Snap Judgment: Kelly Clarkson's 'My Life Would Suck Without You'
File this one under "predictable": Kelly Clarkson has returned from her Persephone-like journey across the pop-goth River Styx on the excellent but commercially disappointing album "My December" with a shiny, streamlined new cut meant to break the speed limit up the charts. Hear it for yourself on her YouTube page.
There's no reason this song won't be huge. "My Life Would Suck Without You," co-written and produced by absolute hit makers Dr. Luke and Max Martin, zooms forward from its guitar-plucky intro toward a cymbal-crashing climax without ever slowing down. There's no time to question the empty calories delivered within those compressed, subtly Auto-Tuned vocals, which ride some sneakily accelerating high-fructose beats.
You will be singing this song by your third listen, and that third listen will be unavoidable, because without a bridge or even one blue note, it's perfectly suited to the formats that support 21st century pop -- especially YouTube parodies and singing toothbrushes.
But is Kelly in there, amid the syn-drums and keyboard bleeps? To paraphrase Bill Clinton, that depends on the meaning of "in."
She didn't write the lyrics, but they're so applicable to her recent history that one can't help but think she must have dictated them to her corporate mentors. Or else they're just being really, really mean.
When Clarkson belts, "You've got a piece of me," it's impossible to avoid thoughts of her relationship with Clive Davis, the legendary music-biz Svengali who publicly condemned her for trying to take creative control on "My December," only to welcome her back once she apologized and dumped her management, her band and her muse.
Tapping into the theme of unavoidable love that's inspired artists as diverse as Willie Dixon, Smokey Robinson and Brooks & Dunn, "My Life" is different than your typical blues, presenting resignation as a positive emotion. Clarkson's delivery is where her soul lives. She sings through gritted teeth, and her tone is sharper than it was on her greatest hit so far, "Since U Been Gone," which starts with similar guitar tones but in a darker key. That song blended morning-after sultriness with the kick of a cold shower; this one offers the vocal equivalent of a clenched fist.
I'm hoping that the anger in Clarkson's voice is her signal that though she'll play the Photoshopped star for dollars, she's hanging on to her soul for future use.
Some pundits have compared "My Life" to yet another Luke-Martin product, Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl." But it's nothing like that song, which is fake vampy instead of fake cathartic. Instead, let's recall another recent entry in the category of happy songs about bad situations -- Miley Cyrus' underrated "7 Things," which captures the giddiness as well as the pain of going for the wrong guy.
Unlike the oddly pent-up "My Life," "7 Things" actually offers release at its end point. Plus, the Cyrus video is adorably cute, with all those stuffed-animal-clutching, scenery-ripping teen girls. Clarkson might get to trash some furniture in the video for "My Life," but you know they're also going to make her suck a lollipop.
Unlike Cyrus, Clarkson is already too battered by adulthood to find joy in her own entrapment, romantic or otherwise. Here's what I hope: that this song does well, because she deserves it for being a trouper, but that she follows it up with a bruising, truthful ballad along the lines of "Because of You," and that it causes a wave of raised cellphones and girl-fan tears, putting her back on her feet for good.
-- Ann Powers
Photo credit: RCA Records