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Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway Music Album Reviews

Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the soaring 2004 album from the first American Idol winner whose earnest charm and everywoman appeal charted a brand new course for pop stars.

The most interesting thing about Kelly Clarkson seemed to be that she was not interesting at all. Even as she became the inaugural winner of American Idol and released *Breakaway—*one of the best-selling albums of the 21st century—journalists regularly marveled at the unpretentiousness of the former cocktail waitress from Texas. She was the quintessential girl-next-door, “warm-as-a-popover” and “safe-as-milk.” Sure, she had a protean, phenomenal voice—one that made you happy she covered Aretha or Whitney, instead of feeling mortified that she had tried—but she was not overtly sexy, ostentatious, or hip. “It is hard to spend time with Clarkson without wondering if she even realizes she has moved to Los Angeles,” a writer remarked in a 2005 profile of the singer, quipping that the only place you’d spot her in US Weekly was in a “Got Milk?” ad. She went to Chili’s, not wild bashes thrown by Justin Timberlake. Her personal assistant was her brother. She still very earnestly said “cool beans.”

In other words, she was not Britney or Christina—stars whose promiscuous image and mass-market gloss in the public’s perception had made them the subject of a ceaseless media swarm in the early 2000s. A few years earlier, teen pop had replaced grunge in the monoculture: “It’s as if a legion of music fans and bizzers, stunned by the grim finality of [Kurt] Cobain’s act, collectively decided… give us artifice and showbiz,” an Entertainment Weekly writer remarked. The result was boy bands like the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, bubbly ingenues trained in Disney’s sunshine factory. Like Avril Lavigne, Clarkson was seen as a corrective to the “midriff-baring aristocracy”—because of her wholesomeness and relatability, not any mutinous attitude. Pushing against the sanctimony, Clarkson told a reporter, “I love Britney Spears… People always say, ‘Oh, I’m sick because it’s not about voices, it’s about body and everything.’ Well, that’s what people are buying.” Still, by 2004, Clarkson had charted a very different path for women in pop.

Raised by a schoolteacher and a contractor in Burleson, Texas, Clarkson was a devout Christian who performed in the choir, played sports, and starred in theater productions. After high school, she recorded a demo, eventually saving enough money through odd jobs to move to L.A. with a woman she met performing at Six Flags. Very little happened there. Carole King’s longtime songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin, was maybe interested in using her as a backup singer, but it didn’t pan out. Other producers dismissed her as too heavy, “too Black”-sounding, too whatever. Then, in the ultimate stroke of misfortune, her apartment burned down in a fire—right after she had earned enough money to afford a bigger place. Drained of hope, she returned to Texas and took a day job distributing Red Bull samples. A friend told her about what was then just a novelty singing show. “I just auditioned for this thing that said they’d pay you, and it happened to be American Idol,” she recalled. “I went into it thinking it might pay my electric bill.”

Clarkson showed up to Idol auditions in muted make-up and a kitschy denim dress that she’d made by stitching together old blue jeans. Whatever she lacked in glamor, she made up with her poised, masterful renditions of Etta James’ “At Last” and Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and her easygoing humor. Quipping with the judges, she switched places with Randy Jackson, who for his “audition” got onto one knee and sang R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” To Idol’s resident British hardass, Simon Cowell, this stunt was the only memorable thing about her; he initially wrote Clarkson off as “just a girl with a good voice.” But she kept progressing, round after round, and by the time 10,000 hopefuls had winnowed down to one, Cowell had come to appreciate her “normality.”

Over the course of Idol’s debut season, tens of millions of people called in to the show’s toll-free number, including Natalie Maines of the Chicks, who ultimately voted for Clarkson five times and later declared, “I knew from the first episode that Kelly was the best one there.” Inaugurating a reality television explosion, the competition program presaged the social media era, in which millions of fans can propel a nobody to viral stardom through the click of their phones. By the second season, it had partnered with AT&T to launch a new voting format, precipitating the rise of text messaging.

