Monday night’s episode of NBC’s singing competition show The Voice featured its share of controversy when Christina Aguilera accused contestant Tony Lucca of being “derogatory towards women.“ Aguilera’s allegation followed Lucca’s cover of Jay-Z’s song “99 Problems”, which features the chorus “I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one” and uses the gendered slur no fewer than sixteen times.
In fairness, Lucca censored himself, never actually using the word “bitch” on stage. Fellow coach Blake Shelton joked that he could not tell what word Lucca was leaving out of the lyrics, which elicited a wink from Lucca. But as far as Aguilera was concerned, even hinting at the word crossed the line, particularly, as she pointed out, with his wife and young daughter present in the audience.
“I thought you sounded great,” said Aguilera during her critique. “I just thought the lyrical connotation was a little derogatory towards women.”
Lucca’s coach, lead singer of Maroon 5, Adam Levine, defended his team member by saying that they discussed the controversial nature of the song in advance and decided that, in context, the word bitch represents “life getting at you [and] things bringing you down.” Aguilera shot back that the song was about relationship problems, making “bitch” a clear reference to women. The lyrics can be read in full here.
“We’re not referring to women, we’re referring to everything,” countered Levine, as a mainly silent Lucca watched the argument transpire from the stage. “It’s called a metaphor.”
The spat has opened up a greater discussion among the audience on the nature of the word “bitch.” Fans cannot seem to agree on whether the word is misogynistic or just a form of expression, let alone how that applies to the censored performance itself.
Surprisingly, Lucca and Aguilera actually go way back. As children, the two were castmates on The Mickey Mouse Club alongside other now-famous stars like Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling. Despite their familiarity, Aguilera has shown no favoritism over the course of the series, going so far as to call Lucca “one-dimensional” and adding that she hoped he did not win because, “I think there are just better voices on the show.” In response, Lucca told People Magazine, “It seems like [Aguilera's] just flat-out trying to get me out of here.”
Later during the finale, Aguilera heralded her own contestant, opera singer Chris Mann, as a “real man” who “respects women,” leaving some to question whether Aguilera’s motivations in calling out Lucca were to help her own contestant succeed. Also lending credence to this theory is that in 2010, Aguilera included Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” on a playlist she compiled for iTunes, saying that the song “makes [her] wanna throw [her] middle fingers up and rebel!”
Oddly enough, Lucca’s performance is also the source of another controversy. Lucca’s take bares a striking resemblance to singer Hugo’s cover of Jay-Z’s song, but that fact went un-credited on air.
Ultimately, whether audiences sided with Aguilera’s cries of misogyny or Levine’s explanation of “metaphor” may be evident when the public vote will crown a winner of the second season of The Voice.
Photo Credit: Evan-Amos