For the past decade, Kelly Clarkson — who just announced she’s co-headlining this summer’s Honda Civic Tour with Maroon 5 — has built her career on heartbreak. Sure, she has some pop fluff in the mix à la “My Life Would Suck Without You,” but the best of her discography is made of woeful power ballads, tear-stained rock riffs and kiss-off empowerment anthems. The Grammy-winning beltress’s “Since U Been Gone,” “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” “Never Again,” and “Stronger” minted her platinum, but any true fan knows it’s her set list’s hidden gems that truly shine. Here are a dozen little-known tracks to push you through your latest hiccup in love, whether you’re the mood to shed a tear or kick some ass.
“ Thankful” is Clarkson’s first post-Idol effort, and it’s as much pre-packaged gloss lit with powerhouse vocals as the FOX reality series itself. It finds Clarkson in a tepid in-between of musicality, showcasing sounds of pop and R&B/soul with singles “Miss Independent,” and “The Trouble With Love.”
“Just Missed the Train” strikes a chord for anyone stuck in a relationship that’s run its course. You’ve been building a life together, but for some inexplicable turn of fate, you got “stuck at the light” and missed the train that’s set to take you to the next destination. Sometimes, lovers’ tracks inevitably go separate ways.
So go on and sleep darling
Why don’t you pretend we were just a dream?
It’s cool baby; it doesn’t matter anyway
Well I’m so sorry, we got to the station a little too late
Such a shame we just missed the train
Clarkson’s sophomore effort cemented the A.I. winner as one of the best voices in pop. With one hit after another — “Breakaway,” “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” “Because Of You,” and, of course, “Since U Been Gone” — Breakaway went platinum five times over and was one of the biggest-selling albums of the year.
“Gone” is among the catchiest songs off Breakaway and is always a fan favorite at her shows. Leave a man who thinks he has the power to keep you and he’s bound to come crawling back.
You know you did it, I’m gone to find someone to live for in this world
There’s no light at the end of the tunnel tonight, just a bridge that I gotta burn
You were wrong if you think you can walk right through my door
That is just so you, coming back when I’ve finally moved on
I’m already gone.
Clarkson gets all kinds of sultry on “Addicted.” One part haunting piano ballad and one part alt rocker, the song sings of guilt, longing, and self-deprecating lust. Sometimes you can’t help but go back to the one you love, for better or worse. This live performance from a few years back is vocally choppy, but it really captures Clarkson’s ability to emote her heartbreak.
It’s like you’re a leech, sucking the life from me
It’s like I can’t breathe without you inside of me
And I know I let you have all the power
And I realize I’m never gonna quit you over time.
“Beautiful Disaster,” a remix of the original cut off Thankful, closes Breakaway as a live piano ballad. Staying or leaving can be a choice you have to make—you can’t always be there to be a lover’s crutch. You can’t always save them.
He’s magic and myth, as strong as what I believe
A tragedy with more damage than a soul should see
But do I try to change him? So hard not to blame him
Hold me tight, Baby hold me tight
Oh and I don’t know, I don’t know what he’s after
But he’s so beautiful, such a beautiful disaster.
This is Clarkson’s most notorious album, if only for its staid darkness. It failed to make RCA and Clive Davis happy, and it fell short of many-a fan’s expectations, but musically and lyrically, My December is among her best work. Having written the majority of the album herself, it’s clear that some man crossed her just before she got into the studio. It lends itself perfectly to a broken heart—how very T-Swiftian.
As suitable as Clarkson’s voice is for any genre, she arguably meshes best with pop-rock with a dash of Morissette-esque angst. Listen to “Hole,” and you’ll see why. While it’s not necessarily about the hole left by a lover’s leaving, it’s most satisfying imagining her belting her ass off in introspective remorse; don’t we all?
Sinking ever so slowly
So far from where I should be
No hands reaching out for me
Help me, help me
Something’s gone, I can feel it
It’s all wrong; I’m so sick of this
There’s a hole inside of me
It’s so cold; slowly killing me.
