kelly clarkson

Showing 4 posts tagged kelly clarkson

Watching the puffed-up, drunk-on-its-power, drippingly arrogant version of American Idol that’s on Fox twice a week now, you kind of forget how ramshackle the show was in its earliest form. Ryan Seacrest’s frosty, non-product-assisted locks; Simon Cowell’s relative chipperness (not to mention his pre-fame messiness); Paula Abdul making a joke about falling asleep instead of exclaiming that she was awake; Brian Dunkleman. But watching the audition with the original Idol, Kelly Clarkson, makes it easy to see why the show took off the way it did, and why it’ll probably never mint a pop star like her again.

Sure, some of that relative lack of potency can be chalked up to market conditions—the collapse of the monoculture, the devastation of places where people can actually buy physical copies of records, the rise of the Idol fan who has more invested in sending a cute boy to the top of the heap than actually buying that person’s record when it comes out. But a lot of it has to do with the bravado of Clarkson, which was apparent from the moment the camera first focused on her. Then 20, she’d worn a dress she’d made from pants (acid-washed pants??) and joked about going into fashion should the whole Idol thing not pan out; that she even joked with Seacrest and Dunkleman at all about failing and then went on to succeed should maybe provide some sort of sobering pause to those auditioners who have only seen one path for themselves and who have stumbled as a result (cough, Lauren Alaina). And then she went on to take Randy’s spot on the judges’ panel and joke around with Simon—that she did this and that he actually had enough of a sense of humor about himself are two things that you probably won’t see on The X Factor, which is trying to set Cowell up as some sort of evil smirking giant in the run-up to its fall premiere, later this year.

Oh, and she nailed her song, of course. Which was “Express Yourself,” a sentiment that would go on to define her public tussles with music-biz lifers Clive Davis and Ryan Tedder, her fiery delivery of tracks like “Walk Away,” and so much of the intangible qualities that make even the hardest-line anti-Idol types melt a little when they hear her voice. This week I’ll delve into all of those stories and more.

Track

A Moment Like This

Artist

Kelly Clarkson

Album

Thankful

"A Moment Like This" was Kelly Clarkson’s first single after being coronated as the inaugural American Idol, and for better or worse it’s the sort of song that people think of instinctively when they think of the show even now, in the wake of the parade of White Guys With Guitars who have steamrolled the competition since David Cook made Simon Cowell plotz over Chris Cornell’s reworking of Michael Jackson. It’s grand and triumphant and—like Kelly’s homemade acid-washed-jean dress—a little bit of a ’90s holdover, fitting into the big-belter diva space that Mariah Carey was abdicating for Glitter and that Céline Dion was only just starting to reclaim after taking time off to pop out some bébés. It was co-written by the guy who wrote Britney Spears’ sappy “Sometimes” and you can kind of hear a couple of melodic echoes between the two when you realize that fact—the upward-trending “sometimes I run” on Britney’s chorus almost seems to be matching paces with the “a moment like this” in Kelly’s.

"Moment" was the first of the Idol coronation songs, and the “moment” Kelly sings of is, in the Idol vacuum, supposed to be the point where the confetti falls and she’s crowned the winner of the whole shebang. But what’s made it the only one of the winners’ inaugural singles to stick around on the radio is the fact that it’s actually a love song with an extremely malleable four-word hook. You see:

What if I told you
It was all meant to be
Would you believe me,
Would you agree
It’s almost that feelin’
That we’ve met before
So tell me that you don’t think I’m crazy
When I tell you love has come and now…

A moment like this
[Etc., etc.]

Sure, the world of popular song is rife with metaphor and all that. But it’s rare that the metaphor removes love from the equation of what’s actually being talked about, yet the insistence that “Moment” is actually about Kelly winning and not about her falling for someone does precisely that. This is hogwash, of course, although it worked as far as marketing the song goes. (“Moment” topped the charts for two weeks in the fall of 2002, a month after the inaugural season of Idol had wrapped up and a school year before From Justin To Kelly landed in theaters.)