But winning a popular election doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be consequential or compelling. From the get-go, critics identified the tendency for shows like Idol to produce technically skilled but insipid winners, those who’d “never hesitate to warble seven notes where one would suffice,” as a New York Times writer described. Clarkson’s finale song and debut single was “A Moment Like This,” one of those treacly, awe-inducing ballads in the vein of “I Will Always Love You” that treats love as a kind of transcendent bliss. (It hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts and was featured in gauzy, libidinal advertisements for Sandals Resorts.) Her debut, Thankful, didn’t challenge expectations. With the exception of tracks like “Miss Independent”—a boinging R&B-pop single originally written for Christina Aguilera—it was a fairly uninspired attempt at pop-gospel. Clarkson didn’t want to be boxed into her Idol reputation though: “I want to record an album with personality… I love ballads, but I also want my albums to rock out.”

So for her follow-up, she mussed her hair, smudged her eyeliner, and practiced her withering glare. Breakaway taps into the kind of lacerating pop-rock established by Alanis Morissette in the ’90s and Avril Lavigne in the early 2000s. Lavigne’s debut, 2002’s Let Go, helped steered pop into a spiker, and she lent Clarkson Breakaway’s title track. Clarkson is brassy and embittered, incinerating men who’ve wronged her, striding over the scorched earth. “Your eyes they sparkle/That’s all changed, into lies that drop like acid rain,” she seethes on “Gone,” whose abrupt, punched-in guitars are like heel stomps. On the funky, irresistible “Walk Away,” she roasts a dude for being so tremblingly incompetent that he relies on his mother, his brother, everyone else to tell him what he wants. “I’m looking for attention, not another question,” Clarkson snaps. In other words: shut up and stop wasting my time.

With her tremendous voice, Clarkson didn’t have to just pirouette and soar; she could be gritty, affected, full of rage. Its visceral power imbued Breakaway’s radio-friendly pop with gusto; when she confessed to being “torn into pieces” on “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” hurtling into the feeling, she sold you with the force of her conviction. Clarkson may have grown up belting Mariah Carey in her closet, but her favorite band of all time was the Texas post-grunge group the Toadies, whose singer Vaden Todd Lewis’s voice she adored for its primality: “sexy, dirty, drunk, broken.” To give the album a darker, more gnarled edge, she enlisted help from Evanescence’s David Hodges and Ben Moody, whose presence is most felt on the ghostly “Addicted.” Clarkson sounds tortured and histrionic; her gothic wails are swaddled in noise, while violins screech in the background. And then there’s “Hear Me,” which was actually co-written by former writers for Ashlee Simpson and Avril Lavigne, but sounds like a repeat of Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life.”

“The problem was I wanted to write a lot of my own songs on Breakaway,” Clarkson told TIME, “Nobody else wanted me to.” After sparring with RCA’s Clive Davis, she eventually co-wrote six Breakaway tracks, including one she penned when she was 16 that had been rejected from her debut. “Because of You” is the saddest and most personal song on the record, a piano ballad about the trauma of her parent’s separation. (Clarkson’s father had walked out on their family when she was six, never to be heard from again.) The song is an outcry from one’s “inner child,” rendered in schoolyard metaphors (“Because of you/I never stray too far from the sidewalk”). And while the ubiquity of divorce now may make the song seem both overblown and quaint, “Because of You” summons the very real betrayal of discovering that adults don’t know what they’re doing, and as a child you’ll have to compensate for their mistakes. The cost of self-preservation is becoming hardened and on-edge: “My heart can’t possibly break/When it wasn’t even whole to start with,” Clarkson bellows.

