On the choir-backing chorus for the newest ballad, ‘Me,’ Kelly Clarkson belts, “I don’t need somebody to hold me / Don’t need somebody to love me / Don’t need somebody to pick these pieces up / I put together my broken.” While it’s going straight into our self-love bibles, it’s also a direct callback to one of her most reflective tunes in the form of Piece By Piece‘s title track, and through the buzzword of “piece,” it’s easy to catch on that it’s exactly that one piece we need!
Initially, starting as a contrast between her toxic upbringing and her husband at the time, illustrating “that a man can be kind and a father could stay,” she’s flipped it on its head through her own ‘You’re On Your Own, Kid’ realization! The realization is that the only person who can clean up a spill in your inner child’s aisle is yourself, because if someone, no matter who they are, suddenly leaves, are those fixed parts going to go with them? Or will the foundation you’ve spent time building remain? It’s a life-long mission, and Kelly’s self-love lyrical journey has finally peaked.
Of course, implying that it’s a journey means that there have been several other reflections on self-love in her discography, going all the way back to her Thankful days! So in an ode to how proud we are of Kelly for having the vulnerability and strength to write such lyrics – and to showcase how excited we are for Chemistry to finally be sitting on our shelves come June 23rd – we’ve explored each era, what we can learn from them, and how exactly they’ve culminated to this point.
With its pop groove and Christina Aguilera’s co-write, ‘Miss Independent’ isn’t the only first foray into releasing a self-reflection. It is also the jumping-off point for Kelly’s career post-American Idol win, as it acted as the album’s lead single. Interestingly, that Christina name drop came from the song’s original purpose, when it was meant to slide into the tracklist for Christina’s fourth album, Stripped. However, she left it on the writer’s floor, half unfinished, when Rhett Lawrence picked it up to flesh it out with Kelly.
Basically, it talks of the hypothetical of Cupid pinning its arrow on a self-sufficient gal who wormed herself into that mindset as a defense mechanism. She counts out love through a fear of getting hurt, but even she can’t escape those cartoonish love heart eyes. One of the standout lyrics from the song is, “No more talk of why can’t that be me / I’m so glad I finally see,” as it truly is the catalyst for Kelly casting her own preconceived notions to the side.
Although Thankful tossed Kelly Clarkson from a room of contestants to Billboard-charting artists as her peers, Breakaway is what truly stripped her American Idol persona to help her stand in this industry on her own. We’re not only talking about the Princess of Genovia, Anne Hathaway’s tick of approval either – the title track obviously synced itself into the second Princess Diaries movie, but it also caused Kelly to have her own GRAMMYs moment, winning Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for ‘Since U Been Gone!’ Maybe the rest of the world is only now waking up to how versatile our Texas girl’s vocals are. Back then, though, in the early 2000s, she was making the award ceremony rounds and absolutely blitzing it!
As for self-love tracks, the three big tunes – ‘Breakway,’ ‘Because of You,’ and ‘Since U Been Gone’ – spoke of exactly that! It was Kelly’s era of turning her back on things that weren’t improving her life, and to even drive that point home, despite its romantic notions, ‘Miss Independent’ nudged itself in as the second to last number on certain versions of the album. We can strive for a fairytale as long as it’s healthy, you know? Quite literally, “out of the darkness and into the sun.”
“My heart can’t possibly break / When it wasn’t even whole to start with…“
‘Because Of You’ showed this the most! Its delicate acoustics add to her diary musings about her parent’s divorce, which began when she was 16 years old, as she states on the Breakaway DVD; that’s the age she started writing the song. There are so many poignant lyrics from ‘Because Of You,’ such as, “My heart can’t possibly break / When it wasn’t even whole to start with,” that when acting as the progressive pipeline of the ‘Me’ and ‘Piece By Piece’ sagas, we catch that first initial glimpse of where her abandonment wounds come from.
You may as well grab a knife. That song really is the most depressing one I’ve ever written. I tried to get it on Thankful, and was laughed at and told I wasn’t a good writer. So then I tried to get it on Breakaway – and the label saw the results, people responding to it, and allowed it to become a single. Then took credit for its success, of course.
Kelly Clarkson for The Guardian
Taking a cue from the mystifying aura of the cover, with decayed vines spiraling down the staircase to reveal Kelly sitting on the floor – a ‘Beautiful Disaster,’ clenching onto a red ballgown but barely holding onto its poise – My December continued to tap into Breakaway’s anger. First, you have ‘Hole,’ with its electric guitars and grit and the pre-chorus admittance, “I’m so far from where I need to be / I’ve given up on faith, on everything / All I wanted, all I needed / Was some peace” then ‘Maybe’ to ‘How I Feel.’
“Picked all my weeds but kept the flowers…”
However, she’s clearly not doing well, and finally, the big breakdown moment in ‘Sober’ happens. If you’re trying to think back to that era of music, ‘Sober’ is the marker to know you’re in the right place – that’s how big of a moment it was! Despite the crashes and burns that are relevant on the other tracks, displaying that her wounds are still present in her relationships (“I hope the ring you gave to her turns her finger green,” Kelly snarls on ‘Never Again’ ), she strips it all away to a place of solitude, somewhere near survival.
Though ‘Sober’ acts as a conversation with the music industry itself, with music executives caring about her appearance and thus carving out the line “Picked all my weeds but kept the flowers” and the metaphor of temptation through the repetition of “three months,” as if it’s a chip to count how much time has passed after choosing herself, there’s also the beautiful deliverance of the first few lines: “I don’t know / This could break my heart or save me / Nothing’s real / Until you let go completely.” Sometimes we don’t know where we’re going, or the right path; all we’re deliberately trying to chase is a change in ourselves.
