CULTURE & ARTS
12/16/2014 09:36 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

An Ode To 'Basic' Joys, Starting With Kelly Clarkson's 'Since U Been Gone'

popular and good

Welcome to a new HuffPost series, chronicling a slice of life we all know well. In launching "Popular Things That Are Also Good," we were inspired by a recent piece in The Atlantic, a love note to a certain 2004 breakup anthem, which the article's writer Kevin O'Keeffe declared the greatest pop song in a decade.

Strangely relieved at having a secret pleasure validated by a writer with a fancy title, we considered other indulgences compromised in an age where the word "basic" has become an insult -- universal hits like salted caramel, or the stories of Roald Dahl. Who said popular things can't be good? Banish the thought with our unfolding catalog of our favorite, popular things. First up: the decade's greatest song.

Since U Been Gone

Goodness Factor 1: Unpretentiousness.

Let's first get out of the way that this is a pop song with an ungrammatical title. Abandon your pitchforks, and your Pitchforks. Turning words into letters and humming along to songs you didn't realize you knew are both modern pastimes you may as well enjoy. Yes, tracks in the Top 40 are musically formulaic, and rarely if ever pass the Bechdel Test. But no one worth spending time with ever broke into Neon Indian's discography in a karaoke bar.

GF 2: Dat chorus.

Here we have a song built for a chorus, in the tradition of so many great ones. And that chorus is exceptionally spare and indignant: a few little words converted into a mantra for the wounded (joining such colleagues as, “You’re So Vain,” “Cry Me A River,” and “Go Your Own Way.”) Go ahead and sing it -- Since U Been Gone, just like that, no contractions -- into the wind and tell us that doesn’t feel right.

GF 3: No, this is The Voice.

Kelly Clarkson's voice is the Goldilocks pick of voices. It is strong yet vulnerable, not too high, not too low, feminine, masculine, womanly, girlish...all at once. When you hear her sing, you want to be her best friend, her parent, her child, and her lover. This too, is only right.

GF 4: Alien appropriate.

Same reason, different thing. The song itself has been described by music snobs as a "Frankenstein's monster" of a track. In a good way! This is the song you give to an alien in a hurry who wants to know all about popular human music. "It's kind of an amalgam of everything that had been on the radio, all melded together," one pop critic recently told NPR.

GF 5: So fresh, so clean.

The song is fresh. It sounds like it just came out of Dr. Luke’s song-oven, even though it’s a decade old. If you don’t believe us, find a ten-year-old who’s never heard it before (this might be hard). Have him guess the release year. If he doesn’t say 2014, then we will owe you an apology. We probably won’t be handing it out though because really who is going to do this experiment?

GF 6: It breaks all the right rules.

There’s a science to the wizardry you are (probably) listening to right now, on repeat, that has to do with breaking and enforcing pop writing rules. Clarkson insisted on injecting drums and guitar into that jewel of a chorus. In doing so, she gave herself the identity she still holds -- a warm, straight-talking, mom-approved Holly Hunter of rock -- moving away from her quasi hip hop first album, and the possibility of going full bubblegum. As O'Keeffe points out in the Atlantic piece, she also upped the soft/loud sound balance that’s a hallmark of number one songs. Basically, she did the math and solved all her problems.

GF 7: Because.

Dave Grohl can admit he loves this song, so why can’t you?

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