top of the world. In 2000 she'd won a Grammy Award for best new artist after the monumental success of her self-titled debut album and its chart-topping singles “Genie in a Bottle,” “What a Girl Wants,” and “Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You).”

KMazur

At the 2002 VMAs, however, Aguilera was on the cusp of releasing her next major studio album, Stripped, the first over which she'd had complete creative control. Aguilera personally oversaw the music, style, and lyrics, seeking to free herself from her “contrived” pop princess persona. And Aguilera knew it would be controversial. Her external shift from butter-blonde good girl next door to a two-toned provocateur with a topless album cover was intended to be a true reflection of her internal and musical transformation. But some audiences were appalled.

The Stripped track list—which included hits “Beautiful,” “Fighter,” and “Can’t Hold Us Down”—addressed themes of sexuality, empowerment, and feminism throughout, daring to do so at a time when women were notoriously assigned one of two labels: good or bad. At the time, openly acknowledging one's sexuality was bad—especially for pop singers. But Aguilera, having just earned autonomy over her music and outward expression, used this to her advantage, debuting a sultry alter-ego aptly named Xtina along with the album. This way, her “bad” label could be assigned to someone else. (Or, perhaps, she was asserting that they were one and the same.)

KMazur

The most sexual of the Stripped catalog—“Dirrty”—would debut in just four days. Its David LaChapelle–directed video, which depicted sexual role-playing and mud wrestling, essentially served as a hard launch for Aguilera’s newly implemented Xtina persona. But really, she was already mostly dressed the part, especially at the VMAs. Sporting a microscopic denim miniskirt, circle scarf as a top, and white corduroy baker boy cap atop her emblematic two-toned hair, the real Xtina was clearly just over the horizon.

Sylvain Gaboury

And that's why the hair matters so much: Its two-toned nature managed to embody both halves of who she was—the bleach-blonde signified the good-girl image she was desperate to shed, while the black hair welcomed the “Dirrty”-era Xtina—who unapologetically addressed sex via song—just months before she went on to dye her whole head black the next year.

The dual shades allowed Aguilera to don the bleach-blonde “good” girl she was desperate to shed, just before saying goodbye.Dave Hogan/Getty Images

So really, Aguilera’s black-and-white do served as a symbol for a pivotal moment of her career. At the 2002 VMAs—her last public appearance before “Dirrty” would grace early-aughts ears—she was a musician on the verge of metamorphosis. And her hair wanted us to know that.

Keep an eye out for Glamour's coverage of the 2022 VMAs, happening this Sunday, August 28, here