Kelly Clarkson Helps Teens Realize Pain of Adulthood

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Flipping channels last night, I headed for Fox in search of some rerun Family Guy, and was confronted with the Teen Choice Awards. Normally, nothing could make me hit a button—any button!—on the remote more quickly, but I’m not sure what happened. Maybe I had set the remote down to eat a snack before I realized what I was watching, or maybe I saw David Boreanaz smirking his way through an intro and got flustered, but I suddenly found myself watching a live performance by Kelly Clarkson. The American Idol winner has been in the news lately since her apparent rumbles with Clive Davis over her new album, My December; the singer wrote most of the album herself and Davis didn’t like it, I guess. The single, “Never Again,” has been floating around the Billboard charts for a while, but I’d never actaully heard it, and her performance of it last night illustrated the conundrum perfectly: as the camera cut to an audience of shrieking teens and pre-teens, Clarkson and her band performed a driving, passionate, minor-key rock song. Clarkson reached into the upper registers of her voice to deliver lyrics that laid bare the agony of heartbreak with uncomfortable autobiographical references: “Bet it sucks/To see my face everywhere.” Erp! The chorus avoids an obvious hook and instead just ups the emotional level from “fiery” to “conflagration,” and overall the song is reminiscent of, I dunno, Heart’s “Barracuda” or something. It’s not great, or even that good, really, but her voice was flawless, and the performance was intense and affecting. However, the kids in the audience had looks in their eyes like the Tooth Fairy had just picked up a chain saw. Davis is probably right about the material’s accessibility, but Clarkson may be headed somewhere far more interesting.

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