This is because, in some way, we're all her exes. We have all kicked her to the curb in favor of someone new (Katy Perry?), moved on with our lives and convinced ourselves we are happier without her. This may or may not actually be the case — we still haven't deleted her from our cell phones, still see her name lurking there on our IM list and sometimes, when it is very late at night and we are very drunk, we have to try very hard not to send her a text message. These things are complicated.
We had a rather intense relationship, you see. One that started out as an infatuation ("American Idol," "Miss Independent," the better-than-you-remember second single from Thankful); grew to a burning, have-my-baby brand of obsession ("Since U Been Gone"); then ended abruptly and quite badly (the whole My December debacle). Things got weird and complicated, and we decided that this wasn't working anymore, that we needed to be free, so we split. It was a very cruel breakup, full of canceled arena tours and fizzled singles, and none of it was really Kelly's fault. Still, we left her standing there. We broke her heart.
Needless to say, we had this coming.
So All I Ever Wanted is Clarkson's rebound, her ill-advised trip to Cancun with her girlfriends, her fling with an underwear model (metaphorically speaking). It is designed to make us jealous, to realize we were wrong about her and to want her back with every fiber of our beings. There are probably questionable Facebook photos involved. There are definitely margaritas. It's how she got her groove back, or at least how she tried to convince herself she did.
It's a bipolar listen, full of unabashed pop ("If I Can't Have You" — which sounds like "Rock Lobster" reworked by Soft Cell — and the 22nd-century malt-shop hop of "I Want You"), big crunchy guitar chords and tear-tinged ballads. For every moment on the album when Clarkson sounds positively giddy, powerful and in control — whether it's squealing, "Uno, dos, tres, quatro!" on the shooters-n-suntan anthem "Whyyawannabringmedown" or proudly telling some dipsh-- suitor that "I Do Not Hook Up" — there's a moment when she sounds like she's about to lock herself in the bathroom and burst into tears. On "Cry," she wonders, "Is it over yet? Can I open my eyes?," and on album closer "If No One Will Listen" — which recalls "I Know," the capper to Fiona Apple's 1999 album When The Pawn ... (no kidding) — she tells a former lover that "If no one wants to look at you/ For what you really are/ I'll be here, still," while a winsome piano weeps in the background.
She's clearly got some things on her mind. Things she can't tell the underwear model about. Mainly, you.
Still, Clarkson is smart enough to know things don't work this way. She hasn't forgotten your reaction to My December (or, more specifically, she hasn't forgiven you for it), so she's not about to come crawling back. And somewhere deep down inside, she knows you're feeling all the same things she is ... only more so, because you're the one who hurt her. (And to only further twist the knife, she makes sure to include a pair of songs — "Hook Up" and "Long Shot" — that were originally intended as demos for your new gf, Katy Perry. And she kills them.) Bottom line, you're the one who screwed this up in the first place. You're the one who should be suffering, not her.
Of course, things are never so cut-and-dried. And she basically says as much on "My Life Would Suck Without You," her dynamo first single and the opening track on Wanted. Singing to the jerk who left her high-and-dry (hey, that's you!), but now kneels broken-hearted and apologetic at her feet, she should just tell him (or us) to f--- off and hit the bricks because she's got a new man — a better man — in her life now: an underwear model with abs that you can grate parmesan on. Only, she doesn't.
"I know that I've got issues/ But you're pretty messed up too," she tells us. "Either way, I've found out/ I'm nothing without you." Then she takes us into her arms and admits that we belong together, and despite all outward appearances to the contrary, her life would, in fact, suck without us.
And then maybe it's OK, and we're able to move beyond the past. Maybe we need Kelly Clarkson back in our lives. Our hearts seem to tell us that. Then again, maybe we're making a huge mistake. No one is really sure when it comes to stuff like this. Breaking up is hard to do.
Questions? Concerns? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.