Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hey, Maybe Don't Call Kelly Clarkson Hysterical

Celebrity feuds are as common as days that end in Y. But when they involve a celebrity I admire, I'm prone to pay more attention. This time it's Kelly Clarkson and Clive Davis.

Have I mentioned that I love Kelly Clarkson? I don't think I have, but it's true. I find her a genuine, beautiful breath of fresh air in the world of pop stars. And even if she actively scorns a feminist label and at one point mentioned liking Ron Paul (she learned!) I feel like she's overall a positive force in the music world. She's always come across to me as very "what you see is what you get" and her social media presence isn't some polished, PR approved, sterilized nightmare. It's authentically her--for better or worse.

So I found it really interesting when Clarkson blogged yesterday about Clive Davis attacking her in his book.

She wrote:
First, he says I burst into "hysterical sobbing" in his office when he demanded Since You Been Gone be on my album. Not true at all. His stories and songs are mixed up. I did want more guitars added to the original demo and Clive did not. Max, Luke and I still fought for the bigger sound and we prevailed and I couldn't be more proud of the life of that song. I resent him dampening that song in any way.
But, yes, I did cry in his office once. I cried after I played him a song I had written about my life called "Because Of You." I cried because he hated it and told me verbatim that I was a "sh*tty writer who should be grateful for the gifts that he bestows upon me." He continued on about how the song didn't rhyme and how I should just shut up and sing. This was devastating coming from a man who I, as a young girl, considered a musical hero and was so honored to work with.
 [Emphasis mine]

As my friend and occasional guest blogger Myranda (a bigger Clarkson fan than myself) pointed out to me, the Clarkson/Davis feud is well documented, especially in regards to her "My December" album. So the fact that Davis wrote about her isn't surprising. But Davis' statement that Clarkson was behaving "hysterically" certainly feels like it has a hint of sexism to it. And while I haven't read his book, it does appear that he's invoking the whole, "This woman was just so emotional!" imagery and recasting their disagreements in a light which portrays himself as the logical/business oriented one. I keep imagining him being one of those guys who tells his dude friends that every woman who has an opinion contrary to his is a "crazy bitch."

I mean, hysterical is just one of those words that I've cut from my vocab and I'd really love it if the world would follow suit. If you don't know why, look up its etymology. Or just think about the word hysterectomy--you probably see where that's going.

Now I know that every story has two sides, and somewhere in the middle is the truth. But I keep thinking about the power dynamic involved here, with him being--well--Clive Davis, someone who she admits was a "musical hero" and she was someone still relatively new to the music industry at that point and a young woman from Texas. It just seems that Davis' depiction of his interactions with her in his book are at least somewhat mischaracterized. He is, of course, viewing it through his own lens. And keep in mind that Clarkson doesn't even refute the fact that she did get emotional, but she explains how that was tied to the feelings involved with creating deeply personal art and having it harshly criticized. That doesn't seem like an overreaction to me. But so often in the patriarchy, tears are seen as short hand for weakness.

I can't help but feel that the overall Davis/Clarkson tension seems to have at least the feel of sexism to it. As Reba McEntire had to say about it:
Back in the day, female artists were told to perform and then go sit in the corner. Thank God for people like Dolly Parton who took charge. Kelly is the same way. She knows what she wants. She's had a rough go of it in the music business. People think she just won Idol and everything else was easy. Not so. She's had to fight.
You know that old "well behaved women rarely make history" phrase? I feel like it has some bearing here. I'm sure that Clarkson was probably a thorn in Davis' side, but maybe, just maybe, it's not because she was some hysterical wreck. Maybe it's because she had an artistic vision and she stood up for it--yes, tears and all.

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