Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)

Stronger by krin.jpg

Date Aired
April 17th, 2012
Running Time
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Todd plays "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" on his piano.

A pop song review

Todd: Today, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you a rare spectacle—a reality show star selling out.

Video for "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)"
Kelly Clarkson: You know the bed feels warmer...

Todd (VO): To explain how anyone from reality TV has any ideals to sell out to begin with, I'm gonna need to give you another recent history lesson in pop music. You see, in the [clips of Spice Girls - "Say You'll Be There"...] late 90s and early 2000s, we had a certain understanding of what pop starlets were. [Mandy Moore - "Candy"] They were very hot and marketed as sex symbols, made entirely synthetic music that was either sexy dance jams or coo-cooing love songs, [Britney Spears - "Sometimes"] and usually had little-to-no depth in their lyrics. Basically they were like real-life versions of [picture of...] Bratz dolls, and were made from the same materials. But somewhere in the middle of that decade...

Todd: ...a different kind of pop star took over.

Clips of Nelly Furtado - "I'm Like a Bird"...
Nelly Furtado: I'm like a bird...

Todd (VO): The kind who decided that being a professionally groomed and marketed studio act didn't mean [Shakira - "Underneath Your Clothes"] sacrificing their sincerity or losing a personal connection to their music. ["Complicated" by...] Now these were acts like Avril Lavigne, ["Don't Let Me Get Me" by...] Pink, ["Everywhere" by...] Michelle Branch, ["Pieces of Me" by...] Ashlee Simpson, [and "Beautiful" by...] even Christina Aguilera, to some extent.

Christina Aguilera: No matter what they say...

Todd: And one of the most prominent figures of that subgenre was American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson.

Clip of "A Moment Like This"
Kelly: A moment like this

Todd (VO): Now for the first short phase of her career, she had been dismissed as a [footage of winning performance on American Idol] vocally talented but personality-free vehicle for the vapid drivel that American Idol called music.

Todd: But then, "Since U Been Gone" hit.

Performance at 2005 MTV VMAs
Kelly: Since you been gone

Todd (VO): And all of the sudden, average pop fans and high-brow music critics alike were enchanted by the story of how this underperforming reality show winner shook off her handlers and took control of her own career and made the music she wanted to make. [Blender cover against "Because of You"] And for a while, Kelly Clarkson was someone people took very seriously, [video of same] especially when she announced that her next album would be even more personal, not to mention darker, and wouldn't use any professional songwriters. It was a controversial move that brought her [web page reading: "Clive Davis snubs Kelly Clarkson"] in conflict with her record head, who thought people wouldn't like it.

Video for "Walk Away"
Kelly: I'm looking for attention

Todd (VO): Keep in mind that Kelly's appeal, at that point, was that she was the girl next door—cute but not a supermodel, relatable.

Todd: It definitely wasn't this.

Video for "Never Again"
Kelly: I hope the ring you gave to her turns her finger green
I hope when your in bed with her, you think of me
Does it hurt

Todd (VO): That first single was so bitter and abrasive, it made [single covers of...] "You Oughta Know" sound like "You Light Up My Life." And the public didn't seem to care for it either. The album sold poorly and Kelly ended up [Time webpage: Kelly Clarkson's Solo Misstep] cancelling a major tour and firing her manager in the aftermath. *sigh*

Todd: I guess there just isn't a market for a pop star who wasn't supermodel-hot or rail-thin making an album full of bitter breakup songs. [pause] Oh, wait!

Cover of Rolling Stone featuring Adele, with "Rolling in the Deep" playing behind it.
Video for "Don't Waste Your Time"
Kelly: Don't waste your time...

Todd (VO): Yeah, that album failed not because it was too angry, but because it wasn't very good. For all the talk about "big leap forward," the album ended up basically sounding like a less catchy version of the album that came before it, and that was pretty much the end of Kelly Clarkson's career as someone who makes serious artistic statements.

Todd: Now that's not to say that she's been unsuccessful since then.

Clip of "My Life Would Suck Without You"

Todd (VO): Far from it—she's released two more albums and had a very respectable number of hits, including two #1 singles on the Hot 100 and another one on the country charts. She's been plenty successful;...

Todd: ...what she hasn't been is relevant or interesting. Never less so on this last single, [cover of...] "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)"—a title which, right off the bat, tells you everything you need to know about it, pretty much. Goes well with what I imagine are other songs on the album like "In Yourself (Believe)" or "Give Up (Don't)."

