Piece By Piece: Kelly Clarkson’s 10 Best Singles, Ranked
Life would suck without Kelly Clarkson.
More than fifteen years into the game, she has given pop music some of the best breakup anthems and tear-soaked ballads of all time. She walked away the inaugural American Idol champion in 2002 (a minor footnote in her legacy) and has stormed the Billboard charts with a flurry of hits, including “Since U Been Gone” and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).”
Free from the watchful eye of her former record label and now happily signed to Atlantic, she readies her most mature and creative album to-date. Meaning of Life (out October 27) is already sampled by the triumphant “Love So Soft” and the stunning “Move You,” both indications that Clarkson is not messing around.
Below, we Clarkson’s ten best hit singles, from her first album Thankful to 2015’s Piece by Piece.
10. “Catch My Breath,” Greatest Hits - Chapter One
When Clarkson hit ten years since her teary-eyed Idol win, she commemorated the anniversary with this here-comes-my-30s bop. She shadowboxes herself and plays with musical styles, melting together her classic empowerment structure with EDM-lite (which has been the trend for a number of years). As one of three official singles, “Catch My Breath” bridged the past and present and pushed her victoriously into the future, becoming a moderate hit at radio.
9. “Underneath the Tree,” Wrapped in Red
In 2013, Clarkson made a bid for holiday standard—we're looking at you, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”—with this jolly, tinseled anthem. From the saxophone solo and the general throwback texture, the track, an essential on her first holiday record, appeals to the widest commercial demo without sacrificing her special (vocal) sauce. “You’re all I need underneath the tree tonight,” she tenderly sings to a lover.
8. “Cry,” All I Ever Wanted
“Cry” was never officially released as a single in the states (only in Australia and Germany), but the raw urgency hangs in the air like a heavy morning fog. You are haunted by both her vocal and the ghosts of the past traipsing through her dreams. “Is this as hard as it gets?” she demands of herself, turning to the void looming around her.
7. “Already Gone,” All I Ever Wanted
Comparisons to Beyonce’s “Halo” (and very public controversy) aside, Clarkson wields her vulnerability tightly wound around trembling violin and a quaking drum kit. “Remember all the things we wanted? Now, all our memories are haunted,” she aches on final loop of the hook, as most of the production elements fall away. When she really digs into a ballad, she’s selling her last lifeline.
6. “The Trouble With Love Is,” Thankful
Clarkson is only now returning to her soul roots with “Love So Soft,” but we can't forget that the smooth soul-pop hybrid is her sweet spot—and exactly what won her the Idol title. Smoldering soft and slow, “Trouble” inches along at just the right pace, and Clarkson delivers one of her sexiest vocals ever.
5. “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” Stronger
Stronger got a second wind with the blockbuster success of the its track. On the heels of the mildly-received “Mr. Know It All,” “Stronger” gave Clarkson one of the biggest hits of her career (and it's still in heavy totation). “It doesn’t mean it’s over just because I’m gone,” she wails, a flippant declaration about her career and a past flame.
4. “Because of You,” Breakaway
Everyone remembers that dazzling red dress (if you don't, look it up). Surrounding a tortured, abusive relationship, Clarkson is backed by piano and driving strings: mirroring her troubled past and journey into light. “Because of you, I find it hard to trust, not only me but everyone around me,” she howls. Among her finest vocal performances, you begin to relive the exact devastation she suffered.
3. “Since U Been Gone,” Breakaway
There are few choruses as irresistible as this ferocious mid-'00s kiss-off. The Breakup Anthem to End All Breakup Anthems continues to ring out across every karaoke bar in the world to this day. “Shut your mouth / I just can’t take it again and again and again and again,” she wails over thick guitar and an avalanche of drums. “I get what I want,” she reminds her ex. We’re so moving on, too, KC.
2. “Piece by Piece” (Idol version), Piece by Piece Remixed
Clarkson is known to reach into her skeleton closet for her deepest and most painful memories. Here, she details her father walking out of her family when she was just a little girl. The piano ballad remake (appearing as a heavily-produced club jam on the album) stormed the iTunes singles chart. The new version struck an emotional chord when she appeared on Idol’s farewell, pre-reboot season and nearly broke down in tears.
1. “Sober,” My December
If there is just one song to highlight both Clarkson’s songwriting and voice, it is this My December release. While the push to radio fizzled gloriously, it doesn’t erase the song’s enduring impact. Clarkson draws comparisons between staying “sober” and picking the toxic people out of her life. Decorated with acoustic guitar, strings and chilling vocal layers, the composition is rich but shimmers with heartbreak.
Caught in a Moment Like This: