There are three things in Kelly Clarkson's corner: an infectious hook, sweeping melody and that voice. "Like a finger on a loaded gun," she has stamped pop with her boldly-sweltering, high-flying, high-octane ear worms for 13 years. It only seems like yesterday she was trying to hold her emotions together as the American Idol confetti shower peppered down around her shoulders. Today, so far removed from that now-flailing singing show, she's as vibrantly relevant as she's ever been. You'd think that after such fist-pumping classics as "Since U Been Gone," "Walkaway," "My Life Would Suck Without You" and 2012's "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" that Clarkson would be completely tapped out, anthem-wise. But no, she's just getting started...
Cut to: "Heartbeat Song": otherwise known as 2015's bid as THE song of the year.
It samples the self-empowerment template that works: it's a little bit "Roar" (Katy Perry) melded together with a "Boom Clap" (Charli XCX) sensibility. For most, it would come across as stale, but Clarkson somehow makes the saccharine lyrics far more interesting. Her voice is in its prime; you'd be hard pressed to find a more accomplished singer, and what you think you may know about her voice, she allows for some refreshing surprises. In her catalog, "Hearbeat Song" would fit quite nicely on 2009's All I Ever Wanted, but its assertion in today's radio climate is an assertion that pop doesn't need to be complicated. The track, co-written by Audra Mae (Miranda Lambert's "Little Red Wagon"), Kara Dioguardi (Clarkson's "Walk Away," P!nk's "Sober") and Jason Evigan (Nick Jonas' "Chains," Maroon 5's "It Was Always You"), is endearingly accessible.
Admittedly, its rhythmic chorus is constructed in an almost slickly polished staccato. She breaks the grounded melody with the "up-up-up" chant, an impressively contagious stair-step that hooks the chorus with each slinky verse. "Now, I've got pins and needles on my tongue, anticipating what's to come," she teases at the close of the first verse. Then, the real sugary-sweet dessert envelopes you: the booming chorus isn't quite as tasty as what she's capable of, but it's just as momentous as "Mr. Know It All" (the lead-in to 2011's Stronger) or even "Breakaway" (the title track off her 2004 album). It's pretty exciting that 10 years later, Clarkson hasn't lost that delightful fun and striking-edge that makes her one of pop's finest.