Following a multiplatinum, Grammy-winning album can be a daunting task for any artist. Kelly Clarkson's path to releasing her latest CD, "My December," has been especially torturous.
First there was word that record mogul Clive Davis, who overseas her record label, RCA, didn't like the direction of the upcoming album. Then reports buzzed about a feud between the two over control of it. Her first single, "Never Again," had a respectable but unremarkable run on the charts. Soon, her manager was gone and she canceled her upcoming tour due to slow ticket sales.
While Clarkson has gotten plenty of publicity, it's doubtful it's the kind of media campaign the 25-year-old intended. But industry watchers say its doubtful, too, that the turmoil will lead to the industry's dreaded f-word — flop.
Sean Ross, who tracks the radio industry for Edison Media Research, said that so far the only problem Clarkson's faced is not achieving a No. 1 single out of the gate.
"It's sort of extraordinary to me that this much judgment has been passed before everyone has heard the album, which I think to some extent is going to color how people see the album," he said.
"It could affect sales a little bit in the first few weeks and when the record first comes out," said M. Tye Comer, editorial director for AOL Music, which this week premiered a live performance by Clarkson on its site. "(But) I think at the end of the day she's going to come out on top."
Bona fide star
The former "American Idol" has had success ever since she released her first album, 2003's "Thankful," which sold more than 1 million copies. But the multiplatinum "Breakaway" cemented her status as a bona fide artist outside of "Idol," with critically acclaimed smashes like the brush-off anthem "Since U Been Gone" and the melancholy ballad, "Because of You," which she co-wrote.
"My December," on which Clarkson co-wrote every track, takes an even more brooding tone, with angry rock sounds and bitter ballads. The album, out on Tuesday, has garnered mainly positive notices (however, her record label declined to make advance copies available for review by The Associated Press).
But alarms were sounded when the first single, the driving "Never Again," only reached No. 9 on Billboard's top 100 singles chart and lingered in the top 20 only a few weeks.
Poleman said research shows fans just didn't connect with "Never Again."
"When I see that, I see fans who like her as a person but so far they haven't heard the songs that they were hoping for," said Poleman, who is also operations manager at the top-40 radio station Z100 in New York City.
Yet, on the Internet, reaction appears to have been positive. It is still among the top 10 most popular downloaded songs on iTunes, while AOL said viewers rated both "Never Again" and the new single, "Sober" around 9.5 out of 10.
"The reaction from our audience has been fantastic," said Comer. "I think people are really loving the new songs."
"It is still a hit, which then raises the question of what is a hit record," said Ross. "If a hit record is only what radio plays, then (the song by) Corinne Bailey Rae wasn't a hit record but it was a very successful sales story."
Trying to recapture the magic
Ross noted the difficulty of trying to recapture an album sensation — Gwen Stefani's latest record, "The Sweet Escape" hasn't matched the success of her solo debut, 2004's "Love. Angel. Music. Baby."
He also pointed out hat the first single off Stefani's multiplatinum first album, "Rich Girl," was a moderate success, and was followed up by the monster hit "Hollaback Girl."
Neither Clarkson nor representatives for RCA would comment to the AP. But a source familiar with the recording of "My December," who requested anonymity so as to not further inflame the controversy, called reports of dissension between both sides "overblown" and said that friction between an artist and a label is a normal part of the creative process.
The source acknowledged that the label was concerned when Clarkson insisted upon writing the album with her own people instead of someone like Max Martin, responsible for "Since U Been Gone" and hits by Britney Spears and 'N Sync, among others.
"It wasn't a question of certain songs making the record, it was a question of do you have the hit songs required to compete in the marketplace," the source said.
The source added that the label would have pushed back the album but Clarkson was "wedded" to it coming out this week. Shortly before its release, she and manager Jeff Kwatinetz parted ways, and she canceled an arena tour because sales were low.
Despite the stumbles, the source emphasized that the label is still supporting the album: "The label is behind the artist, and will always be behind the artist ... (They've) always stood behind Kelly."
Poleman said that fans are behind Clarkson, too — but she needs to provide the same kind of magic that "Since U Been Gone" or "Behind These Hazel Eyes" had.
"I think that the audience likes her and they are rooting for her, I think the radio stations are rooting for her," he said. "But the songs need to back it up."