Kelly: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone
What doesn't kill you makes a fighter

Todd: Yep. You know, I really did like Kelly Clarkson at one point, but I've listened several times to this four-chord borefest—[bar of the "Four Chord Song"] four chords, know them, love them, live them...

Todd (VO): ...and I just can't shake the impression that Kelly Clarkson just isn't trying anymore. This song hit #1 and that...baffles me because there's absolutely nothing memorable about it.

Todd: She's still got a great voice, but I'm embarrassed for her that she's been reduced to something this soulless.

Todd (VO): Let me try and explain. So in case the title didn't give it away, apparently Kelly has been dumped...

Todd: ...again,...

Todd (VO): ...but she's okay, because you know what always makes me feel better after a breakup?

Todd: Cliches. Lots of them.

Kelly: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone
Just me, myself and I

Todd: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Nice guys finish last. Knowledge is power. Winners don't use drugs. My God, the pain of being dumped is already fading.

Kelly: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger

Todd (VO): Right, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, or maybe...

Todd: ...what doesn't kill you is just killing you slowly. I first read that line on the Internet...ten years ago. The rebuttal to the cliche is itself now a cliche. That's how cliche it is.

Kelly: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller

Todd: All right, I can't talk about this song without talking about that other breakup song she did.

Clip of "Since U Been Gone"
Kelly: Since U been gone

Todd: The fact is that Kelly Clarkson is gonna be haunted by "Since U Been Gone" for the rest of her life.

Todd (VO): Way too many of her songs over the past few years have either sounded like "Since U Been Gone" or been about the same thing as "Since U Been Gone."

Intercut with "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)"
Kelly: You know I dream in color
And do the things I want

Todd: I...I've heard this.

Kelly: I get what I want...

Todd (VO): I've heard it over and over again because this is, like, the fifth version of "I Will Survive" that she's recorded. Hell, I don't have to think back very hard because [single cover of...] "Mr. Know It All," the single she released...

Todd: ...right before this one, was exactly like this.

Clip for "Mr. Know It All"
Kelly: Mr. Know It All
Well ya think you know it all
But ya don't know a thing at all
Ain't it, ain't it something y'all
Mr. Bring Me Down
Well ya, ya like to bring me down

Todd (VO): Stunning. Here, let me write that next verse for you.

Todd: [playing song and singing]
Mr. Pick Your Nose
Well ya like to pick your nose
Yeah ya always pick your nose
With your fingers up your nose

Kelly: ...think that I'd come back

Todd (VO): Look, I love "Since U Been Gone," but artistically, Kelly Clarkson is just treading water. This would be the equivalent if [clip of "Billie Jean"] Michael Jackson released two or three songs where he said that the kid was not his son. 1—it gets old; 2—you'd stop believing him!

Todd: And that's the main reason why this is a disappointment, it's just not very credible.

Todd (VO): I mean, she tries so hard to prove that she's totally okay with not being with this guy, that she winds up way too far on the other end of the spectrum because she indicates absolutely no sorrow about this. I mean, she's not sad that she got dumped,...

Todd: ...she's not sad that she wasted her time with him in the first place.

Kelly: You know the bed feels warmer
Sleeping here alone

Todd: [spitting out laughter] Right.

Todd (VO): It just doesn't feel real. I mean, as far as breakup songs go, it pales horribly in comparison to [clip of "Rolling in the Deep"] Adele's blockbuster hits, and it's also worse than [clip of "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" Beyonce's string of man-bashing singles, where she's human enough to at least feel angry. More importantly,...

Todd:'s much worse than "Since U Been Gone."

Kelly: How come I'd never hear you say
I just wanna be with you

Todd (VO): In that one, she may have decided she doesn't need this guy and she's better off without him, but that doesn't mean she's not irritated with this guy or disappointed that things didn't work out. But in "Stronger," there's absolutely no acknowledgement that she had anything invested in the relationship.

Kelly: They told you I was moving on

Todd: For all I could tell, she started dating this guy specifically to get dumped, solely to prove that she would be totally okay after it happened.

Kelly: Stronger...

Todd (VO): But the bigger problem is that if she doesn't have any investment in the relationship, then there's no triumph, there's no arc. The whole idea behind [pictures of Nietzche quote, mouse pushing up on trap] "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" is that you take your pain and you learn to withstand it and become tougher as a result. But if the breakup didn't hurt you at all,...

Todd: ...then you overcame nothing. Your success doesn't matter if you didn't struggle with anything. No one cares, trust me.

