Monday, July 2, 2012

Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson

I literally ran across a parking lot to Barnes & Noble to buy Kelly Clarkson's previous album because of how much I liked “My Life Would Suck Without You.” So what happened with “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”? . . . eh. . .



My first reaction to this song was to the title. It seemed really cliché to use that saying for the title of a song. So I ignored this song for months. Then it hit me recently: many pop songs, some of my favorites are settings of clichés, so what am I whining about? Then I realized that it wasn’t so much that the title was cliché it was the phrase that was being used.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” always came across to me as a type of euphemism. This phrase seems to be something people say to convince themselves that a bad experience in life has some worth. That spirit really isn’t such a bad thing, I mean, I’m an optimist so I’m down with that. But the reality is that many bad experiences that don’t kill you do not in fact make you stronger. Wounds sometimes never fully heal and sometimes there are scars that are left behind.

Not liking the lyrics in a song’s hook is a perfectly valid reason to not like it, but for Kelly Clarkson an artist that I enjoy so much that the first blog post I ever did was about “Since U Been Gone,” it didn’t feel right. So I decided to really see what this song was about.

“Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” is a spiritual sequel to “Since U Been Gone.” In Clarkson’s first and most popular single, she is singing about a break-up and the immediate feelings that follow. It’s a song that’s a mix of anger “shut your mouth, I just can’t take it,” and liberation “I can breathe for the first time.” It captures the transition between the depression and self-blame and the spirit of “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).”

In “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” there’s no acknowledgement of that this break-up had any bad effects. The pain in “Since U Been Gone,” is diminished and the hint of liberation in that song is exploded in an anthem of self-empowerment.  The background harmony and instrumental texture has a dark shade to it. This sets up the anger and pain that Kelly is singing about getting over.

Clarkson has come a long way from “Since U Been Gone.” In early recordings she simply screamed through the high notes, now she belts them out with more strength and depth. While there is a characteristic strain to her singing there’s also a sense of ease watching her sing and a feeling that Clarkson is really enjoying herself.

After listening to this song, I think I better understand the "doesn't kill you make you stronger," sentiment.  I still don't love this statement and I think it's really really poor consolation to give someone who is going through hard times.  But hearing the strength and conviction the Clarkson sings with, it's beginning to make sense.    

Be careful, don't judge a song by its cliche, you never know what you may be missing out on.

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