The most indelible song of Clarkson’s career, though, has always been “Since U Been Gone,” a perfect storm of indie-rock nerve and pop ecstasy. It was Swedish producer Max Martin’s rebrand from the Backstreet Boys, whose squeaky-clean formula had fallen out of fashion, and the breakout smash for Dr. Luke—although Clarkson found working with Luke so demeaning that the next time they’d collaborate, for 2009's All I Ever Wanted, she’d deny a co-writing credit just to avoid the association. The original demo of the song was “very contrived, very pop,” as Clarkson recalled, so she demanded something harder: louder drums, more guitars. Then one day, Martin and Luke heard the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s “Maps” on the radio and thought it’d be perfect if it just had a massive chorus. So they wrote one, and boy did they: “Since U Been Gone” is deliciously screamable and anthemic, with a cleverly sad sleight-of-hand in the lyrics that suggests one of the worst casualties of a break up is the pity you receive from other people: “Thanks to you, now I get what I want.”

Karen O was a raucous art school iconoclast who’d written “Maps” as a vulnerable plea to her boyfriend, shedding real tears in the music video—and she would notably describe the experience of hearing “Since U Been Gone” as like “being bitten by a poisonous varmint,” her life cannibalized by the machine. In response, a Rolling Stone reporter pushed back, proposing that she should feel “honored to share Clarkson’s mall cred.” “Since U Been Gone” was released the year that then-New York Times music critic Kelefah Sanneh wrote his landmark essay about “rockism,” and for better or worse the borders between pop and indie, mainstream and underground had been starting to crumble, accelerated by the rise of the internet. Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos proudly told SPIN at the time, “We’re non-elitist music.”

“Since U Been Gone” was at the center of it all. Thanks to the Yeahs’ cribbed riff—and verses that sounded like Interpol’s “Obstacle 1”—the single was covered by Tokyo Police Club, A Day to Remember, and alt-rock artist Ted Leo, whose acoustic mash-up of “Since U Been Gone” and “Maps” went became an internet sensation. Seeking to discover how Clarkson had become so cool, MTV conducted an “informal survey of hipsters and rockers,” which revealed that people saw the Idol winner as just a regular girl with good songs, who’d succeeded through a combination of down-to-earth amiability, feverish ambition, and indisputable talent. "At the end of the day, she’s an amazing singer,” Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump said. Ted Leo described her charm simply, “She’s not some heiress with a Chihuahua.” Blender Magazine crowned Clarkson their Woman of the Year in 2005, running the headline “Everybody Loves Kelly,” including in her list of fans “teenage girls, housewives, gay men… Oprah, Dave Grohl, the cast of Laguna Beach, your mom.”

After Clarkson won American Idol, her friend Ashley told the Dallas Morning News in 2002, ”I don't think she’ll forget us or forget where she came from.” That sentiment is echoed directly on Breakaway’s title track, a sweet, Goo Goo Dolls-style acoustic ballad about being a small town girl pursuing better things, grateful for those who helped her along her journey and eager to move on. “I'll make a wish, take a chance, make a change/And breakaway,” Clarkson sings, with the innocence of a child tossing pennies into a fountain. In the autobiographical music video, which was also promo for Princess Diaries 2, she goes from a restless 8-year-old staring out a car window to a teenager working at a movie theater to, finally, a pop singer crooning on stage.

None of the studio albums she’s released in the 18 years since Breakaway has soared quite the same, whether due to repeated clashes with RCA that compromised her vision or an ill-advised return to the cliched sentimentality of her Idol days. Her combination of goofy excitability, candidness, and humility now shines on her daytime television show, which has become so successful it has taken over Ellen DeGeneres’s coveted slot. On a cozy set that looks like a suburban living room, she riffs with celebrities from Tom Hanks to stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race, regarding them as if she’s simply mindblown to be in the same room; she also covers about 180 songs a season on her much-beloved covers segment “Kellyoke,” where she proves that there’s nothing—Radiohead, Ariana Grande, Toni Braxton—that she can’t sing. When Simon Cowell dismissed her as “just a girl with a good voice,” he was right—he just didn’t anticipate how far that could get you.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway Music Album Reviews Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Sunday, May 22, 2022 Rating: 5

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