And here’s “Judas.” The title kind of speaks for itself on this one, doesn’t it? Let it out.
I will never be like you. I’ll never do the things you do, selfish and lonely, what’s your problem?
Letting go of you and this is harder than I thought
But I will not be poisoned by your actions
Forgetting me, you took things in your hands and left me out
After we’d been through so much how could you let me down?
If you watch any one of these videos, let it be “Sober.” Not only is it one of Clarkson’s personal favorites, but this performance is straight-up flawless. As she tells the crowd: “Sometimes you gotta pick the people out of your life that are cancerous for you and go with the good ones.” Heartbreak hurts—it’s the nature of the beast. But months down the line, it’s the gift of knowing you made the right decision that counts.
And I don’t know, I could crash and burn but maybe
At the end of this road I might catch a glimpse of me
So I won’t worry about my timing, I want to get it right
No comparing, second guessing, no not this time
Three months and I’m still breathing
Been a long road since those hands I left my tears in
But I know it’s never really over
Introspective and painfully honest, “Maybe” is just one of those songs that gets you. You’re broken up; you’ve given him distance and time, but you’re still in love. There’s always the maybe. Get out of our collective head, Kelly.
I’m jaded but oh so lovely
All you have to do is hold me, and you’ll know and you’ll see just how sweet it can be
If you’ll trust me, love me, let me
All I Ever Wanted
After “My December” “flopped,” All I Ever Wanted marked Clarkson’s return to synth-heavy lolli-POP. The album itself is kind of all over the place, but its standout singles are really solid—albeit overly caffeinated—tunes.
“All I Ever Wanted” is for the hung-up heart. Tear up as many photographs as you want, the only cure is time and a bottle of wine.
Tell me with so many out there why I always turn to you
Your goodbyes tear me down every time
And it’s so easy to see that the blame is on me
All I ever wanted, all I ever wanted was a simple way to get over you
Now for a little empowerment. It’s about time you tell the one you’re with to quit treating your heart like monkey meat. “Don’t Let Me Stop You” will give you the extra push to tell them to get lost, no hard feelings. It’s not love, and it’s his loss.
A lot of things I can take
Got a high threshold for pain
But let’s get one thing straight
I’m not down to share you with anyone
If that’s not what you’re looking for
Nice knowing you but there’s the door
‘Cause I know that I could find someone
Who’ll give me what I want
Clarkson’s fifth studio album has been widely regarded as her most complete, well-rounded effort, and she’s got the Grammys to prove it. It finds the perfect mesh between pop and rock—some gritty some sweet—and is an utterly satisfying listen. If its lead single, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” is any indication, it lays on the empowerment, and it lays it on thick.
The lyrics are goofy, yes, but “Alone” is guaranteed to improve your outlook on singledom. You’re stuck with someone who makes you feel small? Beside yourself? Alone? Pull a white liar on them and find someone new.
But here’s something you don’t know about me
When you pushed me out I found something better, you’ll see
While you were paying no attention to me, I found somebody who can treat me right
When I’m with him I’m not alone
Gets better every day
I hope you know, oh, I’m not alone
And to wrap things up, it’s best to close with similar sentiment as our “Just Missed the Train” start. Here’s to Stronger’s why-the-hell-wasn’t-this-a-single, “I Forgive You.” In love, it’s easy to lose your way, to misstep. Then one day, you wake up and realize you’re unhappy and things are just not the way they used to be. It’s no one’s fault, especially note yours, and forgiveness is the first step in picking up the pieces and moving on.
I forgive you
We were just a couple of kids trying to figure out how to live doing it our way
No shame, no blame, ’cause the damage is done
And, and I forgive you
I forgive you
We were busy living a dream, never noticed the glass ceiling falling in on us
No shame, no blame, ‘cause the damage is done
And, and I forgive you