From Kelly To Busted?
I've been following Kelly Clarkson lately with a great deal of interest. I should say from the start that I've been a big fan of Miss C since the first note I heard her belt out on American Idol. So as I watch her latest career moves, I'm watching them with great hope that whatever happens will portend better things to come in her future.
Unfortunately, I'm not feeling so great about it lately.
This all started several weeks ago when "Never Again" debuted on Idol Waves Radio. When I received that single, I was excited to hear the newest thing from Kelly. I enjoyed her first album, even though it had some very clear hits and misses. I thought Breakaway was brilliant. So surely I'd like this new single, right?
Not only did I not particularly like it, I kind of didn't care if I ever heard it again. I'm sure that other die-hard Kelly fans like myself will love it, simply because of who sings it. And there are plenty of Kelly apologists out there who will defend it based on some arbitrary artistic merit. But the fact remains that "Never Again" (or for that matter, the new single "Sober") are both songs that would've never made it onto Thankful or Breakaway. You can argue with me if you want. I'm fully aware that I'll probably get flamed, but please understand, again, I'm a Kelly Clarkson fan too.
I understand Kelly's need to do something different. I really do. Thankful, admittedly, was a mish-mash of way too many different styles and genres, and was a somewhat clumsy effort to put Kelly out there that just happened to have a few hit songs written into it. Breakaway, on the other hand, took hold of one genre--angry chick rock--and ran with it. Each song was scrupulously selected and crafted, and the end result was an album that looks at this point like it just might end up being Kelly's signature work. Still, that album was more Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne than it was Kelly. I can sympathize with her for wanting to do her own thing, but the question that will be answered in just a few weeks is this: is Kelly a spectacular singer only, or does she have the chops to go it completely alone?
I will give her credit for this much: the girl has guts. A young upstart with only two successful albums goes up against Clive Davis, a giant in the music world. That's career suicide, in and of itself. I still think the repercussions of that clash are yet to be felt. If Kelly didn't have the juice built up that she does have, she'd have been back to waiting bar in Texas by now. As it stands right now, I wouldn't be surprised if My December flops to see Kelly get dropped. (Naturally, I'm sure another label would be willing to sign her.) Then comes the firing of her manager. That's not an uncommon event in the entertainment world, but I worry that bucking for independence to this extent might be a little premature in Kelly's career. There's a certain sort of attitude and behavior in this industry that will make people unwilling to work with you, and when those doors shut, they rarely ever open again. Kelly said: "There's always this battle, and it's not a bad battle to have. I mean, you obviously don't want `yes' people around you. And, obviously, (Davis) and others at the label have been in the business far longer than I have. So you obviously take their opinions in. In the end, though, I always go with my gut. My gut has obviously done pretty well for me thus far, so I don't see why I shouldn't keep listening to it."
On a side note, I don't think I've ever seen the word "obviously" used that many times in one breath.
And then there's Kelly's protestations about how people don't want women to write songs. This is the one I have to take the most umbrage with. Let's take a look at Kelly's first two albums: On Thankful, 9 of the 12 tracks have women with at least partial songwriting credits. Among these is Diane Warren, and I challenge anyone to name a more respected and prolific songwriter than Diane. On Breakaway, 11 of the 12 songs feature female songwriters. Most tracks feature songwriting credits for Kelly herself. Have women faced an uphill climb in the music industry? Sure. But if Clive had a problem with female songwriters, would Hillary Lindsey be taking home a Grammy for Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel?" Would Nigel and 19E have had a problem with Cathy Dennis writing the Idol theme? Avril Lavigne seems to have little problem being able to write a lot of her own stuff. Likewise, Sarah McLachlan has managed to remain successful. I could sit here all day and name successful female songwriters and artists. Here's the hard truth: after listening to "Never Again" and "Sober," they're just... not that good. It's not that Kelly can't write; "Behind These Hazel Eyes" and "Because of You" were both great songs. These new songs are just...not.
And then comes the news that the concert tour for this summer has been cancelled. Poor ticket sales have been cited as the cause. For a multiplatinum-selling artist, that means something is seriously wrong. A downgrade to smaller venues isn't a good sign. Even worse is the explanation that Kelly's team has put on her website: "I can't tell you how much I've been looking forward to getting out there to perform for y'all. In the craziness of the music business, performing is what I look forward to doing the most, so it really is disappointing for me to have to tell you that I won't be coming out to tour this summer. The fact is that touring is just too much too soon." I realize that Kelly probably didn't write this, or if she did, that it was probably picked over by management, but it's really close to a bald-faced lie to her fans. The insinuation is that Kelly was over-burdened, and that a tour would be just too much to handle. Why the need to come up with a patently false excuse when it's been widely reported that it had to be canceled because people weren't buying tickets? And just how often do you see a major recording artist release an album that isn't supported by a summer tour? Instead of lying to her fans (or if not lying, then at least conspicuously omitting facts) why shouldn't she just come out and say, "look, ticket sales are down." She could use the opportunity to rally up the true believers and get the hardcore Kelly fans to their local Ticketmaster. I mean, let's face it, even the big Kelly Clarkson fans aren't buying tickets. And given the combination of the new lackluster singles and one cancelled tour, I'm not sure they'll have enough faith to buy next time.
The collapse of Kelly's summer tour also means bad news for sales of My December. Without a tour to promote it, a sizable chunk of sales of the CD aren't going to be made, to say nothing of Kelly merchandising. Instead, she is going to have to rely solely on TV appearances, radio airplay, and online marketing campaigns. TV appearances shouldn't be hard to come by, and online marketing is always there to be had, but after sampling a lot of the songs from this album, radio airplay may be a bit of a problem. Already on Idol Waves Radio, where many of the listeners are rabid Kelly fans, ratings for "Never Again" have begun to drop, mere weeks after its introduction to the playlist. How much better can we expect it to fare on terrestrial radio?
Again, I'm a huge fan of Kelly, and it pains me to see these sorts of things happening to her career. The pattern of pop stars is usually three albums and then you stop seeing albums coming out. (Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Britney Spears, and on and on.) I really don't want to see that happening to Kelly. Here's hoping that she grows from this.