When the lights fells at Van Andel Arena on February 14th, no one in the crowd of nearly ten-thousand could have predicted what would come next. Kelly Clarkson’s Meaning Of Life tour had rolled into Grand Rapids for Valentine’s Day, and the audience was more than ready to see their queen take the stage. But before that could happen, one song needed to be heard as loud as possible through the house system. That song, which arrived to loud cheers, was “You Shook Me (All Night Long)” by AC/DC.
“Tonight is all about escapism,” Ms. Clarkson told the crowd. “Get lost in the music, the lights, the colors,” she continued, “and try your best to leave the troubles of the world outside the venue’s doors.”
Three years have passed since Kelly Clarkson last toured. In that time, the original American Idol built a personal life complete with kids and a husband. She spoke of them at length throughout the evening, but that night was all about her and the connection she has missed having with her fans. Every minute of her nearly two-hour performance was spent directly engaging the audience amidst a nonstop barrage of hits and fan favorites that spanned the entirety of her nearly two-decade career.
No one performance better encapsulated the mood of the show than “Breakaway,” one of Clarkson’s biggest early hits. As she strolled along a catwalk stretching halfway through the arena floor, she first asked the audience to sing along with all their might and then set to complimenting those within her line of site. “I like your hair,” she said pointing at one woman. “You are beautiful,” she said to another. All this, while still managing to sing every line and hit every note. Kindness may not have been the focus of her show, but Ms. Clarkson did her part to help facilitate the escapism she wished for her audience.
The hits landed as expected. From “Love So Soft” to the bombastic “Since You’ve Been Gone” finale, Clarkson had fans on their feet, singing, and dancing, without care. That wasn’t a surprise as much as it was what people paid to see. The real gift of it all came in between songs. Every performance was practiced for weeks or months before that night, but the moments in between offered Clarkson to be real with her fans. She shared insights into life and her career, explicitly highlighting her time on The Voice, and in doing so, she offered those in the arena a chance to see the real her.
Then there was the band, and oh, what a band. Many pop stars will wait until they’re deep into a performance before recognizing the efforts of everyone else on stages (if they do it at all), but Clarkson made it a point to highlight the performers who were joining her just as soon as the show got underway. She had three backup singers, two guitarists, a drummer, a bassist, and a horn section for most of the show. Additional musicians and vocalists came and went as well, each receiving a few moments to shine in front of the crowd.
The Meaning Of Life is the name of Clarkson’s latest album, as well as the name of her current tour. The topic wasn’t discussed at any length throughout the night. However, those paying attention may have learned a lesson. Clarkson is known around the world for her talent, but her voice alone isn’t why thousands drive into cities to see her every night. Her success is the result of working together with dozens of other dreamers, performers, musicians, and organizers over many years. Her latest tour is a celebration of the things a group or community can accomplish when they set their differences aside and unite through shared goals. It’s the message our country needs to hear right now, and it’s one very easy to digest when accompanied by twenty chart-topping radio hits.