When it comes to our own love lives, we dream of happily ever after. But when it comes to pop stars, though we’re not always willing to admit it, we tend to root for the breakup. The pain, anger and sadness from a broken heart is so universal the breakup album feels like a genuine link between us normies to these artists, who, with their extreme wealth and fame, otherwise seem unrelatable.
Kelly Clarkson’s messy divorce from producer Brandon Blackstock has publicly played out since they first announced their split in the summer of 2020. There were lawsuits for breaches of contract and unpaid commissions, custody battles for their two kids, and contention about who would live in the Montana ranch they shared.
It seemed a sure bet, then, that Clarkson would have a lot to say on Chemistry, her 10th studio album. Similar to fellow Texan Kacey Musgraves’ breakup album, Star-Crossed, Clarkson tells the full story of a relationship climbing to its peak and tumbling to its end. And while every breakup, superstar or not, is a life lesson of resilience, she shows her perseverance not just in the lyrics but also in the sheer power of her range.
Clarkson begins with the heartbreak in “Skip This Part,” an opener that starts slow and easy before building into something as hypnotic and dramatic as the introductory song of any Bond film. In it, she cycles from sharing her own feelings and the public perceptions of her failed relationship.
What then follows is a series of empowering anthems that showcase Clarkson’s powerhouse vocals. “Me” sounds like a more mature version of “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” while “High Road” and “Down To You” are the older sisters to “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” They’re confident but lyrically familiar.
Clarkson doesn’t avoid the comforting sentimentality that anyone experiencing a breakup weaves in and out of. She dives right in with a series of love songs that, if they’d been released separately, would make you think she’d really found The One. “Favorite Kind of High,” her collaboration with David Guetta, is classic pop Kelly, complete with a bridge that shows how high her voice can actually go. It’s catchy and not unexpected, considering it’s cowritten by Carly Rae Jepsen, the queen of bubblegum pop.
But she pivots right back into the grief with “Lighthouse,” the best song on Chemistry. With a simple piano and minimal strings in the background, Clarkson’s voice almost mimics the revolving of a lighthouse’s beacon. One minute her voice is shining over calm waters, the next it’s soaring like a building wave about to crash onto the shore. It’s so powerful that even if you haven’t been in a relationship in a while, it’ll take you back to the uneasiness and restlessness you felt when you knew it was going to end.
The Burleson native appears to honor her roots with the western-themed “Red Flag Collector,” complete with a bridge that includes mariachi horns and saloon-style keys. It’s a seamless transition into the appropriately titled “I Hate Love,” which features Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) on banjo and was cowritten with pop prince and fellow Voice judge Nick Jonas.
Surprisingly, Clarkson closes with the reggae-themed “That’s Right,” featuring Sheila E. It does feature fun jabs at her ex (“Keep the money, I’ll take freedom”), but ending on such a light note as opposed to an in-your-face power ballad says a lot about her last three years. Clarkson’s finally found closure — and is seemingly at peace with this chapter.
Cover promo photo by Brian Bowen Smith