The pattern has, unfortunately, become fairly predictable at this point. A young star experiences stratospheric early success, lives a high-flying lifestyle and engages in over-the-top rebellious behavior and then begins to spin out of control after experiencing some personal and professional disappointments.
The latest victim is Grammy winner Christina Aguilera, whose annus horribilis reached its peak on Tuesday morning when she and her boyfriend both ended up behind bars. A year ago, Aguilera was on the cusp of a return to the spotlight after nearly three years away, during which she celebrated the birth of her son and recorded a new album, Bionic, which was tagged as her futuristic stab at retaking her pop-diva mantle.
"There's no other way of looking at the last year in her career other than to say it's been trying," said Keith Caulfield, the associate director of charts for Billboard magazine. "A lot of artists have tough times and go through all sorts of drama. Mariah Carey had her 'TRL' moment when 'Glitter' bombed and 'Loverboy' didn't do what she wanted, but she came back with 'We Belong Together,' and was better than ever. Everyone was writing [Aguilera] off because that's what we like to do — beat people while they're down."
Although authorities have said she won't be prosecuted, Aguilera was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of public intoxication on Tuesday morning after her boyfriend Matthew Rutler was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. It was the latest hiccup in a year of difficulties for Aguilera, which began with the flop of her 2010 Bionic album, which has sold only 250,000 copies in the U.S. to date.
That was followed by a hastily canceled U.S. tour, the failure of her big-screen debut in "Burlesque" and the announcement of her separation and pending divorce from husband Jordan Bratman.
Those incidents were followed by her infamous flubbing of the lyrics at February's Super Bowl and a stumble on the Grammys stage a week later, amid tabloid reports that her partying had gotten out of hand.
Billboard's Caulfield said he didn't think Aguilera's troubles are comparable to the very public difficulties suffered by Britney Spears several years ago or even Lindsay Lohan's string of trips to jail and rehab, but that the pileup of Christina's career and personal setbacks may have been amplified by the speed at which information and photos are disseminated on the Net these days. "Because of the coverage and the way things happen so quickly on the Internet, there's no room for an, 'Oh, I screwed up the lyrics or I stumbled.' The problem is that everything she's done over the past year was on a significant magnitude: her first starring role, the Super Bowl!"
Had all the other previous incidents not happened, Caulfield said people may not have even noticed Aguilera's stumble at the Grammys, a trip that Caulfield himself, who was at the show, said he didn't even detect. "I can't imagine how difficult it is to be Aguilera now: you have a kid, you're separating from your husband, the album you waited four years to put out no one bought, it's got to be tough."
PR expert and star of the Kim Kardashian-produced E! show "The Spin Crowd," Jonathan Cheban said some of Aguilera's problems may stem from her public image.
"She has an incredible voice ... she's won Grammys ... but it's a different story than Britney," Cheban said of the comparison to Spears and other stars like Lohan and Robert Downey Jr. who've had public spirals. "Christina's definitely had a bad year, but there have been so many stories over the years about how unfriendly she is and how she doesn't treat the people around her right, that I think people are more eager to take her down. Nobody is rooting for her because over the years she's not been one to root for anyone else."
Before things went south for her, Cheban said it was hard to knock Aguilera off her pedestal because she was producing hit albums, winning Grammys and being asked to appear in movies such as Martin Scorsese's 2008 Rolling Stones documentary, "Shine a Light." But once things started to fall apart, he said, the knives came out. "There were no breaks, really," he noted. "From the album tanking, the movie tanking, the divorce ... she did a weird 360 in her life and went into hiding, and when you hide too much these days, people don't like that. If you're not out there, people will come after you and not in a positive way."
So, is it bad luck or bad karma? "Look at [Lady] Gaga," Cheban continued. "If she's trying to compete with [Gaga], then she should have praised her. Gaga is a woman of the people and everyone loves her and she's fun and she's out there and honest."
Caulfield said another problem is that while Aguilera was away, a new crop of younger, hotter models (Gaga, Katy Perry, Ke$ha) rose up to take her place and when Bionic failed, she purposely took herself out of the spotlight and seemed to amplify the career stall-out. "Pick a diva, they've all had their issues and failures — Madonna, Whitney Houston, Mariah," he said. "We love a comeback story, though, and, of course, whatever her next thing is, hopefully it will work and people will love her again."