The explosive chorus. The rocket-fueled production. The magnificent vocal performance. “JUST ME MYSELF AND I.” Rewrite your last will and testament: this is the song you want played at your funeral.
‘Stronger’ was written by Ali Tamposi (who gives some interesting background to the song in this interview), David Gamson (Ke$ha, Adam Lambert) and Jorgen Elofsson (Britney, Westlife, a million others) then — in need of a thunderous hi-NRG production sound — delivered to Greg Kurstin (27% of all amazing pop music from the last eight years). There’s no ‘i’ in ‘teamwork’ ladies and gentlemen, but there are three in ‘bloody hell this song is amazing’.
Is Kelly’s involvement incidental? No it is not and you should feel ashamed of yourself for even entertaining the notion. While most songs with a similar pedigree could fall into any singer’s lap, make immediate sense and storm the charts around the world regardless of vocalist, we’re struggling to think of anyone but Kelly Clarkson who could have pulled off this tune. Don’t say Pink — she would have thrown in some swearing or moodiness and ruined this song’s BEAUTIFUL PURITY.
Speaking of purity: Kelly Clarkson is not cool. Kelly Clarkson will never be cool. There was probably a point in the mid-2000s when there were conversations at her label about how to make her cool, to keep her relevant and all that sort of stuff. And they probably gave up, because some popstars are just supposed to be amazing on their own terms, and for Kelly Clarkson those terms are vividly brought to life on ‘Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)’, a song that finds Clarko at the peak of her powers after ten years in the job.
We thought this would be the our top single of 2012 the first time we heard it at the end of 2011, but when we saw the video we knew the top spot was sealed. Everything about the video is so quintessentially Clarko: the dodgy wind machine-strewn studio performance shots that have typified her career, the flashmob dance routine two years after even the most pathetic marketing strategist on earth gave flashmobs the elbow, the brilliantly naff dusting-off-your-shoulders dance move. Best of all, the bit where Kelly is seen at an edit suite, as some sort of omniscient being observing humanity’s endeavours. Is this a depiction of Kelly Clarkson as God? Perhaps Kelly Clarkson is God. We see no evidence to the contrary. Certainly, they say God moves in mysterious ways, and there is no more mysterious movement than the improvised (how would one choreograph it?) demented kung-fu debacle at 2:47.
Either way, the humanity Kelly/God sees from that edit suite is unusually honest for a pop video. Most popstars present their fanbases in a way that suits their agenda. Gaga wants us to think that all her fans are freaks who need her like they need oxygen; Ke$ha wants us to think her fans are all party animals who shit glitter. It’s a distortion of reality (you don’t sell millions of albums without most of them being to people who are, in the best possible way, completely normal) that borders on dishonesty. This is not true for Kelly. Look at the fans she’s not just showing but showing off in this video. She’s proud of the people who buy her records. We suppose being normal is Kelly’s thing just like being super-normal is Gaga’s thing, but it’s striking just how much of a breath of fresh air it is to see a pop superstar not attempting to be a breath of fresh air.
Kelly seems very relaxed in her own popstar skin, just as 'Stronger' itself is very relaxed about what it is. Loads of tracks on this Top 45 list — Justin’s ‘As Long As You Love Me’, Little Mix’s ‘DNA’, AlunaGeorge’s ‘Your Drums, Your Love’ — are brilliant partly because they could only have existed in 2012. That’s not true of ‘Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)’, a song that doesn’t follow any trends. It might not even know those trends exist. Anyway, big tunes are always fashion, and this song is timeless in its amazingness.
So there you go. Yet another above average year for pop. Well done everyone.