In case you haven’t noticed, Kelly Clarkson is the queen of tours. Why is this? It goes behind the fact that she always sounds amazing when she sings. Kelly takes touring a step further, making sure each show is special and offers something new. Kelly isn’t afraid of live innovation, and in fact, has been the top live innovator in pop for the past decade.
From 2012 through today, Kelly’s live shows have sparked intrigue and excitement, both for fans attending and those who couldn’t make it. Here’s why:
2012: Introducing Fan Requests
Early in 2012, Kelly embarked on her Stronger tour, in support of her Grammy-winning album of the same name. During this tour, Kelly introduced a new feature that fans quickly grew to love: fan requests. For each show of the tour, local fans attending that show could tweet Kelly and her musical director, Jason Halbert, requesting that Kelly perform a special song. That song could be one of her own from her back catalogue, or it could be a cover of another artist’s song.
These fan requests were a huge hit – not just for her concert-going fans, but for the media in general. Kelly became famous for her stunning covers of everything from Radiohead’s “Creep” to Sara Bareilles’s “Gravity” to Lana Del Rey’s “Off To The Races.” Indeed, many of Kelly’s one-off covers went viral.
Of course, fans also loved hearing songs that Kelly hadn’t played in a long time – or ever, in some cases. It can be a real treat to hear your favorite obscure track finally played live!
Throughout the Stronger tour of 2012, Kelly alternated between playing covers and songs from her own back catalogue. This meant every show was different from the last, and after each performance, fans around the world would eagerly search for that night’s special song.
2015: Fan-Requested Covers & “KC Classics”
Luckily, that feature introduced in the Stronger era wasn’t a one-time thing. In 2015, Kelly toured in support of her final album with RCA, Piece By Piece. Thankfully, she kept the Twitter fan requests introduced three years earlier. However, this time she made it even better: The fan requests would only be for her to cover songs by other artists. In addition to that, Kelly ALSO picked her own back catalogue track (“KC Classic”) to sing each night.
This means that every show got TWO unique songs: one cover and one “KC Classic” song. Let’s be real: this is every fan’s dream. We were so spoiled getting TWO unique songs each night.
2019: Live Streaming Special Songs
Kelly just started her Meaning Of Life tour last week, and it’s brought a whole new level of innovative awesomeness to the table. For every show of this tour, Kelly live streams the portion of the show where she performs a special song. The first two nights of the tour, Kelly performed covers of others’ songs (the latter one was a duet with The Voice contestant Lynnea Moorer). On the third night, Kelly chose a throwback song: “Run Run Run” from her previous album, Piece By Piece. She performed it with John Legend – he appears on the studio version of the duet – the first time the pair have performed it together!
Live streaming the rotating song each night makes that portion of the show even more special. Not only is Kelly still performing a cover or throwback song, she’s making it available to fans worldwide. Those of us who can’t attend a show – whether because she’s not coming near us or because of other constraints – still get the opportunity to enjoy a part of it. It’s inclusive for all of Kelly’s fans. It also makes the tour that much more intriguing, meaning more people may want to buy tickets and see it live.
This time, the songs are not fan requested. Kelly and her team pick all the songs, covers and throwback tracks alike. It’s also more like her Stronger tour, in that we either get a cover or a throwback, not both as in the Piece By Piece tour. In any case, it’s a thrilling way to make her live shows that much more enticing.
Keeping It Fresh
Kelly’s live innovation is something that keeps her tours fresh and exciting, from the first date through the last. Every show of the tour, fans and casual listeners alike can search to find out and hear what the special song was. Every night brings something new, so the live shows never stop delivering excitement.
The throwback songs are key here, because so many of Kelly’s best songs weren’t her hit singles. (This is true of virtually every artist out there; many of their most beloved songs are hidden “jams” only the fans know about.) Fans endlessly want to hear Kelly’s My December tracks (that whole album deserved better). Old-school fans or those who missed her earlier eras want to hear non-singles from Kelly’s first few albums. We fans want to hear the album tracks off of Kelly’s more recent releases.
