Compared with epic misbehavers like Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, Christina Aguilera's arrest for public drunkenness may seem like a minor public relations mishap.
But after a series of very public setbacks — from her last album's flop to the disappointing box office for "Burlesque" to her divorce to her flub at the Super Bowl — Aguilera's latest embarrassment is painting the image of a diva spiraling out of control.
"It's been a rough year for Christina, there's really no other way to put it," said Keith Caulfield, associate director of charts for Billboard.
"I feel a lot of empathy for these artists who end up under a magnifying glass and are not judged for what they do but for things (like) that," said Ken Ehrlich, the producer of this year's Grammy show, where Aguilera performed during a soaring tribute to Aretha Franklin — and subsequently stumbled during her exit.
If 2010 is any indication of how the rest of Aguilera's year is shaping up, the 30-year-old Grammy winner may have more stumbles ahead. Even before her album "Bionic" was released last June, it was generating buzz for all the wrong reasons: the sexually charged video for the first single, "Not Myself Tonight," with its wild theatrics, drew charges that she was copying Lady Gaga's style. The album sold a fraction of her other multiplatinum albums.
"There was a lot of expectations for 'Bionic' to be big," said Caulfield. "You don't expect someone is not going to sell well if they have a history of being successful."
A planned tour was scrapped amid reports of lackluster ticket sales, though Aguilera said it was because she needed more time for her film debut in "Burlesque," co-starring Cher.
More bad news came in October, as she announced plans to divorce Jordan Bratman after a five-year marriage. (The couple have a 3-year-old son Max.) A month later, "Burlesque" came out, but got mediocre reviews and failed to impress at the box office.
Then came the Feb. 6 Super Bowl. Aguilera has sung the national anthem without incident — she did it last year at the NBA Finals. But on perhaps the biggest stage of all, she botched a line, and that's all anyone seems to remember.
"The Super Bowl was not a great experience, but it was really blown, in my mind, blown way out of proportion. She missed a line. It happens," said Ehrlich.
Ehrlich also downplayed her wobble at the end of a tribute to Franklin at the Feb. 13 Grammy Awards. He said Aguilera tripped on a hard-to-see step: "I didn't think anything of it at all."
As for her mood at the Grammys, Ehrlich said Aguilera was "great."
"We've worked with her from the time she first broke through, and I didn't see any change at all. I know this hasn't been a great time for her with the divorce and everything like that, but I have to tell you, she showed up, she was great during rehearsals," he said.
But Aguilera's missteps seemed to be a sign of something more troubling. Last week, Us Weekly magazine printed a story that painted the image of a singer out of control and drinking heavily, and acting raucously with her new boyfriend, 25-year-old Matthew Rutler.
On Tuesday, Rutler and Aguilera were arrested near the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, Calif. Police said Rutler was driving when his car spun out of control.
Authorities said they held Aguilera, who was arrested on suspicion of being drunk in public but will not be prosecuted, because she was so impaired, she was a danger to herself. She was released after she sobered up.
Rutler was arrested on suspicion of DUI and later released on $5,000 bail.
A representative for Aguilera declined comment, as did her record label.
Despite her arrest, Aguilera's troubles haven't reached the proportion of Britney Spears, who rose to fame about the same time and was a Mouseketeer like Aguilera. No one has gained conservatorship over her affairs, she hasn't shaved her head, or had a series of public meltdowns in the media's glare.
But Spears is still churning out hits, and Caulfield said that's what Aguilera needs to stop the unflattering chatter.
She could follow her own playbook. In 2002, she was heavily criticized for going from demure to skanky with the video "Dirrty," then came back with "Beautiful," one of her biggest hits.
"A lot of artists have had a lot of incredibly rough patches, and we've seen a lot of them come back stronger than ever," he said.
"Maybe she just needs a little bit of time off, (to) collect her thoughts," he added later. "Take a breather."