Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants! Who’s been big on the charts lately? Today in “Make You Feel Old”: this year marks a decade since Kelly Clarkson won the first American Idol. That American Idol is managing to limp into its tenth year is impressive on its own, but what’s even more impressive is that holy shit, Kelly Clarkson’s had staying power. One of my favorite things about American Idol is how it makes winners into demi-gods at the season finale only for them to becoming middling one-hit pop idols at best. And I’m not just riffing on famous failure Taylor Hicks here; I mean that the combined hits of him, Reuben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, David Cook, Cris Allen, and Lee DeWyze couldn’t fill a greatest hits comp (“Idle American: 11 manufactured hits including 6 inspirational ballads, order now and receive a ‘Soul Patrol’ t-shirt for free!”).
But, of course, there are exceptions, and none shines brighter than Kelly Clarkson. Other Idol finalists might have had singles, but Clarkson’s second album Breakaway is still the most successful work by an Idol-alum. The thing has sold by the millions, and spawned four year-end Hot 100 singles. That’s as strong as Katy Perry did last year, a comparison that undercuts Perry, and really makes me long for 2005.
Anyway, today’s song is “Stronger”
than yesterday, I mean I need you to hurry up now–dammit, sorry, off the album of the same name. Let me guess, we’re looking at another “You’re awesome!” inspirational song, aren’t we?
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger/Stand a little taller/Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone”. Huh, well there’s most of our chorus. Yeah, yeah, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, we know.
“What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter/Footsteps even lighter” …a questionable rhyme, but ok.
“Doesn’t mean I’m over ‘cuz you’re gone”. Gone as in, “Since U Been”, one of Clarkson’s breakout hits and arguably best songs? Ok, getting beyond the “artist rewriting their own songs” riff, “Stronger” is the “Screw my ex, life’s wonderful” anthem that’s getting big just in time for it to get airplay/video exposure/posted on every insecure single person’s Facebook wall in time for Valentine’s Day.
While it uses a really tired concept, overall I think the song does an ok job lyrically. Granted, this isn’t new territory for Clarkson, but when she says she doesn’t need you anymore, damn does she mean it. Adele’s pissed at you, Christina Perri isn’t over you, but Kelly Clarkson doesn’t give a fuck about you. I guess my one complaint about the lyrics is that they don’t have any real weight to them. The only part you’re going to remember is the chorus, and even then, the catchiest part is “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. As far as kiss-off songs go, “Stronger”‘s a little pedestrian while “Since U Been Gone” was the kind of song you lit your ex’s clothes on fire to (…what, no one else did that?)
If the lyrics slack off, the production makes up for it. Clarkson’s always used some sort of pop/rock production combo, and “Stronger” is no exception. Like early to mid compatriot Avril, Clarkson leans a little more on the synths these days than the guitar for the hits. But, like Avril, the kind of dancey synths still have room for some delay-effected guitar work. The chorus is perhaps a bit overstuffed, but Clarkson’s voice still stands above the mess of organ synths, pop drums, and octave jumping basslines. And, as far as catchy goes, this is solid; the hook’s instantly infectious and sticks with you longer than you’d think. And, of course, Clarkson still sounds great, especially when she lets loose on the bridge.
Overall, I like “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”. A little faceless, and not quite as fun as “My Life Would Suck Without You” or anything, but I’ll enjoy it if it comes on the radio or a playlist or something. I’m not fired up about it like “Without You” or anything, but it’s one of the better Radio Rant songs in recent memory. Kelly Clarkson, stay strong.