I like my Kelly Clarkson the way French people like their steak: raw, bloody, and vulnerable.
Let’s face it: she releases her best material when Clive Davis isn’t acting like Mary fucking Poppins and trying to force spoonfuls of sugar down her throat. He is to her what Sam Lutfi was to Britney Spears or what Kalteen bars were to Regina George: the catalyst for an all around disconnect from personal reality (with a side of dramatic weight gain).
Kelly’s greatest work will unarguably forever be her third studio album, My December (I say unarguably because if you even try to argue this with me, just know that you’ll go down faster than Bionic’s album sales). That record featured truly heart-wrenching, beautiful and honest tracks like “Maybe” and “Sober,” dark and hurt songs like “Haunted” and “Irvine,” and the vindictively delicious slash-your-ex’s-tires-anthem “Never Again.”
The entire album was (while not commercially viable) completely flawless. Why? Because Kelly had full artistic control. It was her baby. The aural transcript of her attempting to cope with and move past the tremendous suffering her heart had been through.
Then, like a venomous spider, RCA Music Group CEO Clive Davis came crawling around to suck the life out of Kelly’s artistic integrity. Since My December did not perform nearly as well as Kelly’s previous album (2004’s Breakaway), he had her relinquish her reigns of control and tried to revamp her image to be more of a sugarcoated and generic bubblegum pop star.
The result? The spitefully titled All I Ever Wanted, featuring such inauthentic tracks as the Katy Perry-written “I Do Not Hook Up” and Beyonce’s horcrux, “Already Gone”. Even the album artwork was a slap in the face to Kelly. Gone was the lady in the red dress perched on a Tim Burton-esque staircase and in her place was the sad-eyed product of a brutal industry, posing in a leather jacket amidst a recycled backdrop from Britney’s Blackout album.
But then something miraculous happened. Tracks and demos from Kelly’s upcoming fifth album (set to be released this fall) started leaking online. Songs like “Let Me Down” and “I Forgive You” had Kelly returning to the dirty grunge of My December while songs like “What Doesn’t Kill You” blended that sound with the commercial dance-pop elements of her more mainstream hits like “My Life Would Suck Without You.” Could it be that Kelly’s new record will finally be a happy merging of her white and black swans?
It seems like all the signs are pointing to yes. The strongest example of this comes in the form of the leaks’ strongest track, “Dark Side.” The song opens with a soft jewelry box introduction, followed by the entrance of Kelly’s subdued vocals. This seemingly mid-tempo number, however, takes a sharp turn as it reaches its fast-paced, rocking, power-pop chorus.
“Everybody’s got a dark side / Do you love me? / Can you love mine? / Nobody’s a picture perfect/ But we’re worth it/ You know that we’re worth it / Will you love me / Even with my dark side?” Kelly belts over slick guitar riffs, pounding percussion and the slightest pulse of dance beats.
Lyrically, “Dark Side” is reminiscent of previous gems in Kelly’s repertoire such as “Can I Have A Kiss,” “Empty As I Am” and “Don’t” – all of which are self-aware songs about her looking for someone to love her despite her flaws. Musically, the track is composed of the soaring and triumphant pop/rock that made songs like “Since U Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes” such standout smashes.
With “Dark Side,” it seems like divided Kelly-aholics can finally meet halfway. On one side, you can cry, rip up old pictures of an ex and scream-sing until your face is an unnatural shade of red. While on the other side, you can throw your hands up in the air and make like Paula Abdul by dancing like there’s no tomorrow. For the first time, it’s a win/win for both sides of the Clarkstan spectrum.
If the songs that have surfaced online are truly an indication of the direction Kelly Clarkson’s next album is going in, I am nothing but confident that it will be the best release of the year (yeah, I went there). While I understand that My December will never happen again, I believe that “Dark Side” is the closest we’ll ever get to it – and that makes it easily the most refreshing and exciting song I’ve heard in months.