Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Oh, the guilty pleasure. To feel two simultaneous, colliding human conditions at the same time. The guilt grabs control of you commanding you to enjoy this pleasure in secret, in the privacy of your own room. Shh, don't tell anyone you like this pleasure, the guilt says. I am living inside your body with your kidney and small intestine!
But the pleasure makes the overwhelming guilt all worth while. The taste. The sound. The sight that you behold. This feeling of jubilance that you know you shouldn't be partaking is worth that measly feeling of guilt. Pleasure? Yes! Guilt? I scoff at thee.

Kelly Clarkson's newest single 'Since U Been Gone' is more than a song with a grammatically incorrect title (after all, she is singing 'you've'), it's an incredible three minutes and eleven seconds of pop perfection. Yes. I am sober. And yes, the apocalypse is possibly neigh.
While many were on their living room couches laughing at the American Idols--myself included--the unlikely performers were going through their very public awkward stage on stage in front of millions of apathetic citizens who are better suited to vote for a pop singer than to chose the right President. Take Clay Aiken, for example; a gawky, unpretentious school teacher with a pretty decent voice who suddenly had to deal with being a public figure. Despite his baffling popularity, he is still gawky, albeit a famous-gawky. Clarkson, on the other hand, is better suited for fame. She has a 'regular,' relatable face with common brown hair and could seamlessly make the transition from torch song to rock song without looking uncomfortable about it. Paradoxically, Ruben Studdard couldn't do a rock song unless he really woke up one morning to find that he had become Mick Jagger. Clay Aiken can do rock but ultimately it feels all wrong like drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth. Clarkson is the favorite son. She is the Idol with potential longevity (can't we just forget that Kelly and Justin beach movie? Lord knows they want to).

With 'Since U Been Gone,' Clarkson convinces us that she has potential to be more than just a contest winner. The song, which has the same 'punky' elements of an Avril Lavigne track feels more authentic and less bratty. Moreover, Clarkson has superior lungs--Lavigne could only hit those notes if she had vocal manipulation assist her as she's done in the past (for those citing 'I'm With U' as a potential argument). 'Since U Been Gone' imitates the winning formula of a Nirvana song with a strumming electric guitar leering in the background and when Clarkson reaches the chorus, the guitars reach for the sky--along with Clarkson's vocals. But the true brilliance of the song is the way the lyrics parallel the music. 'Here's the thing/we started out friends. It was cool but it was all pretend,' Kelly sings with a subtle delivery, exhausted and fed-up. While she is angry, she can't find the strength to express that disappointment just yet. But then the chorus comes and after singing about her frustrating ex for a few lines, Clarkson remembers the anger, the reason she is here. She is finally inspired enough to release her disappointment with a chorus that feels like the pop equivalent of punches flying in the air sans mercy.

"But since you've been gone I can breathe for the first time/I'm so movin' on," the Idol sings with unforgiving, proving that one doesn't have to write a song to feel a song. The scorned lover expresses such a sense of relief that her lungs can actually operate again. The target of her angst has emotionally strangled the singer, disabling her to even perform the most simplest of functions. Clarkson will not take it anymore and well, sure, if you're payin', she'll sing about it [in the video, Clarkson breaks into the ex-boyfriend's apartment and destroys his belongings. Most of us wish we had such an opportunity].

The bridge is the peak of 'Since U Been Gone.' With a guitar solo that sounds like Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was playing it, Clarkson reaches for glass-shattering heights: You had your chance you blew it/Out of sight, out of mind/Shut your mouth I just can't take it/again and again and again and again." The last molten 'again' melts into the guitar's roar. We feel the pain. All this in a pop song.

The other difference between 'Since U Been Gone' and the angsty anthems in Lavigne's catalogue is that I doubt (maybe presumptuously) Avril's emotional depth. She feels like a ratty high school student roaming the malls and inviting the drama that comes along with dysfunctional relationships. Clarkson seems real. Clarkson appears to truly want love and I believe her disappointment when it fails. This is not fodder for a hit song, Kelly thinks. This is hurt and it sucks. And you shouldn't feel guilty for listening to it.


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