On a rainy night this past September, Kelly Clarkson took the stage at New York’s elegant Rainbow Room to perform a set from her new album, Meaning of Life. Wearing a sparkly gold gown, her smile Texas-wide, Clarkson positively glowed, for good reason: Having completed her seven-album deal with RCA (a contract she has called an “arranged marriage”), she had signed with Atlantic Records and finally made “the album I’ve always wanted to make,” says Clarkson. “You can hear the difference in how I sing.”
The three-time Grammy winner, 35, has never shied away from speaking her mind, whether in her propulsive pop anthems or on her filter-free Twitter feed, and she’ll bring that spirit to The Voice as a coach next season. But Meaning of Life, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, becoming Clarkson’s eighth in that chart’s top 10, is her most personal statement yet. With big horns and brassy vocals that call to mind golden-era Aretha Franklin, Clarkson tackles heartache (“I Don’t Think About You”), sexual intimacy (“Heat”) and trolls (“Go High” -- named for the key line in Michelle Obama’s 2016 Democratic National Convention speech -- which attracted a fan letter from the former FLOTUS herself).