The year was 2005: Mimi was emancipating herself, Gwen Stefani was dressed as a cheerleader teaching the world how to spell “bananas,” Kelly Clarkson was leading the pop-rock revolution and so moving on, Lindsay Lohan was feuding with Hilary Duff over Aaron Carter and then with Ashlee Simpson over Wilmer Valderrama, and Britney Spears was beginning to go rogue and have a baby. (For more on that, listen to the “2005” episode of the critically acclaimed It’s Britney, Bitch! podcast.)
At the same time, Kelly Osbourne – she of Ozzy and Sharon, mortal enemy of Christina Aguilera, and star of MTV’s The Osbournes, which was just closing out a successfully insane three-year run – was making music. Again.
Kelly’s solo endeavors kicked off with her critically “meh”-ed 2002 pop-punk debut Shut Up. The album was re-released a year later as Changes, including her cover of Madonna‘s “Papa Don’t Preach,” as memorably performed live at the MTV Movie Awards with that Nikki McKibbin-esque scene haircut, and her mother Sharon displaying the entire spectrum of emotions in the audience.
The album largely tanked, she got dropped, she signed to a new label, and opted to veer into New Wave, dance-rock territory alongside Linda Perry with her underrated follow-up, 2005’s Sleeping In The Nothing.
The world generally remained unreceptive to Kelly and her brand of bratty ‘tude, however. The album made slightly even less of a dent than the first, peaking at No. 117 on the Billboard 200 after selling less than 9,000 copies. (Sure, that’s not too bad in 2019 standards, but back then, people actually paid for albums. I’ll tell you kids all about it one day.)
The subject matter on Sleeping was often dark (“Don’t Touch Me While I’m Sleeping,” for instance, was about being a victim of date rape) if a blatant cry for help (“Save Me”), although at the height of paparazzi culture and her status as the offspring of rock royalty, none of her issues were taken too seriously by the press. She bounced in and out of rehab for drug and alcohol abuse, and frequently relapsed.
“I drank, I was rude, I said I’d do something and wouldn’t show up. I did what I could to destroy it,” she said of sabotaging her own music career in 2009.
We sometimes forget how far society’s evolved along as far as what is deemed acceptable to say to another human being: during an appearance on Jonathan Ross that year to promote the album, the host told Kelly that her cover art must have been airbrushed…because she was fat.
“The band that was performing was New Order and they refused to play until he apologized. A lot of it wasn’t shown on TV because if they saw what he really said to me, I don’t think any parent in the world would ever watch his show again. What he said to me destroyed me for two years,” she revealed years later to The Guardian.
In any case, to no one’s surprise, in a storm of disappointing sales, rehab and unfavorable press – Kelly was dropped again, and only one single ever came out of her final album to date. That one release also just happens to be…unexpectedly perfect.
“One Word,” written and produced by the “Beautiful” legend herself Linda Perry, was treated about as well as the rest of the album when it was released in April of 2005, stalling at an abysmal No. 121 in the United States. (It sounds better to say No. 21 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles Chart, though.) But then, American radio’s taste level is rarely on point. The U.K. got it right of course, sending it into the Top 10.
As of this week, “One Word” (and Kelly’s entire discography, for that matter) is now available on streaming.
The opening of the song alone is pure drama: the strings, followed by a whoosh of drum hits, French dialogue and ’80’s-style, Depeche Mode-y synths. Or should I say Visage?
“One Word” was quickly accompanied by four more words: “see you in court.”
After facing criticism for sounding too similar to the British synth-pop band’s 1980 international hit “Fade to Grey,” her team eventually forked over royalty rights in a reported out-of-court settlement. If you haven’t heard the Visage song, listen to it- this isn’t like one of those recent “Dark Horse” bogus copyright lawsuits. Kelly’s team was…inspired to say the least, even if I vastly prefer her version.
Beyond the hypnotic (borrowed) sound, it’s that monotone delivery and those yearning lyrics – “it’s not the way that I want it, it’s just the way that I need it, daaaay after daaaay…” – that seals the deal on this detached dance floor odyssey, especially coming from someone known for showcasing anything but restraint in the public eye.
The video is an artsy-fartsy noir feat as well, inspired by 1965’s Alphaville by Jean-Luc Godard and directed by the prolific Chris Applebaum, who’s directed everything from “Overprotected (Darkchild Remix)” for Britney to Rihanna‘s “Umbrella.”
Life is a mystery, as is this super moody music video, which dives deep into a world of Twilight Zone-y ’60’s sci-fi, models, strange sets of numbers and shady scientists. It only barely makes sense, and feels a bit too try-hard sophisticated, but those scenes of her sitting in the backseat of that car, as well as that strut down the hallway in that coat flanked by mystery men, stay seared into my brain, nearly 15 years later.
I’m not saying the musical oeuvre of Kelly Osbourne singlehandedly inspired the forthcoming MySpace electro-pop revolution of the mid-to-late aughts, nor did her monotone delivery lend itself to today’s overload of breathy half-octave #NewMusicFriday chanteuses, nor did the ’60s imagery trigger the retro-pop revival that happened a few years later with acts like Duffy, Amy Winehouse and Adele – but it is cool to consider that she was just slightly ahead of the curve in some respects.
Well before Lady Gaga took a ride on her disco stick, and before Selena Gomezmerizing ASMR-ed her way into pop princessdom, it was Kelly Osbourne providing a most unlikely space-age, emotionless, dark synth-pop dance floor triumph.
Her inner demons, and the outer demons amplifying the voices in her head and enabling her self-destructive action, wouldn’t allow her to pursue a music career past the point of her second studio album. But then, there are artists who’ve been in the game far longer, facing far less criticism, who still don’t have one song anyone will want to write about over a decade later.
Despite a short run, Kelly Osbourne still managed to deliver at least one incredible song with just “One Word.”
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“One Word” was released on April 19, 2005.
Photo credit: Secret Records