Ranked: Kelly Clarkson’s “chemistry,” so far

Vincent Anthony
8 Min Read

“chemistry,” ranked:

Kelly Clarkson’s team promoted her upcoming “chemistry” album, due June 23rd, week after week by releasing new singles and remixes each Friday. The strategy, which is not a new one by any means, has its pluses and minuses. For fans, it provided new content to explore and a full week to listen to just the latest song as a standalone; however, this also disrupts the experience of listening to the album as a cohesive body of work. It also muddles the landscape, making it confusing as to which song all the attention should be on, ruining the chance of any one song becoming a hit.

Perhaps Clarkson’s veteran status as a singer and the anticipated ageism of the music industry informed the label’s choice to not worry about scoring a hit single. However, with her huge talk show platform and status as a beloved woman in entertainment, it was a miscalculation. Putting all the weight of the promotional machine behind one song, the right song, could have made things go differently. But which song? Well, from what we have so far, I’ve ranked the songs from least to the best choice, so far.

5. “mine”

It seems that Team Kelly Clarkson and her label thought “mine” to be the best song to lead off the album; unfortunately, they thought wrong. Released as a double single with “me” in April, it was pushed with more force than its counterpart and subsequent releases, but it is just not that interesting. Of the two, it’s more catchy, sure, but its unconventional structure and somewhat wordy lyrics would have been better left as an album track. It is a beautiful track and an insightful window into the singer’s heart and mind that shows Clarkson is still willing to take some creative risks. On “mine,” they’re a bit too risky – and not the innovative sort of risks that translate into a hit.

4. “favorite kind of high”

Cascading guitar licks, thumping bass, pounding percussion, and rousing runs— these are the elements that compose a Kelly Clarkson uptempo. Her latest, “favorite kind of high,” is not a new experiment. The third single from “chemistry” follows a pair of emotive ballads (“me” and “mine”) and serves to reenergize the era. On it, she electrifyingly belts out a bop about that feeling when the chemistry is right. Though the song’s familiar production doesn’t forge any new ground (it’s reminiscent of her own hits, P!nk, and Maroon 5), the infectiously fervid vocals from a newly-liberated Clarkson make it soar. The David Guetta remix, released the following week, differentiates the song within Clarkson’s discography, but sounds like it belongs in Kelly Rowland’s.

3. “red flag collector”

Ever-proud Texan Kelly Clarkson takes us through the Wild Wild West en route to post-divorce “high road livin'” on the fifth pre-release offering from “chemistry.” Of all the songs released so far, “red flag collector” by far has the most sting. Where “i hate love” was bittersweet, “red flag collector” is triumphantly bitter. Sprinkled with just enough “yeehaw”-inducing musical elements, the song serves rodeo realness. Cowgirl Clarkson revels in the fact that she ran her ex off their Montana ranch, changing its name, and her own. But at least she let him have the towels.

2. “me”

Kelly Clarkson’s “me” arrives after a tumultuous few years for the singer, who separated from her ex-husband, Brandon Blackstock, in 2020. It seems as though the song is the third installment in a trilogy preempted by two similarly introspective singles, her most recent top 10 hit, 2015’s “Piece By Piece,” the sequel to 2004’s “Because of You.”

On “me,” Clarkson sings, “Don’t need somebody to pick these pieces up/ I put together my broken/ Let go of the pain I’vе been holdin’/ Don’t need to need somebody/ When I got me.” It’s as though she’s alluding to both of those songs. She’s “letting go of the pain” she sings about in “Because of You.” Meanwhile, not needing “somebody to pick these pieces up” is an apparent reference to “Piece by Piece.” The latest installment is a 180 from the theme and message of its predecessors. On the first, she sounds like a damsel in distress, and on the second, she sounds swept away. With the third and perhaps final, she is finally whole.

As the track crescendos, leveling up its intensity with musical and vocal layers, its message becomes more and more compelling. Singing with soulful conviction, it’s almost as if Clarkson is trying to persuade herself. Her vocals are truly better than ever – just listen to those high notes in the climax. Building from suppressed sadness at its start, to soaring strength in the end. Or, note the slight change of lyric for the final chorus: “Let go of the pain your hand I’ve been holdin’” – shedding the pain and dependency, makes the song, and the artist, stronger.

1. “i hate love”

“Opposites attract” is an old cliché, but it’s true… contradictions and contrasts are what make life more interesting. On Kelly Clarkson’s latest instant-grat track, that adage holds true thanks to her unexpected collaboration with Steve Martin and the oxymoron of its title: “i hate love.”

The seemingly odd pairing works out: Clarkson handles the comedy, delivering several sarcastic, bitingly bitter lyrics, even name-checking featured artist Martin (an accomplished musician who has surprisingly won more GRAMMYs than Clarkson) who provides the track’s musical centerpiece. Martin happily plucks on his banjo atop thumping bass and pop synths while Clarkson sweetly expresses her hate for love.

Out of all the singles and teasers Clarkson has released from “chemistry,” due June 23rd, “i hate love” is the freshest and most interesting. Clarkson’s unorthodox idea to include Martin on the banjo elevates what would’ve been a great but otherwise uninventive broken-hearted-pop song. With her endearingly unbothered-yet-broken vocals, sarcastic-yet-sad lyrics, and genre-straddling musical choices, Clarkson manages to deliver a track that successfully embodies the paradox of its title. You won’t hate that you love it.’

Stream “chemistry” (so far), watch the live performances, or pre-order the album.

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Vincent is the founder of the magazine and has had a strong passion for popular music since, well, 1997! If it's not obvious, his favorite artists include Destiny's Child, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, P!nk, and many more. Vincent lives in New York, where he is a high school English teacher, and currently he is pursuing a Master's in Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.