Kelly Clarkson’s new album Meaning of Life drops on Friday. During her promo tour, she stopped at The Social. Lainey wrote about Kelly’s decency here – how she opens doors and is a nice, considerate human being. That’s noteworthy because so many of them aren’t. I produced Kelly’s interview on The Social. It was her second appearance. She was just as nice, decent and considerate as the first time, when she was promoting an album she didn’t like as much as this one.

Kelly Clarkson calls Meaning of Life the album she was born to make. In the lead-up to her segment, I was given access to an advance stream of the album. I’ll come back to that. Lainey wrote about how Meaning of Life is Kelly’s first record on a new label. The narrative around this chapter of Kelly Clarkson’s career is all about how, for the first time since she won American Idol, she’s finally free to make the music she wants to make, no disrespect to Since U Been Gone. Seriously, somehow Kelly has been sh-tting on her previous music this whole press tour without insulting the songs that made her famous. She’s simply making a point that the pop rock powerhouse we’ve come to know is not the artist she wanted to be. Basically, Kelly Clarkson wanted to be Adele, a white girl with a big voice singing soul songs, but Clive Davis wouldn’t let her.

In an interview with the New York Times, Kelly says she started the album with a question, “What if Aretha [Franklin] was born now and made a record today?” That’s an ambitious goal. No big deal. The crazy thing is that she may have just pulled it off. Since Kelly Clarkson is so goddamn likeable and I’ve been a legitimate fan of hers since she sang Stuff Like That There on Big Band Night on Idol, I wanted this album to be good. Well, the good news is that it’s GREAT. It’s a searing showcase of the voice we all fell in love with 15 years ago but it’s also smooth, soulful, sexy and super Southern. There were moments when I was listening to this album at my desk that I would just scrunch up my face and say “goddamn” out loud. It’s funky as f-ck and so much fun to listen to. Instead of a modern Aretha Franklin record, I’d say Meaning of Life is more like 2017 Whitney. RIP. That’s the highest compliment I could ever give. I’m obsessed. My advance stream expired last week and I’ve been counting down the days until the full album release on the 27th.

Yesterday, Kelly released an album trailer featuring snippets of all 14 tracks. Come for radio-friendly hits like Love So Soft and Meaning of Life and stay for uptempo bangers like Would You Call That Love and Whole Lotta Woman, then fall in love with stunning ballads, I Don’t Think About You and Move You. I’m telling you, Meaning of Life is exceptional. The first few singles haven’t been charting well but don’t sleep on the full album. Trust me.

After obsessing over this album, I don’t disagree that this is the perfect collection of songs for right now in Kelly Clarkson’s career. She was veering into the adult contemporary genre – you know, that place where former pop stars go to die. I love that this is the music Kelly has always loved because soulful R&B is my whole sh-t. But would Kelly Clarkson still be KELLY CLARKSON without Since U Been Gone or Stronger? If she had released her soul record earlier in her career, would her beginnings have been sullied with conversations about cultural appropriation, like Pink? I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that Kelly Clarkson is, as the Times calls her, a “music-industry unicorn” who can release hit after hit, regret those hits and that her EIGHTH studio album is one of the best of her career.

And she can do all that while being one of the nicest people in the room.