So Kelly Clarkson—Mrs. American Idol—went off and made herself a country record. According to the singer, it’s all but finished. Just needs a title. Those were the revelations brought forth in a Rolling Stone interview today amidst the release of Kelly’s latest pop album called Piece by Piece.
“…I have been listening to some country. I like Brandy Clark a lot, but I kind of listen to everything,” Clarkson said. “Everybody in Nashville has been super welcoming, but I don’t think that was a real shocker for everyone. I’m from Texas that’s, like, the land of country music. I’ve lived in Nashville for eight years now, and honestly it’s not just a country world here. We have everybody from Kings of Leon to Meghan Trainor to Jack White to Sheryl Crow. It’s kind of like a new Austin: It’s just a plethora of music, and there’s a plethora of genres here.”
Kelly Clarkson is correct, both in how Nashville has become the new Austin, and how nobody should be in shock at this news. If you didn’t see the Kelly Clarkson country album coming, you need your country music eyeballs checked. Country music was embracing Kelly Clarkson even before she had embraced the idea of making a country record. Because of the chasm that has opened up where once existed female representation in mainstream country music by artists not named Miranda, Music Row at various points has plugged Kelly Clarkson in as a warm female body.
Remember the quizzical inclusion of Kelly Clarkson as a CMA Female Vocalist of the Year nominee in 2012 and 2013? Kelly wasn’t even pushing herself to the country music community at the time, hadn’t even released a country album, and here she was being nominated for the highest female distinction in the genre. Meanwhile women who’d worked their whole lives in country and had great mainstream releases went unrecognized.
And that’s just the beginning of Kelly Clarkson’s country music accolades. Her duet with Jason Aldean “Don’t You Wanna Stay” from 2011 walked away with the CMA for Musical Event of the Year, and the ACM Awards for both Single of the Year and Vocal Event of the Year. And that’s not all Don Pardo, Clarkson was also nominated for Vocal Event of the Year by both the CMA’s and ACM’s in 2008 for her duet with Reba McEntire, “Because of You,” and was nominated for another CMA and ACM in 2013 for her Vince Gill duet, “Don’t Rush.” Forget dipping your toes in the water, Kelly Clarkson is more decorated than most country mainstream females could ever expect.
And once again, she hasn’t even released a country record, or a dedicated solo country song to country radio. I guess Gary Overton was wrong about saying country radio was the key to country music existence.
On paper, all the markers are here to boo hoo Kelly Clarkson as a country music carpetbagger just looking to ride the positive country music wave to a big bathtub full of money. But there’s many things that are significantly different about Clarkson’s “gone country” story that make her an exception.
First, as Clarkson points out, geography is on her side. Though a great country record can come from anyone or anywhere, her street cred from being born in Texas, and bedding down in Nashville means she knows where country music comes from if nothing else. Second, this doesn’t seem like a permanent move. Kelly isn’t “going country,” she’s just making a country record. We’ll see how it flies, but nobody should be surprised if it’s a one-off affair, just like nobody should be surprised she’s making a country record in the first place. And she may make another country record in the future, but the bottom line appears to be that Kelly Clarkson will do whatever she wants to do, and that’s hard to not respect.
And beyond the geography, beyond the fact that this just appears to be Clarkson doing what she wants instead of taking advantage of a cash grab, and even beyond her award-winning voice and how mainstream country needs females, there’s a boatload of intangibles that Kelly brings to the table that makes even country music purists shrug their shoulders and say, “We damn, it can’t be any worse than Florida Georgia Line or Sam Hunt.”
Does that mean that I, or country music purists are anticipating this release? I’d tap the breaks on that theory really quick. Kelly Clarkson is probably not going to make the rotation on your favorite classic country “old-time hour” podcast, and I certainly haven’t gained a fondness for pop stars making this move in a maturing career. But that doesn’t mean the music will be terrible. Hey, how about we listen to it before passing that judgement? Yes this feels totally contrived and preordained in many respects, but if she’s listening to Brandy Clark, it may not be that bad.
How many years have passed that Kelly Clarkson could have done this, and she elected to punt the proverbial country music football? She’s paid dues, and she let the country music game come to her. That’s how it’s supposed to be done. Sure, when it’s clearly some pop star or actor trying to make a last ditch effort to rehab a career in the public spotlight for no other reason than to remain famous, they can kiss off. But Kelly Clarkson? Eh, can’t say my pulse elevated one tick at this news, but I’ll give it a fair and impartial sniff, and save my venom for more worthy prey.