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New Kelly Clarkson album is welcome change

Free from contentious RCA tenure, she explores more soul-tinged settings



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Kelly Clarkson‘s new album is a pleasant departure. (Photo courtesy Atlantic Records)

Despite all the buildup and hype, “American Idol” has yielded only a few artists who’ve been able to sustain a successful, high-profile career in the music industry. First season winner Kelly Clarkson is at the top of that list.

In the 15 years since she won the reality show, Clarkson has delivered seven smash albums, all of which made the top three on Billboard, with three hitting no. 1: (“Thankful,” “All I Ever Wanted,” and her last album, 2015’s “Piece by Piece”). She has also scored 11 top 10 singles, including three chart-toppers: “A Moment Like This,” “My Life Would Suck Without You” and “Stronger.”

Her eighth album, “Meaning of Life,” is her first with Atlantic Records following the completion of the contract with RCA that was part of her “American Idol” prize. It’s no secret that Clarkson has clashed repeatedly with RCA over creative decisions. One of the key selling points offered by Atlantic to lure the star into its fold was more creative freedom and on “Meaning of Life,” Clarkson clearly makes the most of her newfound control. There is a maturity and depth of feeling to the new album that is sometimes lacking in her prior efforts, which tend to be directed primarily to top 40 radio. “Meaning of Life” is different. It’s not as hooky and loaded with radio-friendly dance/pop, yet it might very well be the finest album of her career thus far.

“Meaning of Life” is more soulful and R&B-influenced than Clarkson’s prior work, although it’s still very much a pop album. Clarkson showcases her powerful and dynamic vocals throughout, delivering one mighty performance after another. First single “Love So Soft” is a bare-bones funk/dance track built mainly around a stark electronic rhythm. It’s irresistibly catchy, a bold first taste of Clarkson’s change in sonic direction. It’s followed by “Heat,” a pop/R&B scorcher with Clarkson’s voice as soulful as it’s ever been.

Her ballads are particularly noteworthy for the maturity they exhibit compared with her prior work. The gospel-tinged “Move You” is a stunner, with a spine-tingling vocal that is every bit as magnificent as something Adele might perform. The old-school soul-inspired “Cruel” is another downtempo winner, with Clarkson showing her breezy versatility and range with effortless panache. The album has a decidedly modern sheen, but Clarkson does explore retro influences on several tracks, particularly the dynamic “Medicine” which channels mid-’90s Mariah Carey. The audaciously bold “Whole Lotta Woman,” a fusion of Beyonce and Christina Aguilera, is Clarkson embracing her new direction with passion and ferocity.

One of the album’s highlights is the triumphant “I Don’t Think About You,” a stirring ballad that serves as Clarkson’s declaration of independence. It’s a piercing track that seems directly aimed at those at RCA who prodded her in directions she did not want to go. She revels in her freedom and proclaims she has nothing to prove (and she’s right). Clarkson ends the album “Get High,” a fiery rave-up that once again speaks to her fierce determination to follow her own path.

“Meaning of Life” is a turning point in Clarkson’s career. Now 35 and suddenly able to pursue her own musical ambitions, she has turned to a more mature and sophisticated sound. The songs are still catchy and there’s little doubt she would welcome massive commercial success, but it’s clear she is no longer aiming just for the youthful top 40 crowd. Clarkson has become the artist she always wanted to be. Her exuberance and confidence shine through this album from start to finish, and it’s wonderful to hear. In a year of largely disappointing high-profile pop albums, Kelly Clarkson’s “Meaning of Life” is a welcome exception.


Music & Concerts

New dance single pays tribute to Town Danceboutique

Local musicians pen ‘Town’ in honor of shuttered club



Bryce Bowyn (Photo by Clarissa Villondo)

The closing of the LGBTQ nightclub Town Danceboutique in the summer of 2017 was heartbreaking to local musician Bryce Bowyn. He and his Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter friend Lexie Martin decided to honor its legacy in their new single, “Town.”

For Bowyn, who moved to the District about a decade ago to attend school at American University, the memories he has from Town Danceboutique are endless. And when it closed, it was a massive loss to Bowyn and many others. 

“It was such a cool space,” Bowyn said. “It was just disappointing to see a place that brought so many people together become part of the landscape again.” The building Town Danceboutique used to be housed in is now home to upscale apartments and a CVS. 

Town Danceboutique was a formative place for Bowyn and Martin, and it was Bowyn’s first experience in an open and accepting LGBTQ environment. His favorite memories at the club were always on Halloween, he said. Patrons, including Bowyn, would go all out with their costumes to look their very best. 

