Can't Hold Us Down
|"Can't Hold Us Down"|
|Single by Christina Aguilera featuring Lil' Kim|
|from the album Stripped|
|Released||July 8, 2003|
|Christina Aguilera singles chronology|
"Can't Hold Us Down" is a song by American recording artist Christina Aguilera featuring rapper Lil' Kim, taken from Aguilera's fourth studio album, Stripped (2002). It was released on July 8, 2003 by RCA Records as the fourth single from the album. The track was written and produced by Scott Storch, with additional songwriting by Aguilera and Matt Morris. An R&B and hip hop song with dancehall elements, "Can't Hold Us Down" has a feminist theme as it criticizes gender-related double standards.
"Can't Hold Us Down" received mixed reviews from music critics, who were ambivalent towards its production and composition. It was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals at the 2004 ceremony, although it lost to "Whenever I Say Your Name" by Sting and Mary J. Blige. The track was moderately successful on national record charts, peaking at number 12 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and charting within the top ten of several countries, including Australia and United Kingdom. "Can't Hold Us Down" was certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA).
A music video for "Can't Hold Us Down" was directed by David LaChapelle, and was inspired by the Lower East Side of New York City during the 1980s. Aguilera performed the song during her three major concert tours: Justified and Stripped Tour (2003), The Stripped Tour (2003) and Back to Basics Tour (2006–07). To date, "Can't Hold Us Down" has been widely recognized as a feminist anthem.
Aguilera came to prominence with the successes of her first three studio albums Christina Aguilera (1999), Mi Reflejo (2000), and My Kind of Christmas (2000). However, she was dissatisfied with being marketed as a bubblegum pop singer, an effort pushed by Steve Kurtz, her manager at that time, because of the genre's financial lure. In late 2000, Aguilera parted ways with Kurtz and hired a new manager Irving Azoff, in addition to announcing that her forthcoming album would have more musical and lyrical depth. She selected Stripped as its title, explaining that the term represented "a new beginning, a re-introduction of [herself] as a new artist". Hip hop producer Scott Storch wrote and produced several tracks for the album, including "Can't Hold Us Down". Additional writing credits for the song were done by Aguilera and Matt Morris.
RCA Records serviced "Can't Hold Us Down" to mainstream radio stations in the United States as the fourth single from Stripped on July 8, 2003. The song was also distributed as a CD single from September to October 2003 in several countries by RCA Records and Sony Music Entertainment.
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"Can't Hold Us Down" is written in the key of E♭ major. Chuck Taylor from Billboard described it as R&B. Meanwhile, The New York Times 's Kelefa Sanneh characterized it as a hip hop number. Todd Burns writing for Stylus Magazine also noted elements of dancehall towards the end of the track. Aguilera and Kim's vocals on the track, which Taylor described as "faux-R&B", span two octaves, from F3 to F5.
"Can't Hold Us Down" lyrically discusses feminism; the song criticizes the "common" gender-related double standards, in which men are applauded for their sexual behaviors, while women who behave in a similar fashion are disdained. Meanwhile, on the book Therapeutic Uses of Rap and Hip-Hop, Susan Hadley and George Yancy discuss that "Can't Hold Us Down" is a hip hop song that "encourages young women to be proud, strong, and empowered to be all that they can be". At the song's first verse, Aguilera sings "Call me a bitch 'cause I speak what's on my mind / Guess it's easier for you to swallow if I sat and smiled"; she later rejects that all women "should be seen, not heard" and encourages them to "shout louder" during the chorus. On the second verse, Aguilera comments of the double standard: "The guy gets all the glory the more he can score / While the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore". Lil' Kim shares a similar sentiment during her verse in the bridge, questioning why a man is able to give a woman "some sex or sex her raw" while "if the girl do the same and then she's a whore".
Media outlets speculated that the lyrics of "Can't Hold Us Down" were directed towards rapper Eminem, who referred Aguilera in his songs "Off the Wall" and "The Real Slim Shady". Spin magazine's Josh Kun wrote that Aguilera suggested Eminem "Must talk so big / To make up for smaller things". According to Kelefa Sanneh writing for The New York Times, Aguilera referred to Eminem in the lyrics "It's sad you only get your fame through controversy".
Chuck Taylor from Billboard criticized the song as a "real waste of time and talent". Writing for Rolling Stone, Jancee Dunn provided a mixed review, calling the song "curiously lifeless". Stylus Magazine's Todd Burns was underwhelmed by the lyrical content of the track and felt that those shortcomings overshadowed its stronger production; however, he appreciated the dancehall-influenced melody that appeared at the end of the track. Josh Kun of Spin wrote a favorable review of the song, complimenting the confrontational lyrics for being more aggressive than the works of Britney Spears. Jacqueline Hodges writing for BBC Music appreciated Lil's Kim's inclusion on the track for adding "a bit of edge". "Can't Hold Us Down" was nominated a Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals at the 2004 Grammy Awards, but lost to "Whenever I Say Your Name" by Sting and Mary J. Blige. In 2009, Nick Levine from Digital Spy and Nick Butler of Sputnikmusic shared disappointment toward the song's absence from Aguilera's greatest hits album Keeps Gettin' Better: A Decade of Hits.
"Can't Hold Us Down" achieved moderate success on national record charts. In the United States, the track reached number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number three on the Pop Songs chart. The song peaked at number 4 on the Canadian Singles Chart. In Australia, "Can't Hold Us Down" reached a peak position of number five on the Australian Singles Chart, and was later certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for shipments of 35,000 copies in the country. Additionally, it reached number two on the New Zealand Singles Chart. In Europe, "Can't Hold Us Down" reached the top ten charts of several territories: it was a success on the Hungarian Singles Chart, where it peaked at number four. The song additionally reached number five on the Irish Singles Chart and number six on the UK Singles Chart. The single charted at numbers seven and fifteen on the Belgian Flanders and Walloon Singles Charts, respectively. On the Danish Singles Chart, "Can't Hold Us Down" peaked at number eight, while its highest position on the German Media Control Charts was number nine.
