Kelly Clarkson readily acknowledges her new album,chemistryIt traces the emotional rollercoaster of a relationship.
Clarkson no doubt drew a wellspring of feelings as she navigated a messy divorce from Brandon Blackstock, her husband of nearly seven years and father to sons River Rose, 9, and Remington Alexander, 7.
Clarkson turned her swinging passions into her tenth studio album three years ago, when she filed for divorce (finalized in March 2022), but she couldn’t bring herself to release the songs at the time. It’s not that she’s worried about the world hearing the sweet sorrow of “Skip This Part” or the defiance of “The Highway” or the snarl that pushes the “Red Flag Collector.”
She just knew she couldn’t sit down for interviews to discuss her turbulent emotional state.
“I’ll be useless and just cry,” she recalls saying on the poster.
But now Clarkson, 41, has reset it and is eager for listeners to delve deeper into the topic of “Chemistry” on Friday. Blending pop, soul, and rock and topping it off with a storm of sound, the album is a relatable, moody mix decked out with dollops of unexpected guests (Steve Martin) He lends him a banjo to “I Hate Love” while Sheila E. adds the rhythmic pulse to “That’s Right”).
Clarkson, who moonlights as host of “The Kelly Clarkson ShowShe appeared as a coach on NBC’s “The Voice” for years until announcing her departure in May, and also recently dealt with allegations of a bad workplace on her syndicated talk show.
In a conversation with USA TODAY, the even-handed and witty Clarkson addressed the issues on the show, joking about “aiming high” to get Martin on the album and sharing that she’s relieved to be “in a different class.”
Q: The album starts on such a sad note with “Skip this part”. But by the time we get to the final track, “That’s Right,” it sounds like a new Kelly.
Kelly Clarkson: It’s like How Stella got her groove back. I like that the album starts and ends like that because that’s how it felt. I remember saying to people, “I want to skip this part” (during the divorce). I know you can’t, but who wants to go through that?
You’ve had some great songs in your career, but what other artists do you think have some of the best?
I think for our generation “a jagged little grain” (by Alanis Morissette) It was our breakup album. This is huge for me. And I’m a Joni Mitchell girl. I love going to this kind of atmosphere. I love Fiona Apple and those years are nostalgic for me with certain music, like Toni Braxton, in some country. If I’m angry, I’ll go to more nirvana.
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Who were you listening to while processing all the emotions you were dealing with?
I literally didn’t listen to anyone. I was just writing. It wasn’t about, What do I want the sound (for the album) to be? I have never recorded like this. I’ve sent a dove to pretty much every friend I’ve been a writer with or a producer with who has some tracks or just wrote myself.
You have some interesting collaborators on the album, like Gayle, who co-wrote “I Am.” Why did you release that song as a tandem with “Mine”?
It was very important to me with this album that people would hear a lot of it before it was released. I don’t want people to fix my relationship on one song. This is not fair and does not apply to the album.
I wasn’t expecting to see the names Steve Martin and Sheila E. on the track list.
I was fortunate to share the stage with Sheila. I love her as a human being. She is such a strong, great, kind person, and I love having these people in my world. When I wrote that song I remember saying to my producer, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I played Sheila on this?” And when I wrote “I Hate Love,” Steve was a reference in the song.
That’s a great line, “You can keep (Ryan) Gosling and I’ll kiss Steve Martin.”
I was feeling so cynical and genuine about the fact that love makes you do such stupid things. You’re holding on to this idea of what someone is, who you are, or what love is, and in fact you haven’t moved into a situation where you’re more valuable than he is. You have to aim for something better.
Did you join Steve in the studio to record the song?
No, I got very depressed for a week because he said yes and I (I couldn’t meet him in person). I came up with an idea like, it will never come true. (I was) aspiring high. He has more grams than I do! I’ve been a fan forever. But I couldn’t be there because I was doing the talk show. I am looking forward to meeting him one day.
Let’s talk about “Red Flag Collector,” which is pretty straight forward with lyrics like “While you turn your mouth, puff out your chest/Play cowboy in the wild, wild west.”. “ Did it feel comfortable to vent that anger? Or maybe not anger, but …
Oh, the rage is about. I was very angry. I know many people have gone through great grief or tragedy such as divorce and I know that it is, unfortunately, a common occurrence. But there is nothing in common when you go through it. It’s so weird, it’s horrible. Stupid, stupid (things) are said a lot of the time and you can’t believe it. I was really angry and hurt. That song and “I Hate Love” are probably the most direct songs dealing with this level of anger.
How do you feel these days?
good! I needed to be here, and I waited for that moment. I hear these songs being released and it’s like (hearing) a different person. We broke up three years ago, so it’s nice to be on the other side of it. There’s no anger or anything, it’s just a different chapter. I guess I needed to wait that out, and I’m glad I did because now I can talk openly about the songs and enjoy them.
You have a limited-time show in Vegas coming July 28th (until August 19th at the Packet Theater at Planet Hollywood). What are your plans for this show?
There’s only 10 shows, so the songs will be there, but we’ll be littering the (new) album tracks and people will love the covers. I will be performing the entire album through 10 shows. This would be more intimate and low key and how I started: just being on stage with my band and interacting with people.
Your talk show is moving to New York for the fall season. Are you excited to head east?
I am in a great place personally and the new beginning seems so beautiful to me and my little family. I love New York and this is the perfect time for me. Life happens how it happens for a reason. I’m so lucky NBC was off and oh my gosh, We’re at 30 Rock!
What kind of cultural changes do you plan to implement behind the scenes?
I didn’t know that much was going on, but I know now. I’m always an optimist, so this gives us a chance (to make things better). I always try to be a better human being. I Read “The Righteous Predecessors”. I always kind of read books my therapist is like, “Can’t you read novels?” (Laughs.) I’m always aware of things like this: I know it sucks when things like this happen but I see it as an opportunity for us to be better versions of ourselves. We think of ways to make people feel like they are not outside the circle. I was that kid at school, and it’s the worst feeling ever. I see it as an opportunity for positive change. That’s what we’re all talking about on the show. I’m also a nerd person who loves team building and all that stuff. Certainly there has to be some change and is already there and will happen. In many ways it is a new beginning.
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