Arguably the biggest star to ever come out of a talent show competition in the United States, Kelly Clarkson rose to fame as the inaugural winner of American Idol. Originally produced on a shoestring budget, and only meant to be a fill-in show during the Summer of 2002, Idol was an unexpected breakout hit, and Clarkson was the main beneficiary of the show’s sudden success. Soon after the show went off the air, Clarkson scored her first #1 hit with the sappy winner’s song, “A Moment Like This” and another top 10 with the R&B flavored “Miss Independent.” Clarkson was already a household name due to Idol, but, she wasn’t really considered to be an actual artist until her second album Breakaway, which was supported by its four top ten hits (“Since U Been Gone,” “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” “Breakaway,” and “Because of You”). Breakaway sold 12 million copies, was one of the biggest pop albums of the decade, and fully legitimized Clarkson, quickly becoming one of the biggest pop stars of the decade.
After the runaway crossover success of Breakaway, Clarkson demanded more artistic control of her image and her music. This was against the wishes of her label and most famously, against label head Clive Davis, who apparently offered Clarkson ten million dollars to include five more radio-ready songs on her follow up album. She refused, and the result was 2007’s My December, a decidedly less-mainstream, more strained, and more difficult rock album that didn’t live up to expectations as a successor to Breakaway. As a result of disappointing reviews and sales, Clarkson’s arena tour of the United States supporting My December was cancelled and replaced with a tour of significantly smaller venues, a shocking turn around for a pop star in only three years.
This could have easily been where the story ended for Clarkson. After all, the My December debacle and subsequent media coverage could have been significantly more damaging than other stories that have buried other pop stars like her in the past. How quickly things changed for Clarkson, who after appearing to recognize her mistake and making up with her label, went head first back into full-fledged pop for her next album, All I Ever Wanted, with the first single from that album “My Life Would Suck Without You” becoming Clarkson’s second number one hit. The song was a clear return to what worked for Clarkson previously, featuring a huge radio ready chorus that took advantage of Clarkson’s wide vocal range, pulsing synthesizers over a fast paced rhythm, and a melodic intro guitar line that secured crossover appeal. The song, along with the widely-criticized photoshopped artwork for the album, provided a clearly colorful contrast from My December, aimed to make listeners forget about Clarkson’s previous effort. It’s not as immediately memorable or hard-hitting as “Since U Been Gone,” but I like “My Life…” for many of the same reasons musically, though it is a little bit more disposable than the hits from Breakaway.
The video for the song unabashedly places Clarkson front and center, which makes sense since it was a crucial piece of her comeback to mainstream pop. By my count, there are only about 12 frames in this video that don’t feature Clarkson. The video itself is pretty basic by pop star standards, especially compared to what others were doing in their videos at around the same time. It focuses on a tumultuous (but still somehow playful?) relationship between Clarkson and her video boyfriend. Much of the video revolves around Clarkson (playfully) throwing his keys in the toilet, and (playfully) throwing his clothes and magazines out of the window, with him (playfully) trying to retaliate. This video is the main (and only) piece of evidence that supports my decade-late theory that I’m bravely putting out there right now that Kelly Clarkson would kill a human for the sake of being playful because she throws a water-filled fishbowl out the window. Also, huge props to the editing crew on this video for all the split second cuts they had to do to put this thing together.
“My Life Would Suck Without You” stayed at the top of the charts for two weeks during early 2009, and in retrospect, it’s lucky it had that long of a stay since it came just before the summer was completely dominated by the Black Eyed Peas and Flo Rida, and just after Lady Gaga’s first chart topper (“Just Dance”) and Beyonce’s head turning “Single Ladies.” In addition, it remains the song with the biggest chart jump to #1, going all the way from 97 to 1 during the week of February 7th, 2009. Meanwhile, the song achieved its goal of bringing Clarkson back into the mainstream. She has had decent chart success in the decade since, especially in the first part of the 2010s, but has most recently become a fixture on TV, becoming a judge for The Voice, and hosting her own syndicated daytime talk show.
Check out the (playful) video for “My Life Would Suck Without You” in all of it’s 480p glory, and why not give the always timeless “Since U Been Gone” a listen while you’re at it: