When we think of Thailand’s best-selling female artists of all time, Christina Aguilar, who is widely dubbed as the country’s “Queen of Dance”, is at the top.
Now she is taking on a new role as the “Champion of UNFPA”, to advocate for gender equality, including several related issues, such as eliminating gender-based violence and improving access to sexual and reproductive health.
“I have got to say that I am very excited, and I feel very honoured that they are trusting me in taking on this new role and to be part of the UNFPA family.”
-Advocating for gender equality-
Though Christina has been known as an artist, what people may not know is that she has been advocating for gender equality. She explains that her fans were her main inspiration, as most of them were from the LGBTQ community. She would also invite her fans to make merit and donations, in which they have visited orphanages, shelters for women and children and nursing homes for the elderly.
“That was when I realised the underlying problems in our society,” she said. “It is a huge problem indeed, particularly with domestic and gender-based violence. Therefore, I hope that everyone will notice that and eventually spread awareness of this problem, so that our society can be a much better place in which to live.”
As to why gender-based violence and discrimination still exists, many factors have been blamed, whether it’s the cultural norms, the education system that hasn’t raised enough awareness of the problem, including a justice system which is not always supportive of the victims. Christina believes, however, that the root cause of all problems comes from families and within the household, and that they must lay a good learning foundation for their children.
“I think the love and care of families are important, she said. “Parents might believe that they have to work for their children’s future. Children might, however, want their parents to spend more time with them. Therefore, children might end up with their friends, in which the atmosphere may not be safe. Some children cannot differentiate between right and wrong. So, I strongly believe that the foundation is very important for a child to develop into a good citizen of the future.”
As for her new advocacy role, Christina will use this opportunity to inform people about their fundamental rights and where to seek help if they fall victims or witness gender-based and domestic violence.
“Some people think that domestic violence it’s none of their business, but in fact, it is not true. We’re living in the same society. What happens to others can happen to us one day. If we see something, we don’t need to intervene, but we can call [the help hotlines], so that related authorities can help with the cases.”
-The one and only “Queen of Dance”-
Christina was considered the most successful female artist in the 90s “cassette tape” era and the very first female artist in Thailand to sell over a million copies, not just for one album, but four consecutive albums. Her debut album, “Ninja Christina”, released in 1990, sold 1.99 million copies, while her third album, “Red Beat”, released in 1994, sold 3.5 million.
Apart from a long-list of smash hits, such as Ninja, Plick-Lock, Pra-Wat-Sart, Mai-Yark-Rork, and Pood-Eek-Tee, Christina also won numerous awards, including the MTV Video Music Awards for International Viewer’s Choice in 1992. Such tremendous success eventually gained her the reputation of being the “Queen of Dance”.
In fact, to debut a singer with a dance track in the 90s was considered quite a risk for her music label, GMM Grammy, at the time, as most successful artists released either rock or pop music. Therefore, dance music in Thailand was considered “very new” at the time.
“I joined the music industry back when Grammy wanted to experiment with new things,” she said as she recalled her memories as a rookie singer in the 90s. “When we started working on our music back then, my producer told me that I will become the first female artist doing dance music, if it is a success. But, if it doesn’t work, we could still try other kinds of music. Luckily it did.”
Besides her songs, which remain iconic up until today, her image also garnered much attention. In fact, Thai music labels would often “groom” and “market” their female artists as either ‘cute’, ‘sexy’ or a ‘rocker’ image, and nothing else. Christina was actually one of them.
“I actually came out with a sexy image,” the veteran singer explained. “But, if you notice carefully, my outfits back then were quite covered, and were not revealing at all.”
Christina also explained that her image back then was meant to be a woman who is strong, full of confidence and not afraid to be herself. Therefore, her performances on stage, including her outfits, may have been considered ‘sexy’ by some viewers.
“I’m not that sexy in real life,” she exclaimed with laughter. “I just perform naturally with my singing and my dance moves, which might be sexy to some, but I would never ‘seduce’ the viewers.”
At the same time, her persona on stage may have empowered her fans to freely express themselves and ‘represented’ who they really are on the inside.
“Even my fans who are from the LGBTQ community, back when they weren’t allowed to reveal their true identities, when they saw me, they would feel that ‘this is who I really want to be’. So, those people would turn up at my concerts, dressing up like me, it was the only chance for them to express themselves.”
Nowadays, more female artists express their own personal styles and musical tastes, thanks to the power of social media, where they can choose how they want to present themselves, unlike in the old days where music labels would portray their artists with a certain image.
“I think, nowadays, [female artists] have really shown their true identities, because many of them write their own music. It’s not like in the old days, when music labels would groom them to portray a certain image. They can now express themselves and create their own self-image through social media.”
-Hopes for new music-
After releasing hit after hit for almost three decades, many of her fans are wondering whether Christina will ever release new music.
“For new music, I’m not quite sure yet, but I will definitely see you at the end of this year with my solo concert.”
In fact, Christina’s last full album release was “C-Space” in 2007 and she has not released any new material since. This does not include her collaboration album with another veteran female singer and actress, Mai Charoenpura in 2009, one original soundtrack for a TV series in 2017 and a special single a year later.
Christina revealed one reason for not releasing new albums was that, whenever she makes an appearance, such as concerts, fan meetings or TV shows, most people ask the queen-of-dance to sing her iconic hits from the 90s. Therefore, Christina is afraid that her new song would be unnoticed.
“Because, whenever I perform at concerts, many people still want to listen to my old songs, like these are the songs that I have to sing. So, I don’t really get to sing my newer songs.”
At the same time, Christina expressed her gratitude to her music production team, who were behind many of her hits, with most of them still being remembered today. She also added that music in the 90s was the best era for her.
“I was lucky that I entered the music industry at a perfect time, with great producers and songwriters. So, that’s probably why many people still listen to my songs and cover them.”
-A new page in “history”-
Finally, if Christina had to pick one of her songs that would suit her new advocacy role with UNFPA Thailand, she confidently chose her 1991’s hit, “Pra-Wat-Sart” which means “history”. The song signifies equality, where no one is a leader and no one is a passive follower.
“We won’t repeat the same history
Our course must change
To you and me being truly equal
Today the future will be different from the past
And our love will finally enter the modern era”
She also gave us a reminder that every human being is equal, regardless of whether you’re female, male or LGBTQ.
“I think everyone has the right to choose the best for their own lives and everyone has the right to feel safe. I also want to tell people that you can be a voice for many others and, together, we can help each other to improve our society to be a safer and a better place in which to live.”
By Nad Bunnag, Thai PBS World