Red alert: A new Kellyoke just dropped. Kelly Clarkson brought the house down Friday (Feb. 25) with a timely cover of Nena’s hit song “99 Red Balloons” for the latest edition of The Kelly Clarkson Show‘s cover series.
Backed as usual by her band Y’all, Clarkson’s vocal versatility shined between both the loud and soft moments in “99 Red Balloons,” at one point belting out a stunning, 8-second long high note. Red and blue lights flashed aggressively behind her and the other musicians, accentuating the song’s rock ‘n’ roll chaos.
Released in 1983 during the Cold War, “99 Red Balloons” has long been interpreted as an anti-war anthem. Set to a distorted, now iconic bass line, the song’s lyrics paint a visceral portrait of violence: “The war machine springs to life/ Opens up one eager eye/ Focusing it on the sky/ When 99 red balloons go by.”
Because of the song’s history, Clarkson’s performance feels pointed. The world is currently watching in horror as the events in Ukraine unfold. Russia began an invasion in the name of a “special military operation” early Thursday (Feb. 24), which has since turned into an all-out assault.
The song, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent 23 weeks on the chart in 1984, was originally sung in German and titled “99 Luftballons.” Nena spoke to Billboard in 2016 about her personal feelings toward the translation, which apparently sounds more like a protest song than the whimsical original does.
“I don’t want to say I never liked it,” she told Billboard at the time. “But I never felt it. I would never have done a translation, since I love the song in German, but we got someone to translate it. Although, Americans always say they prefer the German version.”
Watch Kelly Clarkson soar with her cover of Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” below: