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Kelly Clarkson flexes legacy on ‘Meaning of Life’ tour

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Kelly Clarkson flexes legacy on ‘Meaning of Life’ tour

Vincent Peters/Atlantic Records Press

Vincent Peters/Atlantic Records Press

Vincent Peters/Atlantic Records Press

by Julianna Ress, Arts & Culture Editor

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Most noticeable when entering the Staples Center on Jan. 26 in Los Angeles as the crowd was filing in for Kelly Clarkson’s “Meaning of Life” tour, was the age range of the attendees.

New, young fans entered the arena alongside 20-somethings who likely grew up singing along to “Since U Been Gone” in their bedrooms, and Gen Xers and baby boomers, who may find Clarkson’s rich voice akin to the soul singers of previous generations.

Since being crowned “American Idol’s” first winner in 2002, Clarkson has undergone many phases in her illustrious career, from her promising debut “Thankful” filled with fuzzy R&B, to flirting with pop-punk on her blockbuster 2004 record “Breakaway,” before diving into full-on Evanescence-inspired emo imagery on its polarizing follow-up “My December” three years later.

She experimented with electropop on the next few records, “All I Ever Wanted,” “Stronger” and “Piece by Piece,” spawning hits like “My Life Would Suck Without You,” “Catch My Breath” and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).”

On her latest album, 2017’s “Meaning of Life,” Clarkson returned to her soulful roots, harkening all the way back to her breathtaking performance of Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” on “American Idol,” when Americans watched the birth of a star through their television screens. It was like Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” performance in “A Star is Born” for the early 2000s.

On the “Meaning of Life” tour, Clarkson is well aware of her diverse repertoire — a pre-show clip played on the large screens when the house lights went dark followed Clarkson’s evolution from record to record, highlighting a song per album.

She opened the show with a moment of reflection — an a capella rendition of “A Moment Like This,” her coronation single after winning “American Idol.”

Clarkson then went into the title track off her latest album, a life-affirming track about finding lasting love.

“When you kiss me, I know who I am,” she belted during the chorus. “When you let me feel it, I understand / When I’m lost I just look in your eyes / You show me the meaning of life.”

In between tracks, Clarkson’s bubbly personality took center stage, speaking candidly about technical difficulties and recognizing a fan in the front row from the tour’s previous two stops. Perhaps she was teasing the tone of her upcoming talk show “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” which is set to premiere on NBC in September, but it mostly felt like she was having a genuinely great time bantering with audience.

Her personality also permeated in the next two songs she performed: sassy standouts “Walk Away,” a hit off “Breakaway,” “Love So Soft,” the lead single from “Meaning of Life,” and “Whole Lotta Woman,” a throwback self-love jam also from the new album.

The show then hit one of its peaks with back to back performance of two iconic “Breakaway” singles, the title track and “Behind These Hazel Eyes.” During the former she let the fans sing a few bars without her and they shouted every word just like they would 15 years prior in the album’s heyday.

Clarkson took the center of the catwalk for an acoustic rendition of “Piece by Piece,” an emotional track about reckoning with familial grievances that acts as the sequel to “Breakaway’s” “Because of You.” She took choked up pauses in between lyrics as her eyes filled with tears, reminiscent of her stunning guest performance of the song on “American Idol” in 2016.

“Piece by piece, he restored my faith that a man could be kind / And a father could stay,” she sang, comparing her experiences with her husband and children to her own childhood memories.

She surprised fans with a medley of deep cuts she doesn’t often perform, including standouts “Beautiful Disaster” and “Just Missed the Train” from her debut, and the criminally underrated ballad “Sober” from “My December.”

“Three months, and I’m still sober,” she sang on the latter. “Picked all my weeds, but kept the flowers.”

The medley was a welcome addition to the set, but fans likely would’ve loved to hear full performances of these favorites, especially since the second half of the set was plagued by some boring inclusions.

The show dipped with an unnecessary guest appearance by John Legend, with whom she performed their duet “Run Run Run” off “Piece by Piece,” and “Move You,” a forgettable “Meaning of Life” cut.

Clarkson picked the energy back up with “My Life Would Suck Without You” and “Meaning of Life” highlight “Heat,” before closing with main set with “Miss Independent,” for which openers Brynn Cartelli and Kelsea Ballerini joined her onstage.

She encored with “It’s Quiet Uptown” and “Never Enough,” her contributions to “The Hamilton Mixtape” and “The Greatest Showman: Reimagined” respectively. While her vocals were impressive, as they were throughout the show, the covers seemed weak compared the catalog of her original hits she could’ve played in their place.

After “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” she ended the night with “Since U Been Gone,” a song just as explosive as it was back in 2004. Often considered the magnum opus of both herself and prolific pop producer Max Martin, her delivery of the track hasn’t lost any luster.

“I can breathe for the first time,” the Staples Center crowd shouted along in unison. “I’m so movin’ on, yeah, yeah / Thanks to you, now I get what I want.”

While Clarkson’s legacy is long cemented, she maintains an artistic restlessness pushing her to continue reimagining her star status, whether it be in terms of music, as a judge on “The Voice” or as the host of a talk show.

Fans are clearly still along for the ride, showing just as much enthusiasm for her new material as they did for her early hits, but it would’ve been great to see her lean into her legend status even more, rather than opt for a celebrity guest and some topical covers. With a discography as impressive as Clarkson’s, there’s no need to stray.

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