Tween troubles

Kelly Clarkson’s fall from grace
By SHARON STEEL  |  July 9, 2007

VIDEO: Kelly Clarkson, "Never Again"

Poor Kelly Clarkson. The breakout star from the first season of American Idol had to wait months before RCA agreed to release her third and latest CD for the label, My December — and even then, RCA chief Clive Davis’s middling faith in Miss Independent’s commercial appeal had him doling out veiled potshots during the 2007 American Idol finale. Kelly has since revealed that Davis offered her $10 million to remove five of the songs she’d written from the album and replace them with tracks that had better hit potential. She couldn’t fire Davis for wanting to make money off her, so she canned her manager, Jeff Kwatinetz. To top it all off, ticket sales for her summer tour weren’t what Live Nation expected. So she canceled it. The Kelly Show has gone to shit. It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way, was it?

Kelly has put on a brave face. Her spin: “I’m a singer-songwriter y’all, not just a mouthpiece. Don’t tell me to shut up and sing!” The earnestness of this effort hasn’t been lost on me. Kelly’s perverse stubbornness is one of the things I love about her: it’s the “Don’t Mess with a Texas Former American Idol Harboring Severely Unpleasant Relationship Issues” maxim she’s perfected over time. But I do find her naïveté absurd, particularly at this stage of her career. “If I were to make a Breakaway II, I would have failed myself,” Kelly told Elle magazine in its July music issue. “I don’t mind sucking, as long as it is my decision.” My December doesn’t exactly suck, but it’s got no Top 40 standouts, no supremely hook-filled choruses, no heart-stopping, scale-climbing crescendos. In fact, it’s as cold as the title implies. After a few cursory listens, you feel you’re forcing yourself to drink a cheap cup of coffee. There are pockets of energy to be found here, but there’s no pleasure in discovering them.

It feels sacrilegious to say these things about Kelly, who earned my adoration partly by being the rare pop star who is confident of her talents and yet also self-aware. She has said that even when the tweens who are so rabid a part of her fan base profess their devotion, she’s ambivalent about their worship, certain that, like the Britneys and the Christinas before her, she too will be weeded out. What a shame, then, that she couldn’t display the same perceptiveness when it came to assessing what her audience desires for her evolution. If she wants to be a rocker, that’s fine. Rather than simply inviting Mike Watt to play bass in her backing band, why not go all the way? She could’ve hired Kevin Churko — who collaborated on and produced Ozzy Osbourne’s latest venture — to help her realize her sleaze-metal dreams. (Type “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” “Jack Daniel’s,” and “Kelly Clarkson” into a YouTube search if you don’t know what I mean.) Kelly is a fantastic singer. But she didn’t win an ASCAP Award by herself. She’s not an indie chanteuse or a solo songwriter, and she never has been.

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