The mistaken idea that “Moment” could be seen as a song about the love affair between one girl and her victory on a televised singing competition is of course quintessentially American for quite a few reasons, chief among them audiences’ inability to read pop songs in their own context and instead focus on a few words within, a chronic condition that plagues weddings and proms across America and that’s only been accelerated by the Idol machine. (Just ask Leonard Cohen.) And, of course, there was the post-millennial cultural preoccupation with winning and not being “here to make friends,” which was just beginning to become more of a thing thanks to the rise of competitive reality shows and other unpleasant geopolitical realities. (There’s also, on a micro level, Clarkson’s relative lack of a public personal life, which has resulted in rumors of lesbianism that she’s good-naturedly shot down with protestations that she just has bad taste in guys. Relatable! We’ll get to that later.)

Kelly would go on to transcend “Moment,” even though its specter still haunts her (and us) at Walgreens and other white-noise-playing emporia. She did so on a track on her first album, even, that would continue along her quintessentially American narrative of the Idol who eventually got to do things her own way. (That’s coming up next.)

Kelly had laryngitis when she sang “Breakaway” in this performance in Berkeley. I am not as formidable when it comes to blogging at full speed while under duress. Another reason why she’s the original and the best and etc. Regular posting to resume extremely soon.

The obvious thing about Kelly Clarkson’s “Miss Independent” is that it is not a song that she wrote and produced independently. She has three co-writers on the track—including Christina Aguilera and Matt Morris, best known in recent years as “that dude who sang Leonard Cohen with Justin Timberlake during the Haiti telethon”—and it appeared on her album Thankful, which what with it being her first post-Idol album was not about to be a confessional singer-songwriter sort of statement. (Even though in hindsight out of all the winners’ post-coronation full-lengths it probably had the best chance of being so.)

The not-so-obvious thing about “Miss Independent” is that it is not really a declaration of independence, as one might deduce from the title (or from the lyrics of Ne-Yo’s love song that would come out a few years later). It’s instead a rumination on women who do a 180 on the idea of surrendering themselves to men and instead close themselves off, focusing on their achievements and their careers until they meet someone and realize that they’ve screwed up by shutting themselves off for so long. “What is this feeling taking over?” Kelly wonders on the chorus, her resolve slipping with each revolution the song takes. And then, just in time for the bridge, we have a happy ending:

When Miss Independent walked away
No time for love that came her way
She looked in the mirror and thought today,
'What happened to Miss No Longer Afraid?'
It took some time for her to see
How beautiful love could truly be
No more talk of ‘Why can’t that be me?’
I’m so glad I finally see!

When this song was recorded Kelly was still in her very early 20s, and even though she gives a bravura performance of it here (influenced, no doubt, by the groans and moans of Aguilera), one wonders whether her delivery would have more of a sneer, or an implied wistful sigh, or at the very least some switched-up verses, if she re-recorded it now. In concert a few weeks back, her band played up its sonic crunchiness by inserting the plodding riff from “Iron Man”; the implication of being not-human and therefore unable to feel emotions, a la the steely-eyed pre-bridge broad in the song, only struck me when I was thinking about the implications of the lyrics just now. An intentional parallel or not? Keep in mind that I’m writing this as a 36-year-old Miss Independent who is also wondering just how much of her Miss No Longer Afraid persona is really for real.

Finally, two notes on the video:

1: Do you think the producers when they met with Liz Friedlander were like, “Give us the PG version of Fiona Apple’s ‘Criminal’?” I mean, look at that paneling.

2: I wore the long-scarf-with-scoop-neck look for most of 2003/2004.

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EDITOR’S NOTE:

This week has been cut short due to unexpected work & life commitments on the contributor’s side — apologies for that. If you came here by way of our archives, note that usually this blog revolves around a discussion of one song per day. Thanks for visiting.