Something has recently caught my eye and drawn me back to opining here on The Middle Lane:
First of all, I really like Kelly Clarkson. Years ago her voice had me at the first few bars. And no, I don’t watch American Idol, ever. There’s just something in her voice that hits my heart. Like Dolly Parton’s voice, or Bill Withers’. Then there’s the fact that she’s not a waif (love!) and has a backbone to boot (love more!) She’s a gal who wears her heart on her sleeve and is just a strong, beautiful woman in my book. Yes, the songs are ultra-pop and that’s not usually what I listen to, but I don’t care, I like Kelly Clarkson.
So a few years back this otherwise-occupied mom heard little bits in the news about a tiff going on between Kelly and Clive Davis. (Hmmn.) I didn’t know Clive had anything to do with Kelly. In my mind she permeated culture because of the TV-show-that-shall-remain-nameless, and mostly because of her fabulous spirit and voice. In my mind, Clive just got on the train. But there was acrimony. I heard some of his $0.02, and I heard some of her $0.02. I thought Kelly’s was funny. And her POV was not terribly mean-spirited. Clive’s was. (Hmmn…what is a grown, wealthy man doing attacking a spirited young gal trying to make her way through this colossally difficult, anti-strong-woman-music-business - especially a young woman from whom he has obviously profited?) That rang some bells in my head. Even though I read an earlier auto-biography of his and was lured into thinking he was important.
We have recently witnessed another gorgeous, important singer lose her life: Whitney Houston was another Clive “prodigy”. Clive was in the news constantly at the time of the tragedy. They credited him for her career. But we who wanted to know more, read articles and interviews from her family, from her close acquaintances about how unhappy she was with the edifice of “Whitney”. It was an edifice built by Clive and Co. She didn’t write her songs. She never animated the tomboy from New Jersey who longed to be expressed. I wonder if she ever wanted to write her songs? I’m willing to bet she (like Kelly) did. And would Whitney have felt as agonized by the pop persona she projected if she had had a VOICE in the writing? Would she have felt as plagued by in-authenticity if she had an avenue to write and manifest her truths? (By the way, it’s the writers that make the money in the end… would she have had her hand out for money from Arista in her struggling days if she had written some songs on those multi-platinum albums that still today make a tidy profit?) Would she have felt such need to rebel against the squeaky-clean image imposed by cross-format, ultra-pop-radio tunes likely chosen by Clive, if she had more control in her career and personal expression? And what would Clive have done if Whitney wanted to write her truths? Would he have battled and slandered her, too? What would have happened in the 80’s if Whitney pulled a Kelly? I bet a career would have been tidily snuffed.
In my young times of the music business I read books by/about these monolithic ‘Hit Men’. I was urged to be quiet about things. One never bit the hand that feeds. Especially in the music business, a most corrupt business where artists own little-to-none of their intellectual property, there has been the underlying threat of being black-listed and isolated for fear of speaking up. For women more shame. Kelly Clarkson’s outspokenness would have meant career death a decade or two ago. I am now nearly forty-five and I see a female artist speaking up. I was worried some years ago when I saw the first rounds of Clive’s verbal slander in an attempt to bury Kelly. But these are different times. Kelly has a 3M+ fanbase at the other end of an iPhone, tweeting and posting and most importantly, being honest and naming a bully. She loves her fans. And they are with her. Who is going to care about Clive’s mean-spirited opinions in a “book”? Who’s going to read his book and vote for Clive in hating an ebullient young gal trying to make her way?! I think Kelly’s 3M+ Twitter fans and 7M+ Facebook fans are going to be a whole lot more supportive.
This just would not have happened in the 80’s or 90’s - there was no outlet for immediate, personal connection from artist to fans. This is a mind-blowing, positive aspect of social media and Kelly is a champ in rejecting an antediluvian, constricting self-proclaimed edict by an older man. In other words: no more bullies allowed. We want our artists to live more authentic, happier, more profitable lives. Longer, healthier lives. On the positive side of the digital coin, artists can shoot straight from the hip into a web of fans, building support or exposing injustice. These are different times, so attention HIT MEN: the trains you ride now have a hurricane-force VOICE.