+ + + = Kelly Clarkson’s new single, “Mr. Know It All.”
Does this sound like a combination of a few other songs thrown in a blender and mixed together? Sure. Will that stop it from being a hit? No. The lyrics are reminiscent of Clarkson’s other bitter, man-hating singles, but the production is more subdued. Instead of giving us “Since U Been Gone” (Pt. 3), “Mr. Know It All” tones things down. Clarkson’s still angry, but the instrumentation lets the lyrics shine. The song’s not instantly catchy, but the lyrics are Facebook status ready–an important quality for this generation’s top 40 listeners. It also fits in nicely with the other pop divas’ mid tempo fall releases (think “Cheers” and “Yoü And I”). This one’s an earworm that you may not “get” instantly, but after a few listens it’ll grown on you–believe me. With that said, hopefully “Mr. Know It All” will be followed by “What Doesn’t Kill You,” a catchy, empowering anthem that leaked a few months ago and should be the big hit off the album.
With the early success of Pistol Annies, will more solo artists connect with their friends and collaborators to try something different? Miranda Lambert joined country music songwriters Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley to form Pistol Annies, a country trio with a more traditional sound. Lambert has her own solo album coming in November, but Pistol Annies gives her a chance to explore a grittier, more classic country sound—without alienating her fan base. It’s a nice bonus if her fans like it. If they don’t, the Miranda Lambert they’ve all come to know and love will return to form in a few months.
Similarly, Kelly Clarkson recently joined her backup singers to form the group Already Famous. Clarkson’s battle with RCA over the release of edgier (and more self-penned) material has been well documented. A vocal chameleon, she’s expressed interest in country, folk, rock and blues. A side project like Already Famous will allow her to try on different styles, while still releasing the high gloss pop we have come to expect from her as a solo artist.
Putting a solo artist in a different format allows their already existing supporters to either become fans of the new group or still remain fans of the artist if they don’t like the new direction. Just slap a different name on the product and throw in a few other musically inclined collaborators and friends, and it’s no longer a Miranda Lambert or Kelly Clarkson record. Sure, their star power can be used to draw attention to it. But, attention can also be easily drawn away from it if need be.
It’s an option that’s safer for both the artist and the label. The artist is able to branch out and try something different, with more artistic freedom than they would normally be granted. On the flip side, the label doesn’t have to worry about the solo artist releasing an experimental album and damaging an already established brand. Side projects are a good thing—even for artists at the top of their game. A little affair on the side may even spice up their solo projects in the future.