I remember the week My Life Would Suck Without You was released to radio in January of 2009. I was beginning my senior year at Florida State University and I was on a break with my on-and-off again boyfriend at the time. Kelly Clarkson’s big return, as it had been billed, was exactly what I needed to survive. The anger and passion injected into the production and performance felt fresh, but ultimately familiar due to my circumstances. I remember downloading it on iTunes and immediately burning it onto a CD and blasting it in my Jetta as I drove to campus. I remember running to it and singing along at the top of my lungs. WHAT A POP MOMENT.
Kelly Clarkson has always been one of the “pop” ladies to blaze a trail. She was the first person to win a little show called American Idol. Since then she’s forged a rather successful career full of platinum hits and albums. Most importantly, she was one of the first ladies to “speak up” about the misogyny and record-label politics in the music industry; at one point even battling with one of the great label heads, Clive Davis.
I’m going to be real honest with you: I am not a fan. I do respect him [Clive Davis], but I don’t want to barbecue with him. We don’t braid each other’s hair. And despite the rumors, he is nowhere near a father figure.
By the time her third album, My December, materialized, Kelly was a certified pop-star thanks to her infinitely successful sophomore album, Breakaway. Kelly was ready to write, produce and release the music she wanted to create. In an interview Kelly stated:
I’ve sold more than 15 million records worldwide, and still nobody listens to what I have to say. I couldn’t give a crap about being a star. I’ve always just wanted to sing and write.
After My December came and went with more attention paid to the controversy than the music, Kelly felt it was time to return to the studio and craft something lighter. This led to the birth of All I Ever Wanted.
All I Ever Wanted is a return to the pop leaning sounds that she visited with massive success in Breakaway. The production team included Ryan Tedder, Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Howard Benson, Sam Waters and Louis Biancaniello. This record was very on brand with what was being released in 2009 if you compare it to Katy Perry’s Dr. Luke produced debut album One of the Boys. With the production team behind Kelly’s power vocals and lyrical chops, All I Ever Wanted truly shines with many glistening pop songs and some of Kelly’s signature ballads.
The album is very personal and all over the place. All my albums always have been. I don’t know about you, but I get really pissed off when I buy an album and every song’s the same. I’m like, “Man, you just wasted my money. I could’ve just got one song.” Some artists complain about leaking a bit of the album with each song. I’m like, “That’s just forcing you to come out with better music.”
My Life Would Suck Without You would become the first single. After an era as emotionally taxing as the My December era, it must be affirming to have your first single set the record for largest leap on the Billboard Hot 100. The single debuted at number 97 and jumped 96 placed to number 1 on its second week. In September of 2017, deep into the Dr. Luke and Kesha legal battle, Kelly stated that she almost lost millions because her record company wanted her to work with Dr. Luke and even in 2009 Kelly did not want to work with him due to past experiences with the producer (they had worked together on Since U Been Gone). Her record label, RCA Records, “blackmailed” her into working with the producer/songwriter on her 2004 hit Since U Been Gone and again on My Life Would Suck Without You. She claimed the label wouldn’t release her record if she didn’t work with Dr. Luke, which she said she was vehemently opposed to.
Greg Wells and Ryan Tedder are responsible for the massive singles released after MLWSWU. The second single, I Do Not Hook Up, originally written for Katy Perry, was co-written and co-produced with Kara Dioguardi and Greg Wells. Sonically fit for 2009, I Do Not Hook Up was a top-20 hit. Ryan Tedder and Kelly’s partnership was fruitful in that it procuded the third single, Already Gone, but also provided some excellent album tracks, If I Can’t Have You, Impossible and Save You.
Though fruitful, the Tedder/Clarkson partnership faded when Beyoncé released Halo, a song that follows-suit with Already Gone. Eerily similar was the pace, the vocal production and the lyrical structure. Again, Kelly was not afraid of speaking out against a man who seemingly did something she did not feel was honorable:
“Ryan and I met each other at the record label, before he was working with anyone else […] We wrote about six songs together, four or five of them made the album. It was all fine and dandy. I’d never heard of a song called ‘Halo’. Beyoncé’s album came out when my album was already being printed. No-one’s gonna be sittin’ at home, thinking ‘Man, Ryan Tedder gave Beyoncé and Kelly the same track to write to.’ No, they’re just gonna be saying I ripped someone off. I called Ryan and said, ‘I don’t understand. Why would you do that?”
Though the working relationship spoilt, Already Gone was a successful single. The song itself sold over 2-million copies and was a top-15 Billboard Hot 100 single for Kelly.
I truly think this album is a great balance for Kelly. All I Ever Wanted blurs the line of over-produced pop (as asked by her record label) and the grittier music Kelly wanted to produce at that time. Songs like the less-polished fourth single, All I Ever Wanted, are spread throughout the album. Cry, Don’t Let Me Stop You, and Whyyouwannabringmedown are all excellent displays of Kelly’s personality and vocal talents. These grittier songs somehow mesh well when juxtaposed with the poppier radio-friendly songs on the album track list.
The album closes with a truly telling song, If No One Will Listen. Listening to the song after learning the history of My December and the making of All I Ever Wanted, assists in understanding why this song is a very honest and biographical perspective, even though the song was not written by Kelly. Though one could suggest it’s an idol-sounding song, it’s extremely personal. Frankly, I’m surprised the label allowed her to put it on the album considering Kelly has been very forthcoming about her experiences with label executives and their demeaning of her personal beliefs and wants.
After a successful album campaign and worldwide tour, All I Ever Wanted went to sell over a million copies in the US, 1.5 million worldwide. The singles themselves sold over 6-million copies in the US alone. The album succeeded at reminding pop music listeners that Kelly was still a force to be reckoned with, and had much more to offer in regard to her career. Most importantly, I feel like this record was proof to many that standing up for what you believe in does not bring on the end of your career. Kelly wasn’t the first, but is one of the few that felt empowered enough to stand-up against executives, many of who are white men. She also didn’t fold. Sure, she compromised, but she also got what she wanted in doing so. All I Ever Wanted is a strong album from start to finish, an album that turned 10 in March of 2019 and still remains an engaging listen ten years later.