Hell hath no fury like Kelly Clarkson scorned. With her latest single, “Never Again,” America’s “Idol” sweetheart has cemented her place as the angry young woman in pop/rock, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer gal.
“People are probably going to be like, ‘What happened to you?’ ” Clarkson laughed.
In the song, Clarkson takes an ex to task for cheating on her and marrying the other woman: “I hope the ring you gave her turns her finger green/ I hope when you’re in bed with her, you think of me.” If it reminds you of Alanis Morissette from days gone by, it should — “You Oughta Know” is an obvious inspiration, as are a few songs by a rocker from a pre-Alanis generation.
“I had somebody at my label say they didn’t like it because it was too Pat Benatar,” Clarkson recalled. “I was like, ‘Now I really like it! I love her, and what’s wrong with you?’ I love any kind of rock chick who’s just totally into what she’s doing. What’s funny is that we now think of her as a rock icon, but she was pretty pop as well. And I’m pretty pop too — I’m a rock/pop girl, which is cool with me.”
“Never Again” almost didn’t make Clarkson’s forthcoming album, My December (see “Kelly Clarkson Blowing Off ‘Bubblegum Ear Candy’ On New LP” ). She wrote it two years ago as a counterpoint to Breakaway‘s “Since U Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes.” Both of those songs and videos reflected her breakup with ex-Evanescence member David Hodges — with one song expressing her relief, another her pain — but neither was originally written with that subject matter in mind (they were tweaked to address it after the fact). “Never Again,” though, was a little nastier than those two songs, so the singer shelved it, until she realized that it was the best opening to the story arc on My December. Plus, it rocks.
“I was in a totally different place when I wrote it, so it’s weird to sing the song and do the video and have to get really into it,” Clarkson said. “But it’s a fun song, and that’s why we kept it. It’s just got such great energy. It’s so blunt — I was so angry — and it reads so well, so we just went with it.”
Clarkson is shooting a video for the track this week with director Joseph Kahn in Los Angeles. In the clip, she gets to haunt her ex. “It’s kind of like ‘What Lies Beneath,’ ” she said, referencing the Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer thriller. “You don’t know if he killed me or if he’s just being haunted by his conscience. Not to get all artsy-fartsy, but I’m all in white, everything is in white, because it’s been ripped of innocence. Anyone who’s ever been in love, when it goes bad — and sadly, everyone can relate in some manner — it just gets cold and it’s hard to get past that.”
Still, Clarkson insists that My December isn’t a cold album. “There’s more ‘me’ on this record,” she said. “I had more hold on the reins because I wrote the entire thing. It wasn’t planned like that, because I don’t think you have to write everything you sing, but on this one I had a lot to say. I’m not even this open with boyfriends!”
She’s also not that open with her co-songwriters, who she was too embarrassed to be in the same room with while writing songs like “Sober” and “Yeah.”
“I’m really weird,” she said. “I’m like, ‘OK, I have this song,’ and I’ll send them the melody and lyrics, and then I’ll ask, ‘Can you build something on that? Do a lick or something?’ But I can’t just sit in a room and be like, ‘This is me.’ I have to spell-check ‘me’ before I send it to someone.”
Clarkson was also embarrassed to admit that she didn’t know who punk legend Mike Watt was before inviting him to play bass on six of the album’s tracks. “Lord have mercy, I’m an idiot,” she laughed. “I’m not that huge into indie punk — I didn’t grow up around that.” But once Watt was suggested to her and she saw him play, she “flipped out.” “He’s phenomenal,” she said of the bassist, who has been performing lately with the Stooges. “I was like, ‘Oh no, please don’t be that indie guy,’ like you’re too cool for pop. But he wasn’t like that at all. He was way humble — more modest than he should have been, because he’s really talented.”
Plus, Clarkson said, Watt’s the perfect element to add to My December, as she tries to transition into being someone who’s “way different” than what’s on the radio right now — or even what’s being offered on her former home, “American Idol.”
“One of my friends [wanted] the Sanjaya guy to win,” she said. “Oh, man, he’s crazy. I think [it would have been] funny, but I like Jordin Sparks. She’s passionate and still not jaded.”
But what she likes most of all — in her own music and in others’ — is variety. “[Otherwise] it gets boring,” she said. “That’s when it’s time to plug in your iPod.”