Given their ubiquitous presence in the public eye, celebrities often end up being role models without even knowing it. Sometimes without understanding the impact they have on their fans, celebrities’ actions unduly influence us as we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of young adulthood. This can be both good and bad. In the case of Kelly Clarkson, it’s pretty good.
Kelly Clarkson has been a bona-fide superstar since first taking the stage on American Idol 10 years ago. She has, unquestionably, one of the strongest fan bases in the country, and for good reason. She’s talented, down-to-earth, and engaging. Her support base has been getting increasing attention for not only its dedication, but also its diversity. She has fans of all ages and backgrounds, and even The New York Times recently explored why – she’s very real. As the Times article states, she doesn’t come out of the ‘relationship factory’ like many other pop stars, whose lives – including their romantic relationships and friendships – seem dictated and predicted by handlers and promoters.
But she still catches flak. She recently performed on the Today show, and host Matt Lauer made sure to point out that a reviewer recently said “Guys, if you go out with a girl who says she loves Kelly Clarkson, run away fast!” When Kelly laughs it off and says gamely, “Well, I haven’t had a boyfriend in a while,” Matt follows it up with: “Well, maybe it’s these songs.”
Take a look (and watch through the whole way to see her stellar performance!):
I think the song is great – her voice is as stellar as always, the melodies are catchy, and the message – if you don’t understand me, then I’ll happily find someone who does – hardly seems like a reason for men and boys to run for the hills. The message itself isn’t even particularly gendered. While the name of the song is “Mr. Know-it-All,” the advice is actually pretty universal and reminds us that everyone deserves to be with someone who truly understands them. Lauer’s reaction serves to underscore the old-school cultural message that girls shouldn’t be assertive in their relationships, and only fosters passivity – you’d better not tell a guy that he doesn’t understand you, and you’d better not express your unhappiness or frustrations – it’s why Kelly Clarkson doesn’t have a boyfriend!
The tension between that message and the reality of the frustrations that it causes (swallowing your emotional responses rarely ends well) is why Kelly’s fan base is so strong. Emotional expression in relationships is essential, being able to articulate how you feel in a relationship is essential. Kelly has uniquely firmly taken the reins to send the message – in the public eye – that she is the one in control of her healthy relationships.
This, most importantly, includes a healthy relationship with herself. Kelly has, like many pop stars, been criticized about everything from haircuts and hair colors to her outfits, to her weight – most definitely her weight. She has handled this deftly, as well, and she has negotiated the media’s ‘opinions’ with aplomb.
This is perhaps what makes Kelly stand out most from her pop peers – she doesn’t shy away from it, but she works hard to not let the media circus define her and force upon her the unhealthy body image or unhealthy behavior changes that seem to plague some of her more manufactured peers who don’t have a history of defining themselves for themselves. This is more important than simply denying that the media message has an impact. Courtney Martin, author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, who was also quoted in the original Times article, puts it this way:
I think the real missing narrative in pop culture is not necessarily a girl who accepts her body 100% with no anxiety, because that’s just not realistic for any of us in this culture, at this time, but a girl who negotiates her relationship with her body in an authentic, relatively healthy way.
I think Kelly fills that narrative quite nicely.