Kelly Clarkson’s relationship with RCA has been a point of fan contention since her public battle with the label during the controversial “My December” era. Following the 6x Platinum “Breakaway,” Clarkson decided to ditch the radio friendly writers and producers (Max Martin, Dr. Luke, John Shanks) and go the singer-songwriter route, penning the entire album herself. Although the album was personal, it didn’t contain any smash hits. However, Clarkson fought for its release and RCA fought back—releasing and promoting only one single off the album.
After an underperforming album, it’s not uncommon for an artist to go back to what made them popular in the first place. However, the damage control following “My December” was blatantly obvious. Clarkson ditched the dark image and came back with the Max and Luke-produced single “My Life Would Suck Without You,” which almost instantly hit number one on the Hot 100. The album, “All I Ever Wanted” attempted to recreate the glory days of “Breakaway,” but felt more like a collection of rehashes than a cohesive offering. It was also released at the height of the electropop explosion, which didn’t coincide Clarkson’s more traditional pop/rock sound. Although the first single was a chart-topper, “I Do Not Hook Up,” the Katy Perry-penned second release derailed the project’s momentum. Shockingly, pop radio’s average listener wasn’t looking for the hottest new abstinence anthem. The album also didn’t connect with the public, only selling marginally better than “My December.” It was clear, this wasn’t all Clarkson (or her fans) ever wanted.
It’s been somewhat of a rough ride for Clarkson since 2007, but with the release of Clarkson’s fifth album, “Stronger,” it seems like the singer and her label are finally back on the same page. Although the first single, “Mr. Know It All,” was a slow grower, it helped push the album to nearly 500,000 sold and became another top 10 hit on the Hot 100 for Clarkson. The song helped reestablish Clarkson on her core formats (pop and adult contemporary) and paved the way for the release of “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” Not since “Since U Been Gone” has Clarkson had such a surefire hit on her hands. It’s in the same empowering vein of “you are who you are born this way like a perfect firework,” but with a typical Clarkson post break-up twist. It’s also retains her pop/rock sound and classic sing your lungs out vocals, but with electropop hints. Approaching the top 5 on iTunes and top 30 on pop radio before its official adds date, it doesn’t look like “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) will be another “I Do Not Hook Up.” While RCA could have gone with this right out the gate, they most likely would have ended up with another “All I Ever Wanted”-esque era. However, instead of copying “Breakaway’s” sound for this album cycle, they copied its release schedule and promotion. A slow burning first single, followed by an anthemic smash will give this album legs and ensure the success of future singles.
Also, in a stark contrast to the “My December” era, RCA’s confidence in “Stronger” can be seen in terms of its promotion. Since the album’s release, Clarkson has had several high profile appearances, including: The X-Factor, Vh1 Divas, and American Music Awards. Not to mention, she has the Superbowl and Grammys on deck. Her participation in the iHeartRadio concert and several holiday radio shows, also helped set up the song nicely for early radio play. There’s also the inescapable Toyota commercial that features Clarkson and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” Unlike Jennifer Lopez’s Fiat ads, it has done wonders for her downloads.
This was an opportune (and pivotal) time for Clarkson to make her return. Not only is the recent wave of female artists on pop radio starting to wane, but fellow pop-rockers, P!nk, Katy Perry, and Avril Lavigne are currently wrapping up their albums or off the scene. At almost 30-years-old and after a decade in the business, RCA and Clarkson had to make sure this album was a success for the sake of her longevity. For a while, people were asking, “What happened to Kelly Clarkson?” Well, after the likely ubiquitous success of “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” it looks like people will finally have the answer.