Kelly Clarkson, ‘My December’ (RCA)
Waging a public battle with label boss Clive Davis, Kelly Clarkson has become an unlikely symbol of artistic credibility (Davis has openly questioned My December‘s commercial appeal). And like Alanis and Avril before her, she is following a megahit with a self-written serious rock release — musically downbeat, emotionally tortured, and not Top 40-tailored. But even without a “Since U Been Gone,” Clarkson’s bleacher-reaching vocals and irrepressible pluck are hard to dislike. With this collection of frosty kiss-offs (“Never Again”), snarling disco rock (“1 Minute”), and unusually subdued ballads (“Irvine”), she cements her place as the pop figurehead for the overlooked and underappreciated teenage girl in all of us.