Kelly Clarkson Talks About Her New Album Stronger, And Her Hits "Mr. Know It All" and "Stronger"
In many of the interviews Kelly Clarkson gave in a run-up to the release of her fifth album Stronger, the pop icon was asked numerous questions related to American Idol—including “What do you think of J.Lo and Steven Tyler as judges?” and “Do you watch Simon Cowell’s X-Factor?” It’s testament to Clarkson’s hit-making history and the strength of her latest collection that RCA Records doesn’t get around to mentioning her being the first winner of American Idol in 2002 until the sixth paragraph of her official bio. Stronger’s lead single, the breakup-themed “Mr. Know It All,” became Clarkson’s second highest debut on the Billboard Hot 100 (at #18) and her highest since “Never Again” in 2007.
To this day, Clarkson sees the experience of American Idol as surreal. “When I auditioned, my apartment in Los Angeles had recently burned down and I had a box of photographs to my name,” she says. “I figured I’d get to sing and make some money to pay the bills. Nobody thought that show was going to be what it is now.”
Since then, she’s sold over 20 million albums worldwide (including 10 million in the U.S.) and notched seven singles in the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100: “Miss Independent,” “Breakaway,” “Since U Been Gone,” “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” “Because of You,” “Never Again” and (her first #1) “My Life Would Suck Without You.” While her 2003 debut album Thankful went double platinum, its follow-up Breakaway propelled her to superstardom, selling over 12 million units worldwide, spawning five Top Ten hits and staying on the charts for two years. Her discography also includes the platinum-selling My December (2007) and All I Ever Wanted (2009), which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200. Clarkson has also received two Grammy Awards, two American Music Awards and two MTV Music Awards.
The themes of strength, empowerment and overcoming obstacles—typified by the high energy dance-rocker “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)”—drive the musically diverse new album, which the singer says was influenced by Tina Turner, Prince, Sheryl Crow and Radiohead. Clarkson co-wrote five tracks, a process she feels is therapeutic. “The whole message I hope to bring to my fans is that everyone has hurdles to overcome in their lives, and everyone needs to have songs that help them get through those challenges,” she says. “Music does that for me!”
Although she feels everyone can relate to being acquainted with or dating a “Mr. Know It All,” the track’s video finds Clarkson singing dramatically in front of a “wall of doubt,” full of newspaper clippings about her—some true, some based people’s and the media’s false assumptions. She breaks through the wall to find a beautiful, clear road at the end.
The singer’s personal favorite on Stronger is “You Love Me,” which she wrote following an incident that she thought would break her. The remainder of the songs were written by a host of A-list songsmiths, including Rodney Jerkins, Ester Dean, Bonnie McKee, and Toby Gad, whom Clarkson says really took the time to get to know her style. She also credits her producers Jerkins, Greg Kurstin, Josh Abraham, and Toby Gad among them, for what she says is the biggest difference between Stronger and her previous albums
“What separates this album are the vocals,” she says. “A lot of pop producers tend to want to compress the vocals but I was against it. I love how raw I sound on ‘Mr. Know It All,’ which is an atypical first single for me because it’s not so guitar-driven. Overall, my vocals sound richer and fuller. Over the years, fans have told me that I sound way better live than on the recordings. Capturing that organic strength was one of my main goals for this album. The producers I worked with just let me sing and be me. They didn't strip away the personality. And it was one of those things where if the people I’m working with have confidence in me, I have more confidence in myself and that changes everything.
"I can’t wait to perform these songs on tour," she added. "I think that’s the best way to get to know an artist, and where you get to see actual personality, because we can't hide much onstage.”
Jonathan Widran is a free-lance music/entertainment journalist who contributes regularly to Music Connection, Jazziz and All Music Guide. He can be reached at Few522@aol.com.