All I Ever Wanted
All I Ever Wanted carries on the trend of Kelly Clarkson choosing herself, and don’t get us wrong, there are some hardships on this record too, such as ‘Already Gone,’ which, if you were ever in the fanvid community, you know caused some mighty tears. Anyway, Kelly was right back in the swing of making sure our self-love was high as she decided to release the anti-FWB anthem ‘I Do Not Hook Up’ as a single. A fun fact to know is that Katy Perry’s writing credit is due to a switch-up similar to Christina’s! In another universe, we would’ve heard the song on One of the Boys, but since she subbed out of the record label Def Jam, that and ‘Long Shot’ went to Kelly.
‘Don’t Let Me Stop You’ is another progression on this theme, this time from the perspective of a relationship gone south. The opening line’s confession, “I used to be a little bit shy / I kept my deepest feelings inside / Speaking up to you about my emotions has always been hard,” hints toward the fear of abandonment again before we get into the meat of the other lyrics. Though her old self sometimes slides in with her questioning herself (“This is gonna sound kind of silly”), and even leaning co-dependent on the other track, ‘Save You,’ her confidence has risen.
She finally reaches the point of being good with being by herself, something that brings us back to ‘Miss Independent,’ and more than that. She now has hope that she’ll find the healthy love she’s searching for elsewhere with “Nice knowing you, but there’s the door / ‘Cause I know that I can find someone who’ll give me what I want.”
There were a few different titles that were going around and I think the reason why we came up with Stronger was just because every song was about empowerment and almost, like, overcoming stuff. So, even if it was a bad situation and a sad song, it was about overcoming that. So by the end of the song, it’s kind of more inspiration than sad.
Kelly Clarkson for MTV
Just underneath ‘Mr. Know It All’ – which we’ll be returning to, don’t you worry – is a song that is similar to ‘Because of You.’ Kelly Clarkson will be known for it even after the years have passed! Undeniably, that song is ‘Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).’
From its iconic guitar riff that, upon floating into any sort of speaker, you’ll immediately recognize; to that opening line of “You know the bed feels warmer / Sleeping here alone,” which we can add to the “choosing herself” tally; to its pop-funk chorus, it’s a no-brainer to us how this song universally matches any circumstance of triumph.
Back to the tracklist’s ordering, though: what comes before it is ‘Mr. Know It All’ and what comes after it is ‘Dark Side,’ and both are introspective. Despite the prior’s soft tinkering of guitar chords, it brings out Kelly’s sass as she professes, “Can’t nobody tell me how it’s gonna be / Nobody gonna make a fool outta me, baby / You should know that I lead, not follow,” not allowing anyone to prejudge her.
While ‘Dark Side’ has this eerie musical box intro, combining it with its lyrics, it’s a song about one’s inner child and how loving someone and facing that mirror will cause us to examine our belief system. Every single person has bits of themselves that are hard to look at! So therefore, splitting those two on either side of ‘Stronger’ fleshes out the complexities of a real person and the journey of getting to that place of pure strength.
Piece By Piece
We’re back to where we began this analysis, and upon thinking about the Piece By Piece era as a career-highlight moment, obviously, Kelly’s performance on American Idol in February 2016 comes to mind! We all know, possibly more recently through Kellyoke on her daytime talk show, that she steals the spotlight with any live show performance, but this one is very tender. Back where it all began, though the judging panel’s a bit different – Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr. replace Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul. Still, the setting is the same, and so are the room’s acoustics. ‘Piece By Piece’ can therefore represent the journey Kelly Clarkson had gone on at the time, one of melancholy from watching her father leave to now having all of the sad memories of him replaced with this gooey sense of love.
“Back then I didn’t have anything you needed, so I was worthless…”
So perhaps all along, with the lyric “I made something of myself, and now you wanna come back” cast in the back of her mind and then echoing in the quaint room, Kelly Clarkson was supposed to stammer after “Back then I didn’t have anything you needed, so I was worthless.” Being able to finish that performance was a feat in itself. Knowing what we do now, though, and with ‘Me’ coming out, it wasn’t a man that got her to that height of self-love that she could attract love like that or even reach that final note; it was her belief in herself. While it didn’t work out and their Chemistry fizzled, she can always return to that place of confidence and appreciation.
We think it’s also important to note another song off this album: ‘Invincible.’ It’s got such beautiful production. At one point, there’s this sound of a whizzing spaceship until the clanging of drums helps aid the ferocity of Kelly’s voice. With the chorus coming in, the lyrics callback to the vulnerability of ‘Piece By Piece,’ going from “No, I ain’t a scared little girl no more” to “Now I am a warrior, a shooting star,” which she is!
Meaning of Life
The note we’re going to end on is a part of Kelly’s personality: fun! Sure, the heaviness of some of the lyrics is hard to ignore, but most of the time, the self-love lessons are wrapped up in funky dance numbers, particularly for ‘Whole Lotta Woman.’ There’s sass from the jump! The title attempts to remove comments about her weight from tabloid media outlets. Then it’s got the only feature on the album, with the band Earth, Wind & Fire contributing bass and horns to the production, to the final sendoff line in the chorus, “I’m a strong, badass chick with class and confidence” as an affirmation!
With Chemistry coming out on June 23rd, we can speculate it’ll be packed with more self-love ballads as Kelly Clarkson fleshes out a relationship cycle. For now, is there a particular song that resonates with you? Let us know over on our Twitter @thehoneypop, and watch our Instagram and Facebook pages for the latest updates.