Paper became a household name with its Kim Kardashian “Break The Internet” cover, where she’s shooting Champagne into a glass resting on her bum (or as the beans asked at the time, in a massive meta-understatement, “What’s that silly lady doing?”), and then, in an alternate version, baring her rump in its entirety. The mag does gritty covers and funky covers, but I don’t know if I’ve ever associated them with this kind of nakedness. They talked Christina Aguilera into wearing no makeup — a person I don’t think I’ve ever seen without ten gallons of slap — and the result is pretty neat. Not the open-mouthed finger-sucking, of course; I would have liked this a thousand percent better if she didn’t have that crutch and was just staring straight at the camera with a smile merely playing at her lips. An expression more like this, except without the wig and the same full-on angle.

Ag2-1522174968

I also go back and forth between thinking the cover seems piercing, and slightly disconnected in the eyes. Maybe it’s both (is that possible?). But, honestly, in its way this probably broke the Internet as much as Kim’s derriere did. You don’t expect to see a celebrity go that natural, that close-up, especially when you are used to seeing her totally frosted in glitter. Paper is very good at what it does, that being, getting people talking and getting its subjects to take risks.

The theme of the cover is transformation, and she says:

“I’ve always been someone that obviously loves to experiment, loves theatrics, loves to create a storyline and play a character in a video or through stage,” she explains while her makeup artist removes glitter from her eyelids. “I’m a performer, that’s who I am by nature. But I’m at the place, even musically, where it’s a liberating feeling to be able to strip it all back and appreciate who you are and your raw beauty.”As she says this, she’s bare-faced, her freckles peeking out and her blue eyes sparkling without a trace of eye makeup — but don’t think she’s shelving her contour kit just yet. “I mean, I’m a girl that likes a beat face, let’s not get it twisted,” she laughs.

As Glamour points out, it’ll be interesting to see what this ends up meaning for her musically. Christina has gone through pop pep, ballads, gritty dance jams like “Dirrrty,” her big-band era, Dee Snider hair, giant wigs… this seems befitting of the stripped-down emo of her vocals on A Great Big World’s “Say Something.” That was a while ago, though, and it wasn’t her own record. We don’t know if there’s anything from her in the hopper, but it IS unusual for someone to hook this kind of PR — and debut this kind of a shift in branding, honestly — and then do nothing with it. So maybe this is to whet appetites, or change the narrative in advance of an announcement; maybe she’s gunning for more acting roles and wants to be seen as more serious and less of a showgirl. Or, maybe she just wants to get on the freckles train, which Meghan Markle may be conducting. Regardless, I appreciate the attempt to get a photo that’s raw — even if it’s retouched; I don’t recall whether they said it hasn’t been — because it’s a refreshing alternative to all things Vogue.

[Photos: Paper]