Released: 26th February 2001
Writers: Desmond Child / Gary Burr / Victoria Shaw
Peak position: #4
Chart run: 4-9-12-17-26-30-45-61-55-63-54-61
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 66-34-26-16-13-14-14-13-13-17-16-21-33-36-44-56-64-73-83-86
High-profile pop duets are something of a poisoned chalice; very rarely do they live up to the expectation placed upon them, even if the end product isn’t, in itself, a bad song.
It was fortunate then that there was little anticipation for a collaboration between Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera because it never sounds like a song that has something to prove. Instead, it focuses on making the best use of the talent involved. But how do you tackle a love song featuring these two acts? Well, the subtle, tender, understated approach this is not. Nobody Wants To Be Lonely is one of the most overblown, melodramatic ballads and all more fabulous for it. It ditches any pretence of sexual chemistry and instead opts for Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera attempting to deafen themselves into submission by bellowing at each other for four minutes.
But what would even bring these two artists together? Well, the timing was certainly serendipitous. While Ricky Martin was continuing to break out of the Latin market with his second English-language album Sound Loaded, Christina Aguilera was trying to do the complete opposite and break-in, having released her Spanish album Mi Reflejo, evidently undeterred by the fact that she didn’t speak Spanish. Nobody Wants To Be Lonely wasn’t originally even a duet, but with Ricky Martin gearing up to release the track as the second single from his album and Christina Aguilera odd-jobbing as a featured artist in 2001 (this certainly wouldn’t be her only notable guest appearance), this represented a fortuitous opportunity.
What works so well about this pairing is that neither act was bashful when it came to a bit of vocal showboating and boy does that approach enhance this song in every measurable sense. To a certain extent, the fact that Nobody Wants To Be Lonely wasn’t originally composed for two people is telling because Christina Aguilera is frequently left with little option but to sing louder and more dramatically over Ricky Martin, while also taking every opportunity to fill the gaps when he takes a breath. However, this is much more than a simple cut-and-paste job; the whole song was significantly remixed, while the pair went into the studio together to re-record the track. The gentle, soft-rock production of the original was traded up for some power ballad essentials: crashing drums, harder beats and lashings of electric guitar riffs. There is still a Latin flavour present, though, so the end product is something that reaches a smart compromise between the two major markets associated with Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera.
Nobody Wants To Be Lonely has either never heard of – or vehemently disagrees with – the belief that less is more. In this case, even ‘more is more’ doesn’t begin to do the song justice; after all, this a song that opens with a thumping record-scratch. There’s a depth to the production, which seems intended to come across as sensual, but instead creates an immediately heightened air of melodrama. Ricky Martin’s: “W-h-h-h-y…w-h-h-h-y…w-h-h-h-y” is delivered with such sincerity, while Christina Aguilera warbles alongside him. There’s absolutely no build-up or context; the track jumps straight into fist-clenching angst, and things only get more intense from there.
Nobody Wants To Be Lonely never fails to be extreme in its message. This is not a song to read in the literal sense; lyrically it never fails to convey meaning, while often having no meaning whatsoever: “Your heart is cold and lost the will to love, like a broken arrow” (?!) Every time you ponder whether the track could squeeze in any more clichés, it delivers: “Run to me, run to me, ‘cause I’m dying…”. There is every possibility that Nobody Wants To Be Lonely could wind up being all style and no substance, and at times it veers perilously close. But there are some great moments here: the middle-eight – where a lot of the production settles – is probably the best showcase of Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera singing together with minimal tricks, which exposes the quality of their voices together. It would also be fair to say that Nobody Wants To Be Lonely isn’t necessarily awash with immediately obvious hooks, certainly not in the way that their respective signature hits had been. A few listens in, however, and the: “Time is precious and it’s slipping away, and I’ve been waiting for you all of my life” part of the chorus reveals itself as the killer blow for the song and most certainly the bit that will linger in your head long after the song ends.
Picking the most giddily overwrought part of the song isn’t easy, but special mention must go to Christina Aguilera’s verse, which is a real treat. “Can you hear my voice…”, she vociferates loudly, before a sound rings out akin to a truck driving over a loose drain cover. There is just so much drama – and perhaps a bit of danger – here: “And suddenly you’re flying down the ST-AI-AI-AI-AI-AI-RS”, she cries, as though Ricky Martin may just have sustained a workplace injury.
The music video for Nobody Wants To Be Lonely is shamelessly indulgent. After all, if you’re going to have Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera honking at each other, they may as well be doing it in a lavish ballroom that is enhanced with green screen to make it an even more marvellous spectacle in grandeur. The video is a bit of a tease; it’s peppered with visual effects so that although the pair are seen in the same shot, it’s not obvious that they were on set together (they were); at one point they even walk through each other, like ghostly apparitions. Indeed, it’s about three minutes in before Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera are seen together – quite literally – as they claw at each other in an embrace that oozes no sexual chemistry whatsoever (although in hindsight the reason for that is now rather obvious). The whole aesthetic is a celebration of emoting and gesticulating wildly and fits the song quite perfectly. A second video was filmed on the same set to accompany the Spanish-language, non-remixed release of the song Sólo Quiero Amarte, this time without Christina Aguilera. It’s slightly bizarre to watch an aesthetic that is incredibly similar – right down to using all the same locations – but only features Ricky Martin.
Pleasingly, Nobody Wants To Be Lonely was a major hit for both Christina Aguilera and Ricky Martin, although it now appears to be a largely forgotten curio among their respective back-catalogues. Admittedly, its performance in the UK – where it reached #4 – and America – where it peaked at #13 – was solid, but unremarkable for both artists when compared against their previous commercial peaks. However, looking beyond those markets, the single performed incredibly well globally, experiencing much greater success across European and Latin markets.
In some respects, the track was also a victim of circumstance in terms of its legacy: Christina Aguilera would re-appear a few months later on Lady Marmalade, a track whose success would easily eclipse that of Nobody Wants To Be Lonely. Her contribution there also offering a glimpse of the artistic evolution she was undergoing, one that was a considerable distance from the image portrayed here. For Ricky Martin, the track was part of a less desirable trajectory, becoming his fifth – and final – top ten single. Having led the charge of the 1999 Latin-pop explosion, he was never quite able to turn the phenomenon into sustained chart success, although he did score a few more minor hits after this one.
Realistically though, Nobody Wants To Be Lonely was never likely to have a long-term, artistic impact on either Christina Aguilera or Ricky Martin’s career. It’s a curio largely born of convenience. Yet, as a power-ballad – and indeed a high-profile pop duet – the track is almost without compare. It embodies the notion that if in doubt, sing louder and include as many notes as possible, such is the gusto with which both acts commit themselves. As a collaboration, Nobody Wants To Be Lonely is as ridiculous as it is ludicrously brilliant on every level.