Cut to Todd sitting on bed talking on phone

Todd: Hey Hope, guess what. I've been clean and drug-free now for a hundred days!

JesuOtaku: Hey, that's a...wait, w- wait. You had a drug problem?

Todd: Nope!

JesuOtaku just looks around as if to say, "what?"

Back at piano...

Todd (VO): Like...any actual details of the relationship are vague and they don't seem to make much sense.

Kelly: What doesn't kill you makes a fighter

Todd (VO): She describes a relationship entirely in terms of fight metaphors, which, uh...

Kelly: You didn't think that I'd come back
I'd come back swinging

Todd (VO): ...which doesn't strike me as a very healthy attitude. It's a lot like [clip of performance of...] Pat Benatar's "Hit Me with Your Best Shot," but instead of being silly and cute, it was meant to be taken dead seriously.

Todd: It's like the song where I couldn't remember if they were trying to write another "Since U Been Gone" or a new [clip of Survivor's...] "Eye of the Tiger."

Survivor:'s the thrill of the fight.

Todd: Not only that, it makes her account of the guy in this situation...less believable.

Clip of "Mr. Know It All"

Todd (VO): Now in "Mr. Know It All," the lyrics are kind of clumsy, but at the very least, you get details about the variety of dick this guy is.

Kelly: You ain't got the right to tell me
When and where to go...

Todd (VO): He's the kind of douchebag who puts people down to feel better about himself; he's controlling and arrogant. I get that, that at least sounds like a real person who existed.

Todd: But in "Stronger," the way she describes the guy, he sounds almost cartoonishly evil.

Kelly: You think you got the best of me
Think you've had the last laugh
You try to break me, but you see

Todd: [evil tone with laugh] I broke up with her, and now she's all heartbroken and shit. [evil laugh] What?

Kelly: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger

Todd (VO): She's totally okay because she's strong and independent?

Todd: [shaking fist] No! I'll get you next time, Kelly Clarkson!

Todd (VO): Seriously, who is this guy you dated? Newman? Why were you with this guy at all? And isn't it a little hypocritical to call this guy vindictive...

Todd: ...and then go on to brag to him about how great it is that he's gone? I mean, she goes on and on about how she does what she wants.

Kelly: Do the things I want

Todd (VO): She can go wherever she chooses, she can eat her dinner in a fancy restaurant, yada, yada.

Kelly: You heard that I was starting over with someone new

Todd (VO): Yeah, yeah, you got a new guy now, so that's another reason things are totally awesome now.

Todd: That's great. [pause] Wait a minute!

Todd (VO): What happened to not being lonely when you're alone?

Kelly: Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone

Todd (VO): I thought you were sleeping alone. Did I imagine that?

Todd: You just made this guy up, didn't you? Let me guess, does he live in Canada? Not around much, I'm guessing?

Todd (VO): Yeah, I don't remotely believe for a second that this song was inspired by anything other than the fact that self-empowerment anthems sell pretty well, especially for Kelly Clarkson. But if I were to believe that an actual person was saying these things, I'd have to include that they were in some deep denial because no one actually thinks like this. I...I think that's all I have to say about this one.

Todd: It's unoriginal, it's unconvincing, it's my least favorite Kelly Clarkson song in a while, and it's just... [phone rings] who is this?

The Nostalgia Chick: [tears streaming down face] Hey, Todd. I...I'm sorry to call you for, like, the 60th time today, but are you sure you don't wanna, like, rewatch some, I don't know, like, Meg Ryan thing? Like French Kiss, we haven't watched French Kiss. I have not tied you down and made you watch French Kiss. You wanna do that now, right?

Todd: Yeah...answer's still no. [The Chick is trying to hold back her tears] You know, do I put this gently? I know you think you need me, that if you can't have me, life is a worthless, unceasing torture... [doorbell rings] Oh, pizza's here, gotta go. [Hangs up and walks out]

Nostalgia Chick: [crying] Well, you know what? Fine! I don't need you! What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and you made me stronger by your unceasing rejection! Who's got two thumbs and enjoys all the loneliness?! Me! That's who! You know what?! This air right here that you could be standing in, being warm and kissing and touching me right now?! It feels great! [Cries and runs out]

Todd comes back whistling with pizza and picks up phone

Todd: Hello? Still there? Hello? [Shrugs it off and takes a slice] Pizza makes me stronger.

Closing tag song: Daft Punk - "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger"

"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" is owned by RCA
This video is owned by me

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