Kelly Clarkson has only dabbled in country music. She’s linked up with such titans as Vince Gill and Jason Aldean and released the one-off single ‘Tie it Up,’ but she has yet to take the plunge with a full-length record.
Clarkson won American Idol two decades ago and has since amassed an impressive catalog. Holler has compiled her Top 15 best songs, from radio candy to deep cuts.
‘Before Your Love’ is as sentimental as they come, but it’s Clarkson’s powerhouse vocal acrobatics that sell with pure conviction. I never lived before your love / I never felt before your touch,” she belts, ripping apart the rafters, board by board. “I never needed anyone to make me feel alive.”
A smash contending for the top slot of her songbook, ‘Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)’ dusts off the pain of heartbreak for a height-defying anthem. “Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone / What doesn't kill you makes a fighter / Footsteps even lighter,” she sings. It’s a proud, invigorating display of self-assurance.
The other side to the lovesick coin lies in ‘The Trouble with Love Is.’ With Clarkson fusing a pop melody with a strong, bluesy vocal twist, the Thankful album opener explores the idea that love isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. “It can tear you up inside,” she advises over a smoldering rhythm. “Make your heart believe a lie / It's stronger than your pride.”
Backed with strings and thumping percussion, ‘Breaking Your Own Heart’ shines a torch in the darkness. “You say you just want love, but when it's close enough, you just let it go,” Clarkson sighs. A loved one finds themself caught in a web, sticky and inescapable. The only way is “letting go of your own fears.”
Clarkson originally released ‘Beautiful Disaster’ on her first, post-American Idol record, Thankful. She then turned to issue a live, piano-led version with the follow-up, 2004’s Breakaway. While the lyrics remain the same, the shift in tempo and vocal inflection gives the heart-sore story far more gravity and heartbreaking earnestness.
As they say: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” On 'Never Again,' the Top 10 lead single from My December, Clarkson doesn’t hold back her anger toward her cheating ex and the new lover. “When your day comes, and he's through with you,” she fumes, “and he'll be through with you / You'll die together, but alone.”
In the wake of a breakup, Clarkson barely keeps things together. She masks the pain behind a fake smile. “Whenever I'll see you I'll swallow my pride and bite my tongue,” she sings. Despite it all, those around her wise up to the facade. “I'm talking in circles / I'm lying, they know it.”
Always one to guard her heart, Clarkson muses upon her parents’ divorce with candle-lit piano and sweeping strings. 'Because of You', among her most well-known smash hits, reveals the damage done to her and how she finds “it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me.”
A musical box’s starry twinkling primes the listener for a cosmic journey into the deepest recesses of the singer’s life. “If I show it to you now, will it make you run away?” she asks. Struggling with insecurities, Clarkson attempts to open herself up to love while being honest and true about her past.
The pain from her personal life serves Clarkson well on this Meaning of Life second single. She’s never sounded so raw and passionate, teetering ever on the edge of collapse but commanding the room. Over piano, she confesses that she “didn't want it all to fall apart, so I decided just to play the part.”
Despite a single release flooded with controversy, 'Already Gone' torches Clarkson’s catalog with one of her finest vocals. Destruction was inevitable in a romantic entanglement, with the singer relaying that it was all due in time. She sings with a misty sigh, “Perfect couldn't keep this love alive.”
'Love So Soft' deserved to become more than a moderate hit. From her Meaning of Life record, it’s a soulful, seductive statement piece about sexual freedom and owning it. “Love so soft, you ain't had nothin' softer,” she determines. “Break it then you buy it and it sure gonna cost ya.”
Clarkson’s voice is an echo of its former self, mirroring her dilapidated mental state. 'Irvine' depicts the emotional unraveling in a skin-turning, raw way. She lets the chorus be her plea for help, “Why is it so hard? / Why can't you just take me? / I don't have much to go before I fade completely.”
Don’t let shimmering production deceive you. Childhood trauma oozes from every corner. Clarkson, whose father abandoned her very young, finally processes the heartache. She can finally breathe, even if that pain will always reside in her bones. She takes her father to task: “I made something of myself and now you wanna come back.”
With her crowning musical achievement, Clarkson does some necessary pruning to toxic people in her life. 'Sober', from My December, galvanizes the heart with the pain of loss. But it's a necessary loss. “Nothing’s real until you let go completely,” she sputters over an almost ghost-like guitar. As haunting as it is pulverizing.
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