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Track Review

Kelly Clarkson's latest brims with seductive winks. "I wanna be closer to you, let you under my skin," she coos suggestively early on in "Love So Soft," the lead single from her forthcoming eighth album. "If I let you in, you gotta be careful with it."

There's no question what this married 35-year-old mother of two is singing about here. And if we stopped there, it would be tempting to dismiss the song as evidence of an attempt by Clarkson to stay relevant by sexing up her image.

Yes, she is singing in part about that. But—as we'll see—she's singing about more than just that, too. "This is a grown-a-- woman's record," she said about her new album, Meaning of Life, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "This isn't a record I could have made at the age of 20. This is a record you make when you've lived."

Flirting With Naughtiness

Clarkson's latest effort represents yet another stylistic divergence for her. This song's R&B vibe (the music mavens have categorized it as "trap soul," if you want to get really genre specific) is a long way from "Since You've Been Gone" or "My Life Would Suck Without You." Instead, Clarkson's gotten very much in touch with her inner Aretha Franklin—albeit in a modernized way—on this track.

But if the style has changed, Clarkson's fiercely confident, delightfully sassy personality—the same one America fell in love with when 9 million fans voted for her in the inaugural season of American Idol—still takes center stage here.

Clarkson certainly flirts with naughtiness in the song's opening verse. "Every kiss is a door," she begins, "Can I knock on yours?" Then she adds, "Can we knock a little more?" The next lines push that extended door metaphor even further: "If a touch is a key/Keep on twisting, keep on locking, keep on turning me." The chorus then brags, "Love so soft, you ain't had nothing softer/ … Got you hooked, now you're caught up."

Like I said: it's no mystery what she's talking about. But here's where things take an unexpected twist.

Where Intimacy Flourishes

This track embraces several thinly veiled allusions to physical intimacy. But by song's end Clarkson suggests that real, satisfying intimacy only flourishes in the context of a committed, permanent relationship.

Clarkson knows exactly what's on her guy's mind: "If a thought was the truth/We'd be doing all the kinds of things I know you wanna do." Then, however, she slows things down: "But I need, need to know (need to know)/Will you protect me, respect me if I let you close?" She's interested in more than a smoldering carnal moment. She wants a real relationship, one in which her partner is committed not just to an impromptu roll in the sack, but to protecting her as well. (And you thought chivalry in pop music was dead!)

But Clarkson's not done yet laying down the terms for … laying down. She also instructs her guy, "If you want this love, got to hold it tight/Never let it go, baby, let it give you life." She wants not just a commitment, but (I'd suggest) a permanent one. Only in that context will this desired physical intimacy give this relationship life, something Clarkson also hints at.

We also hear these lines, "Break it, then you bought it, and it sure gonna cost ya'," yet another suggestion that this woman's not just casually giving herself away for "free."

Now, admittedly, the word marriage never actually turns up here. Still, that's the kind of relationship Clarkson's described in this song (and the joyfully colorful video in which she performs it): a permanent, committed, protective relationship.

In the context of marriage, sex becomes a beautiful, bonding gift to be enjoyed by a man and woman—just as God designed it to be. Outside that context, though, what seems so good in the moment becomes a source not of life-giving intimacy, but of insecurity and emotional vulnerability.

I'd like to believe Kelly Clarkson understands that distinction … even if she doesn't quite connect all those dots here.

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September 7, 2017

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Adam R. Holz

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