Thursday, July 05, 2007

Kelly Clarkson: State of the Union

There is so much to say about Kelly Clarkson, I just don't know where to begin.

First of all, here's the facts: She sold just under 300K copies of her CD this past week, good enough for the #2 spot on the album chart. Yes, she was beaten by that pesky little Hannah Montana, but considering all of the negative press surrounding the release of My December, this has to be considered a pretty successful launch. Of course, it remains to be seen how the album will do in the long-run, but so far, so good.

As for my thoughts on the album, which I have yet to reveal in a public forum -- well, here they are...

I like this CD. In fact, I really like this CD. It's different, no doubt, and it doesn't exactly inspire a dance party like Breakaway did, but I think it shows tremendous artistic growth, and I think there are some remarkably beautiful and powerful moments throughout. There are songs I love ("Sober," "Be Still," "Maybe," "How I Feel," "Can I Have a Kiss") and a few songs I could do without ("Hole," "Yeah"), but, all in all, I would give it a solid "A-". I expect to have a track-by-track review up by the end of today.

Having said all of that, I would be lying if I said that I wasn't a bit worried about my girl. Those who know me (or who read Idol Thoughts regularly) know that I love Kelly Clarkson. Love her, love her, love her. I voted for her a like a mad-person when she was on Idol, her songs dominate my itunes 'Most Played' list, and I've seen her in concert five times -- I love her.

While, like I said, I think this CD really advances Ms. Clarkson as an artist, I can't help but wonder if she is trying to sabotage her own success a bit. Because the thing is, no matter how many of the songs I like on this CD, there isn't a clear "hit single." That is not to say she should have recorded "Since U Been Gone: Part II" -- I know Kelly was not interested in that, and, as a big fan, I'm not interested in hearing that. In some ways, though, it seems like she has gone out of her way to make the album as inaccessible as possible.

Here's what I mean by "inaccessible" -- artists write their own songs all the time, most often with collaborators. There is a way to be personal and authentic and still be tuneful and melodious, and, on the whole, I don't think "My December" accomplishes that balance. Kelly has said she wanted this to be an "artist's record," and it is -- a successful one, at that. But despite liking (or loving) 80% of the songs, I still can't help but understand a bit where Clive Davis was coming from -- none of these tunes are especially radio friendly (although, with a bit of promotion, I could see "How I Feel," "Don't Waste My Time," or "Be Still" eventually making their way up the single's charts). An album doesn't need to have "hit" singles to be considered a success, but would it have killed Kelly to work with a producer or two who could have helped craft slightly catchier hooks or helped her clean up a little bit of the muddiness of the lyrics? Personal is one thing -- personal and polished is another. I think there are producers/collaborators (perhaps Linda Perry?) who could have helped her maintain her artistic integrity and still put out slightly more tuneful efforts. But Kelly seems to have wanted to be contrary. She wanted to be messy. Heck, even the CD's liner notes read "I can't believe we got this CD out. Ha ha!" She was trying to rebel, and she succeeded. The question is, is she trying to shoot herself in the foot?

And here's the thing -- I just think Kelly's being a little bit selfish, and, to be honest, a little bit bratty. It's her career, she should do what she wants, but in all of the talk about what she needed to do for herself, artistically, I have not really heard her mention wanting to giving her loyal fans something they will appreciate as well. That's not to say she should have released Breakaway 2.0, or agreed to Clive Davis' suggestion that she re-record a song that had previously appeared on a Lindsay Lohan CD. Art and commerce don't have to be mutually exclusive. I think with an eye on doing both she could have potentially achieved a compromise that is beneficial to everyone involved.

I think Kelly will rebound -- heck, I don't think it's going to take much at all, since her pretty big first week sales illustrate that she still has lots of support from her fans. And, when you've got a voice like Kelly does, you will never go out of style -- she is literally one great song away from being at the top. And, like I said, I really like this CD -- I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in music, or anyone who has enjoyed Kelly's vocal prowess in the past.

However, I hope her new management encourages her to continue making artistic strides, but to perhaps do so with an eye toward what might make her listeners happy as well.

Track-by-track review to come...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was so well written! I write over at Idolheaded, and I just could not put into words what you said here. But I SO feel you!