In the movie Dangerous Liaisons, the John Malkovich character tells the story of a man who had an affair with an inappropriate woman. When the man would be questioned about it, he would simply reply “It’s beyond my control.” He said this so often, in fact, that he began to be comically and derisively linked to the phrase. It turned the man into a caricature.
I have a similarly odd imprimatur. Specifically, that of a Kelly-holic. The “Kelly” being the original American Idol, one Kelly Brianne Clarkson of Burleson, Texas.
On one level, it’s bang on and I can’t deny it (although this column is devoted to doing that very thing). I’m a huge fan of her voice. I sincerely believe that she possesses the finest, most versatile pop instrument of our generation. Yes, I do think she’s a better, more complete singer than Mariah or Adele or Sam Smith.
But upon the occasion of Kelly releasing a new single, a number of friends have said things to me that made me wonder if I should dial back on the public worship, one even asking if I felt like a proud father. People regularly tell me that when they hear Kelly Clarkson on the radio, they automatically think of me.
Is it wrong that that makes me cringe?
As a middle-aged man, such fan-girling—or at least the perception of it—seems distinctly undignified and arrested in its development, not to mention decidedly unmanly. I’m a serious-minded, professional man, for Christ’s sake. Respect my authoriTA!
Most of my friends would be surprised, I think, to discover that there are big swaths of all of KC’s studio albums that I don’t particularly like and never listen to. There have been times she’s come through town and I have not bought a ticket to go see her. I wish she would write less of her own music. I know that sounds counterintuitive. But with the exception of the quite brilliant “Because of You,” she is not a great lyricist. And to the snarkiest of you out there, yes, I agree she should lose some weight and take her stylist out behind her barn (of course Kelly has a barn) and shoot her.
I swear I’m not as obsessed as I appear on social media. I used to know people who spent thousands and thousands of dollars flying to London to see Kylie Minogue three nights in a row (which might be the gayest sentence I’ve ever written, despite a 20-year career in gay journalism). I have spent no more than $300 on all things Clarkson across her 12-year career (6 studio albums at 15 bucks + 3 concert tickets at 70 bucks).
For the record, I don’t really care much about her personal life, though of course I’m glad that someone I find talented seems to be happy. As it is for me with all celebrities, I have no real interest in meeting her. Probably roughly the same she would have in meeting me.
I don’t identify with her life too much as it comes through in themes in her music, like I do with Joni Mitchell, for example. I just really, really love her voice, in the way I love the way Gore Vidal writes or Roger Federer hits a slice backhand. I’ve always been a fan of talent, that and underdog stories.
In elementary and middle school, I was obsessed with John F. Kennedy, to the degree that kids would make fun of me for it. As a kid growing up and playing junior tennis in Florida, I was similarly preoccupied with Chris Evert. I loved the story of this little girl from my state defying odds and becoming an all-time great. Later it was Jennifer Capriati, whose redemption from despair and dissolution is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest sports comeback stories of all time.
She’s the Effie Melody White of tennis, reclaiming her birthright long after all of us had filed her away as a cautionary tale. (Okay, that’s the gayest sentence I’ve ever written.)
But with the advent of social media, all of our tastes are right out there for everyone to see. I also think it’s human nature to want to want to narrow someone down to an easily digestible caricature. So as a result, I’m the Kelly guy. Oy.
I suppose it could be worse. I could be known for something really onerous or silly, like Hello Kitty, or collecting Christmas trees, or Nickeback. I could be a part of that very weird American tradition of being absolutely obsessed with a sports team in a sport I don’t play for a city I don’t live in or college I didn’t attend. (Huh?)
So maybe the fact that I’m too old to be fan-girl-for-Clarkson should be the very reason I don’t care what anyone thinks and just soak in the dulcet tones.
Yeah, that’s my hearbeat song. And I’m gonna sing it.