A couple weeks ago, Kelly Clarkson delivered an emotional performance of her new single, "Piece by Piece" on the last season of American Idol. It was an important moment because Clarkson is Idol's enduring legacy. She was the first winner on the show, became a consistent hit-maker, and she is the only Idol to remain at the forefront of pop music. Her delivery of the retrospective and heartbroken ballad was a sweet, full-circle moment for the show.
In celebration of Kelly Clarkson's remarkable career, here are the 5 songs that I think of most when Clarkson comes to mind.
5. "Heartbeat Song"
I think this song is an essential entry in Clarkson's discography because it plays with the empowering beats and nostalgia that make her most recent album worthy of its Grammy nominations. It made me excited to listen to her music again.
Kelly Clarkson is the master of the empowerment tune (rivaled perhaps only by Katy Perry). This song reached number 2 on the Hot 100 because it mixes her aggressive power-ballad vocal style with a thumping dance beat to create one of the catchiest tunes of the early 2010s.
3. "My Life Would Suck Without You"
By the time the diva dropped this single in 2009, she had established herself as both a dance-pop juggernaut and a rock aficionado. This tune mixes those two strains to create a mainstream tune that is at once cheeky and sweet.
2. "Miss Independent"
Though she had a hit with "A Moment Like this," I always think of "Miss Independent" as Clarkson's first single because it dropped independently of Idol. Co-written by Christina Anguilera, it caters to the R and B pop that was all the rage in 2003. It was also the first song to deliver the kind of empowerment power ballad that would become Clarkson's bread and butter.
1. "Since U Been Gone"
This song solidified Kelly Clarkson as a superstar and it made her music cool. This tune hit radio when I was in highschool. Everyone was wearing boot cut jeans, canvas belts, and Converse sneakers at the time. "Since U Been Gone" was such a smash because it was the perfect mix of faux-rock sensibilities and pop music that my generation adored. Not to mention, Clarkson sounds strong and independent on the track. When I think of her, I think of this song and I'm thrown back to my teenage years, my Aeropostale t-shirts, and my friends singing to this perfect slice of hooky radio ear candy.
Bonus: "Piece by Piece" (Idol Version)
It is too early for me decide whether this is one of my favorite Clarkson tunes, but it's important to note how this song shows Clarkson's maturity. She co-wrote the song, and her delivery of the stripped-down Idol Version finds her in remarkable voice. She has long been a gifted vocal interpreter, and "Piece by Piece" finds her delivering the kind of simple, timeless ballad with an emotional urgency that feels individual.