Spoilers ahead for The Emoji Movie.
Life was almost better when T.J. Miller parasailed into Cannes to promote The Emoji Movie, when we thought the film might just be a benign children’s movie and didn’t know that it was, in fact, a post-language harbinger of the apocalypse. But, now that we know (and, unfortunately, can never go back), there’s one little mystery in this whole mess of product placement: How did this movie score a scene from Christina Aguilera, a star who is far and away above this mess’s stench? She is a diva, and this movie treats her like a damsel in distress.
First, let’s back up and recap the basic “plot”: In the animated adventure, Miller voices Gene, a hormonal meh-faced emoji struggling with the fact that his face shows all of his feelings. It turns out that Gene’s code needs to be fixed — emoji are only allowed to feel and represent one emotion for the duration of their lives — so Gene embarks on a mission with pals Hi-5 (James Corden) and Jailbreak (Ana Farris) to be reprogrammed. Along the way, the unlikely trio bob in and out of every app on their 14-year-old owner Alex’s smartphone.
At one point, our heroes’ journey brings them to the Just Dance app, where they meet Akiko Glitter, a gigantic pink-haired pop star who leads them all in a series of complex, high-stakes choreographed dances (as is the case in real life, if the emoji don’t correctly complete the choreography, they will die). I noticed almost immediately that this gleeful drill sergeant had a familiar voice: that of Christina Aguilera. Yes, Xtina herself is in this movie as a deranged, app-based dance instructor, who barks out dance instructions (commands?) that may or may not end in our protagonists’ violent deaths. Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh — my heart is saying no.
According to Aguilera, she just really likes her emoji (and, probably, money — me too!). “When I was first asked to be part of The Emoji Movie, I was very intrigued, as I am pretty obsessed with emojis,” Aguilera told Us Weekly when her casting was announced. “I use them all the time. It’s everything to me in life to express myself. You don’t need words at all, you just need emojis.” (I’d argue that the The Emoji Movie, in fact, needs fewer emoji and more logic regarding the laws of physics said emoji adhere to.) “I love Akiko Glitter because she’s just free and alive,” Aguilera added. “She lives the way I would love to express myself all the time. She’s got this fun color hair, lives in this world that seems alive and fun to express yourself. You just get to move and have fun and just listen to music all the time, which is fun for everyone. What’s not to love?” (To be clear: Akiko looks more inspired by pre-woke Katy Perry than any iteration of Aguilera herself.)
It feels right that our greatest pop stars make cutesy animated movie cameos. Rihanna did voice work in Home (and appeared in mostly alien form in Valerian just this year), Katy Perry voiced Smurfette, Beyoncé lent her voice to Epic. But surely there’s an animated home more deserving of Queen Xtina. She’s been decisive in choosing acting gigs — a few episodes in Nashville, cameos in Pitch Perfect 2 and Get Him to the Greek, a starring role in Burlesque. She should be a doll in the new Toy Story or grab a role in the one of Disney’s live-action adaptations — Cruella De Vil, perhaps?
Because, ultimately, The Emoji Movie does Xtina dirrty; it is her Akiko who meets the grimmest end. The bad guys — a team of bots chasing Hi-5, Jailbreak, and Gene through Alex’s phone — catch up to our protagonists in the Just Dance app. With stunna shades on, they too dance through the game and delete it. As if we needed further proof this movie was written in 2012 and updated with Microsoft Word’s search and replace function, the Christina Aguilera song played during this sequence is Xtina’s Pitbull collaboration, “Feel This Moment.” Imagine making a whole movie with Aguilera and this is the song chosen: Not “Genie in a Bottle,” not “Ain’t No Other Man,” not even “What a Girl Wants” (which speaks nicely to the message of female empowerment this movie decides to preach, quite unexpectedly, halfway through). Our last glimpse of Akiko is of her sobbing in the phone’s trash, inconsolable, unable to help herself from going through the motions of the Macarena in the midst of her grief.
I am grateful, in a way, for Akiko’s last scene, which shares a brave truth: The Macarena is bad. It is the dance of the neglected. Xtina’s Akiko doesn’t have the most lines or dignified end, and certainly, that teenage phone user Alex does not deserve to carry around Xtina in his pocket. But she does star in the bleakest sequence Emoji Movie has to offer. And that certainly counts for … something.