The music video for "Can't Hold Us Down" was directed by David LaChapelle, who previously directed the music video for Stripped 's lead single "Dirrty" in 2002. It was filmed in a Los Angeles soundstage that depicted a 1980s Lower East Side neighborhood in Manhattan, New York City. LaChapelle described the concept of the video as his "ode to the '80s". In the video, Aguilera wears a pink sleeveless shirt, a sleeveless sport jacket, a pair of shorts, a mauve baseball cap embroidered with the words "Lady C", and white long socks. She is seen with dyed black hair and is wearing dark mascara and a gold nose ring. The residents of the neighborhood are mostly Latin and black people, resembling people living in a ghetto.
As the video begins, Aguilera is chatting with a group of women. When Aguilera leaves the conversation, a black man suddenly grabs her buttocks, making Aguilera stop and causing an argument between them. As she continues to sing, the nearby women in the neighborhood join her, while the male residents join the man and form their respective sides in the street. They perform their own hip hop dance skills against each other. At the bridge, Lil' Kim appears in a bikini, a sheer black blouse and dances on her high heels. The argument ends with Aguilera spraying the men with a water hose, which she holds between her legs and parodies the male penis.
Jason Heller from The AV Club criticized LaChappelle for "[swallowing] the message" of the track by following an unrelated concept in the clip. In the book Music Video and the Politics of Representation, Diane Railton and Paul Watson felt that the video exemplified cultural appropriation, specifically noting how Aguilera conducted herself as an African-American woman, and elaborated that it emphasized "a range of issues concerning the represent of gender and race". Andy Cohn from The Fader provided a more favorable review, and opined that Aguilera's "sass" helped to highlight her Irish and Ecuadorian background.
Though the pair never preformed the song together, Aguilera performed "Can't Hold Us Down" on her Justified and Stripped Tour, which was held in support of Aguilera's Stripped and Justin Timberlake's album Justified (2002). In late 2003, the track was included on the setlist of The Stripped Tour, which acted as the Justified and Stripped Tour's extension and happened without Timberlake's acts. The performance in London was included on the singer's first full-length DVD Stripped Live in the U.K. (2004). During her Back to Basics Tour (2006–07), Aguilera performed excerpts of "Can't Hold Us Down" in a medley with "Still Dirrty". The performance in Adelaide, Australia was included on the video release Back to Basics: Live and Down Under (2008).
Since its release, "Can't Hold Us Down" has been recognized as a feminist anthem. Nicholas Ransbottom from The Charleston Gazette placed the song on his list of the top ten songs of female empowerment in 2013, calling it a "great anthem about women sticking up for themselves in a misogynistic world". Several writers for The AV Club included the track on their list of seventeen "well-intended yet misguided feminist anthems" in 2010; they agreed that the song itself was "actually one of her better songs", although they felt that its accompanying music video overshadowed its lyrical "[confrontation of] the double standard of female sexuality" since Aguilera conducted herself in a provocative fashion that conflicted its intended meaning. Yasamin Saeidi from Burton Mail listed "Can't Hold Us Down" on her list of the "top ten empowering lady anthems" in 2013.
The music video for "Can't Hold Us Down" has received scholarly attention as an example of cultural appropriation. Murali Balaji, author of the article "Vixen Resistin': Redefining black womanhood in hip-hop music videos" published in the Journal of Black Studies, noted that "blackness and sexuality" has become characteristics by which African-American women are able to self-define. Consequently, he opined that the inclusion of Lil' Kim in the clip represented an element of "'primitive' sexuality", which Aguilera intended to imitate through her own behavior in the video. In their article "Naughty girls and red-blooded women: Representations of female heterosexuality in music video", published in Feminist Media Studies, Diane Railton and Paul Watson made specific note of the conflicting message raised by the lyrics "all my girls around the world", while "blackness and whiteness are clearly inscribed on and through the bodies of Aguilera and Kim." They suggested that this example detracted the message of the track by emphasizing the problem that "female heterosexuality" is confined to "the very limited range of ways" in mainstream culture, in this instance "gender and race [and] sexual behaviour".
Credits adapted from "Can't Hold Us Down" CD liner notes
- Mixed at The Record Plant, Los Angeles, CA
- Recorded at The Enterprise Studios, Burbank, CA, and Conway Studios, Hollywood
- Writing – Christina Aguilera, Scott Storch, Matt Morris
- Producing – Scott Storch
- Vocals arranging – Christina Aguilera
- Vocals producing – Christina Aguilera, E. Dawk
- Mixing – Tony Maserati
- Assistant mixing – Anthony Kilhoffer
- Recording – Wassim Zreik, Oscar Ramirez
- Assistant Engineering – Aaron Leply, John Morichai, Kevin Szymanski, Scott Whitting
- Drums – Kameron Houff
- Background vocals – Crystal Drummer. Charlean Hines, Erica King, Robinson, Toya Smith
- Lil' Kim appear courtesy of Queen Bee/Atlantic Recording Corperation
^shipments figures based on certification alone
|United States||July 8, 2003||Contemporary hit radio||RCA|||
|United Kingdom||September 8, 2003||CD single|||
|United States||September 9, 2003||12"|||
|Germany||September 22, 2003||CD single|||
|Italy||October 3, 2003|||
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