Wednesday, May 02, 2007

It Was All Pretend: Kelly Clarkson "Never Again"

Though it does little to quell our sustained obsession with a certain transcendent 2005 single, Clarkson's latest still delivers a measured dose of magic using the same proven palette...

Kelly Clarkson "Never Again"

dir. by Joseph Kahn

A sharply dressed man hurriedly exits a suburban home, ringing his still wet hands as he grabs the wheel of a getaway car. In his nervous paranoia and guilt he backs straight into some trash cans, then begins to hallucinate while stalled in the driveway. What he sees is his crime of passion played over again, and the fearful psychological vengeance of a wronged Kelly Clarkson.

The video begins with the drowning of the former American Idol in a white bathtub, but the boyfriend's real crime is clearly one of infidelity. The imagery has more than a passing resemblance to a certain Michelle Pfiefer/Harrison Ford picture, and the subsequent "haunting" fits intentionally with that theme. A ghostly Clarkson whispers into her ex-lover's ear while he desperately seeks to avoid the truth that lies beneath.

Being submerged in water is also a symbol of Clarkson's pain and a metaphorical baptizing for the jilted singer. She spends much of the video singing in an almost entirely white room - surrounded by the color of innocence - but her experience with this man reveals new shades of reality for her. Later it is him who feels the rising water in the bathroom of the airport, his guilty conscience becoming unbearable. Clarkson emerges from the tub a new woman ("I can breathe for the first time" anyone?), dressed in a bright red dress as she drives off with her ex left stranded in the street.

Kahn does an excellent job of capturing the emotions of the lyrics while accentuating the energy of the music. The car scene is especially thrilling - with its quick cuts and dangerous swerving, while Clarkson lurks in the backseat playing the devilish stalker to perfection. Her sexuality only heightens the intensity of his hallucinations, and she imagines it as a tool for wielding power over him far into the future - he will never again "have" her.

A key moment in the video comes about a minute in, as Clarkson does her best stepford wife impression while singing the line "ignorance is bliss." Kahn's vision here isn't limited to a single case of infidelity but an entire culture of willful deception. It's essential that the action takes place in a nice American Beauty-style neighborhood, with cleanly cut green lawns and healthy trees. Clarkson then ironically delivers the line "repent yourself away," openly mocking the easy truths of "Sunday school answers." When she drives away in the end she is escaping the false ideals of sanitized suburban life, and the naive love that accompanies it.

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Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie