Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” Turns 10: A Look Back

Here’s the thing…

As with everything else that works once or twice for clicks, the Internet has now become inundated with breathless anniversary pieces for every album, song and syllable a pop star’s ever sung. (Lord knows, I’m a frequent culprit myself.) But there comes a time, every now and then — like this month’s 30th anniversary of Madonna‘s legitimately iconic Like A Virgin — when a proper celebration is in order.

This week, Kelly Clarkson‘s “Since U Been Gone” turns 10. (November 16 was the actual anniversary.) And that is genuinely important. Why? Because the song is, unquestionably, one of the most defining pop song of the 2000’s.

“Since U Been Gone” was crafted by pop’s most prolific producer Max Martin and a pre-problematic Dr. Luke and, upon its release, became a game-changer for all three parties involved.

Up until “Since U Been Gone,” a newly crowned Clarkson was still settling into her post-Idol stardom, navigating away from the sappy TV talent show balladry she was given to work with (“A Moment Like This”) into soulful R&B territory on her debut album Thankful (“The Trouble With Love Is,” “Anytime”), as well as subtle traces of more nervy pop-rock, including “Miss Independent” and “Low,” a sound that would eventually define her career.

In contrast to his seemingly inescapable presence on records with Kesha (oof), Britney and Katy Perry by the turn of the 2010’s, Dr. Luke was just barely registering a blip on the mainstream pop radar at the time, having only contributed a smattering of tracks to acts like Nappy Roots and Ursula 1000. Even Max Martin was relatively quiet at the time, following his global bubblegum pop success with Britney, Backstreet Boys and N*SYNC in the late ’90’s.

As the story goes — and as with all hit songs, it seems — “Since U Been Gone” as originally written for someone else. Two people, in fact: P!nk, who turned it down for her record (“you blew it,” to quote Clarkson), followed by Hilary Duff, who reportedly couldn’t hit the song’s big notes. (Can you even imagine her demo?)

According to Dr. Luke in his Billboard cover story from years ago, it was he and Clive Davis who eventually convinced the writers to bring the song to Kelly Clarkson. “Max was looking to move on from what he had done with Backstreet Boys, and I really spent time convincing them that an ‘American Idol’ winner could bring all the feeling and passion that was required to the song,” he explained.

In fact, the song itself was originally inspired by an indie track:

“That was a conscious move by Max and myself, because we were listening to alternative and indie music and talking about some song – I don’t remember what it was. I said, ‘Ah, I love this song,’ and Max was like, ‘If they would just write a damn pop chorus on it!’ It was driving him nuts, because that indie song was sort of on six, going to seven, going to eight, the chorus comes . . . and it goes back down to five. It drove him crazy. And when he said that, it was like, light bulb. ‘Why don’t we do that, but put a big chorus on it?’ It worked.

Indeed, it did: The song soared to the #2 spot in 2004 in America (shockingly, it never went to #1!) and became a Top 10 hit in several international territories, hovering within the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 for an impressive twenty weeks and eventually going platinum. Critics from dozens of publications have since almost unanimously hailed the song as one of the greatest songs of the decade, if not ever. (Check the many sources cited under the song’s “Legacy” section on Wikipedia for those receipts.)

With “Since U Been Gone,” Kelly quickly became the ultimate pop-rock queen of the ’00’s (and ever since, really), supplying smash after smash of fiery, scream-it-out break-up anthems (“Behind These Hazel Eyes”) and broken-hearted balladry (“Because Of You”) on her career-defining Breakaway, continuing to prove herself as one of the greatest voices in the industry. (Trust, I have an arsenal of live performances to prove that fact.) The song not only single-handedly catapulted Kelly from talent show winner to bonafide superstar, but reinvigorated Max Martin’s career and essentially kicked off Dr. Luke’s lasting reign in pop.

A decade later, and “Since U Been Gone” still pulses with the same perfect, propulsive energy it did 10 years ago: That hair-raising, fists-aloft chorus is still just as wildly, explosively cathartic. And yes, it still feels like we can breathe for the first time. And, despite being covered to death by every singing competition contestant, “edgy” rock band and music-themed show ever since (yes, including Glee and Pitch Perfect), the song could never and will never be performed better than by Clarkson herself.

Thanks to you, whichever one of you awful bastards who broke Kelly’s heart all those long years ago, for getting us what we wanted.


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