So many live shows are comprised entirely of hit singles and maybe a few new tracks. That pleases casual listeners, and of course even fans expect to hear certain anthems. But shows like that often bore the more devoted fans and those who have seen several live shows already. We get bored of just hearing the singles. We want to hear something unexpected – deep cuts, even album bonus tracks and b-sides. Non-singles matter, too!
By adding these album tracks into the mix, Kelly is keeping her concerts fresh and pleasing her most devoted fans. She’s probably also intriguing the more casual listeners who may not have heard that deep cut before. Perhaps they’ll go check out the rest of her songs after the show. Kelly is gaining new fans and album streams/sales.
Likewise, the covers are an excellent opportunity to hear Kelly’s versatility and unique spin on others’ songs. Kelly is one of those artists who can sing any genre and sound amazing, so it’s thrilling to actually hear her sing them. And again, these covers certainly pique non-fans’ interest, too, perhaps earning Kelly a few new fans along the way.
Other Live Innovators We Admire
Kelly Clarkson is a standout in terms of live innovation. But she’s not the only artist keeping live shows fresh. Here are some other bands who know how to change it up every now and then:
- Metallica: In 2014, Metallica did a full Fan Request tour. They allowed fans to vote on 17 of the 18 songs in each show’s setlist; the final song was chosen by the band. Fans around South America and Europe were treated to a special show each night. More recently, according to Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, Metallica also uses data from the streaming platform to adjust setlists based on the trends of fans in that area. This dedication to varying setlists means no two shows are the same for these heavy metal gods!
- Muse: In February 2018, Muse allowed fans to choose the setlist for a one-off show in Paris. Fans were allowed to vote on songs via an online poll, and their votes resulted in a setlist jam-packed with rarities and album highlights. Muse performed several album tracks like “Space Dementia” and “Assassin,” as well as deep cuts like “Eternally Missed,” “Fury,” and “Yes Please.”
- Green Day: While Green Day’s live shows typically feature the same setlist, the band does keep things fresh with a brand new band member each night. During their 2017 Revolution Radio tour, Green Day famously picked one kid out of the audience each night to play guitar during their cover performance of “Knowledge.” The band has been bringing audience members up to play on various songs for years now.
Future Live Innovations We Hope To See
Kelly has been a fearless trailblazer in the live arena for the last decade. We hope more artists will follow suite – whether they adopt some of the innovations Kelly has popularized or try out entirely new ideas. Concerts will be a lot more exciting for fans if they offer up something special and unexpected each night.
While we await more artists to follow Kelly’s lead, let’s consider additional ways she and others can keep the live shows fresh:
- Sing unreleased songs. Remember the days when artists would debut new songs live? Kelly herself used to do this way back when. She performed songs like “Maybe” and “Yeah” prior to their inclusion on My December. She also performed songs like “Don’t,” “All I Know,” “Come Here,” and “Poison Candy” in live shows, only for official studio recordings to remain unreleased. On her Stronger tour, Kelly performed “You Still Won’t Know What It’s Like” each night, but those live recordings are still all we have of the song. If artists can’t release all the songs they write and record, they could at least play them live for their greedy, eager fans. Right?
- Perform songs with other singers. Kelly is already doing this on her current tour, having sung with John Legend and Lynnea Moorer. Fans often dream of collaborations between their favorite artists. While studio recordings of original songs may be harder to organize, perhaps the live venue is an apt opportunity to see these pairs. Musicians are busy people, but it’s always exciting to see – and hear – unexpected duets!
- Alternative versions of songs. Many artists do this, and it’s something we’d always like to see more of: performing alternative versions of their singles and album tracks. There’s something magical about hearing a song stripped down and acoustic. Or perhaps the song could use some horns? Or an entirely new tempo and vibe? Kelly has done this with her song “If I Can’t Have You,” transforming it from an uptempo dancey banger into a dramatic ballad. Evanescence did a whole album and tour in the vein with Synthesis. Hearing old songs in a different way essentially makes them new again.
Kelly Clarkson is the queen of live innovation. Her past three albums’ tours have proven this and delighted fans around the world in the process. Thank you, Kelly!
What other artists do you see keeping tours and live shows fresh? What other ways would you like to see Kelly or other artists make their shows special? Let us know in the comments! We’d love to hear your ideas!