Bowyn and Martin met while they were both in the musical theater program at American University. Despite their years-long friendship, “Town” is the first song they have written together. They sat down over FaceTime and got to work. It was Martin’s idea to pay homage to Town Danceboutique, and the song follows the story of pre-gaming, going out, and hitting the dance floor. 

But the single also serves as a hype song for going out in any city, at any place. 

“It was important to me for the song to remain relatable and accessible,” Bowyn said. “So the whole foundation of the chorus, ‘Let’s go to town,’ can either mean Town Danceboutique, or painting the town red and having the night of your life.”

Bowyn started writing and producing his own music in 2018. He released an EP titled “A Rosy Retrospect” in 2022, and most recently released a single “A Bridge Burned Down” in June. His music is inspired by late 2000s pop and ‘80s synthpop, influenced by stars like Madonna and Charli XCX. Lexie Martin released her self-titled EP in 2019 and most recently came out with her single “SUPERPOWER” in 2021. 

Bowyn has been a lifelong pop music enthusiast. He distinctly remembers watching Britney Spears perform “Oops!…I Did It Again” at the MTV Video Music Awards when he was a kid and thinking “That was what I wanted and what I was set to do in life.”

“My heart was always with pop music,” Bowyn said. 

“Town” is available now for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, and Soundcloud.

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Music & Concerts

From Monáe to Madonna, fall will rock in D.C.

Local venues hosting array of queer artists in coming months



Madonna’s delayed tour is slated to hit D.C. Dec. 18 and 19. (Screen capture via YouTube)

The D.C. area has many LGBTQ musical acts to look forward to this fall. Starting with pansexual and nonbinary actor and R&B singer Janelle Monáe, performing at the Anthem on Sept. 24-25 with ticket prices ranging from $135 to $301 on StubHub.

Janelle Monáe comes to the Anthem later this month. (Screen capture via YouTube)

Singer Hozier’s “Unreal Unearth Tour” is coming to the Anthem on Sept. 26-27. Tickets are available on StubHub starting at $324.

On Sept. 28 the CFG Bank Arena in Baltimore will see lesbian pop artist SZA’s “SOS Tour” with tickets starting at $165 on Ticketmaster. 

Queer indie pop singer Ashnikko is coming to the Anthem on Sept. 29 to perform their “Weedkiller Tour.” Tickets available on StubHub range from $49 to $279.

Coming to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., is the All Things Go Festival. Performing are lesbian singers Tegan and Sara, alt-pop singer Lana Del Rey, pop singer Carly Rae Jepson, and more. The festival will take place Sept. 30-Oct. 1 with two day passes starting at $397 on SeatGeek.  

Rock band Queen will perform “The Rhapsody Tour” at the CFG Bank Arena along with Adam Lambert on Oct. 4-5. Tickets are starting at $181 on Ticketmaster. 

Pop star and trans woman Kim Petras’ “Feed the Beast World Tour” will reach the Anthem on Oct 12. Tickets range from $72 to $817 on StubHub. 

Kim Petras brings the ‘Feed the Beast World Tour’ to the Anthem in October. (Photo by Thom Kerr)

Queer pop singer Kesha is coming to the Anthem on Oct. 29 to support her new album, “Gag Order.” Tickets go from $86 to $261 on Event Ticket Center. 

Queer pop rapper Shygirl is co-headlining with bisexual singer Tinashe for the “Nymph” tour at the Anthem on Nov. 5. Tickets range from $45 to $145 on Ticketmaster.

Indie band Men I Trust is performing at Echostage on Nov. 15. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster for $30. 

Nonbinary rapper Lil Uzi Vert’s “PINK TAPE TOUR” will be at the Anthem on Nov. 21. Tickets start at $90 on StubHub. 

Doja Cat’s “The Scarlett Tour” will reach Capital One Arena on Nov. 27. Tickets start at $100 on Ticketmaster. 

Madonna will bring her highly anticipated and delayed “The Celebration Tour” to the Capital One Arena Dec. 18 and 19. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster starting at $110.

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Music & Concerts

Tom Goss to perform at Rehoboth Beach Bear Weekend

Out singer entertains at the Sands Hotel



Tom Goss (Photo by Dusti Cunningham)

Out singer Tom Goss will perform at the Rehoboth Beach Bear Weekend on Saturday, Sept. 16 at 7 and 9 p.m. at the Sands Hotel. 

He will sing his memorable songs like “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Bears,” as well as tracks from his new album, “Remember What It Feels Like,” where he sings about being a 42-year-old gay man still reeling from his husband’s infidelity who was recently conned by a lover with a secret life now serving time in prison. 

Tickets to Rehoboth Beach Bear Weekend start at $20 and can be purchased on Eventbrite

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