Kelly Clarkson – I Do Not Hook Up

Released: 1st June 2009

Writers: Katy Perry / Kara DioGuardi / Greg Wells

Peak position: #36

Chart run: 61-49-45-50-36-43-53
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 88-46-24-26-23-32-26-20-24-25-27-32-39-53-61-70-82-94

Kelly Clarkson kicked off 2009 back at the top of the charts, and her record label was determined to keep things that way with a song co-written (and originally recorded) by Katy Perry.

There was an irony to the title of Kelly Clarkson’s fourth album, All I Ever Wanted, for that sentiment was probably more applicable to how her record label felt about it than she did. RCA disproved the direction taken on her previous album, My December. While some fans may feel label boss Clive Davis went so far as to flagrantly sabotage the campaign, there can be little doubt that it wasn’t as well-promoted or supported as it could have been. So, All I Ever Wanted was all about RCA flexing creative control over Kelly Clarkson; pretty much everything about the album – from the pop-orientated sound to the vivid artwork and bombastic visuals – felt intentionally designed to undo the ostensible failings of My December and move closer to the formula that saw Breakaway sell over 12 million copies. Indeed, some songs, most notably the lead single, My Life Would Suck Without You, were recorded only because the label issued an ultimatum that if Kelly Clarkson didn’t work with certain writers and producers (in that case, Max Martin and Dr. Luke, who helped create Since U Been Gone), they wouldn’t release the album or anything else she’d been working on.

RCA and Clive Davis knew exactly what they wanted to achieve and were rewarded for taking such a strong-arm approach. My Life Would Suck Without You and All I Ever Wanted both reached #1 in America, becoming the first time Kelly Clarkson topped either the single or album chart since her debut (in the UK, My Life Would Suck Without You became her first – and to date only – #1 hit, while All I Ever Wanted reached #3). Though download sales certainly played their part, radio support had also been strong, so there was now the question of how best to capitalise on that. Among the options for a second single, I Do Not Hook Up was one of the more obvious choices given the commercial steer on All I Ever Wanted.

It was one of two tracks on the album co-written by Katy Perry (the other being Long Shot). These weren’t new compositions but rather songs previously recorded at some point between her 2001 debut album, Katy Hudson, and its follow-up – One Of The Boys – in 2008. Between those times, Katy Perry had developed material for two planned albums that were cancelled due to changing record labels. And, while some tracks were repurposed for One Of The Boys, others were shelved or given to different acts  (That’s More Like It and Rock God were recorded by Selena Gomez & The Scene, while Breakout and The Driveway went to Miley Cyrus). That’s ultimately how I Do Not Hook Up ended up with Kelly Clarkson.

Much of the structure laid down by Katy Perry’s original – titled Hook Up – remains intact. However, the production was a little more indie/garage-rock sounding compared to the slicker, glossier pop-rock of Kelly Clarkson’s version. The lyrics in the chorus were also changed from: “Keep your thing in your pants, and your heart on your sleeve” to a less crude: “Keep your hand in my hand and your heart on your sleeve”. Although Katy Perry’s involvement with the track was notable, so too is the presence of Kara DioGuardi, who’s also credited as a co-writer. She’d contributed six tracks to Breakaway, so – much like My Life Would Suck Without You – this felt intended to draw on a winning formula. And, in essence, that’s precisely what it is.

Unsurprisingly, the main thrust behind I Do Not Hook Up is Kelly Clarkson establishing that she’s not into one-night stands and would prefer something more long-term (“Just give up the game and get into me, if you’re lookin’ for thrills, then get cold feet”). There is some context to that declaration, though, as the verses – driven by a rousing guitar riff –  describe a scenario where her prospective partner appears to be on the rebound: “I can’t cook, no, but I can clean, up the mess she left, lay your head down and feel the beats, as I kiss your forehead”. There are some intriguing hints of bleakness and desperation threaded through the track (“Oh, sweetheart, put the bottle down, you got too much talent, I see you through those bloodshot eyes, there’s a cure, you found it”) that tease a dark undertone. Yet I Do Not Hook Up never fully explores that complicated dynamic with the same level of candour Kelly Clarkson often brought to her own writing. Instead, it counters with peppy rebukes: “You want a chase, but you’re chasin’ your tail, a quick fix won’t ever get you well” that keep the track breezy and radio-friendly.

Even on material where Kelly Clarkson is ostensibly going through the motions – which is certainly how some fans feel about I Do Not Hook Up – there’s never anything remotely average about her performance. The power with which she delivers the middle eight: “’Cos I feel…the distance…betwe-e-e-en us, could be ove-e-e-er, with a snap of your fin-GE-E-E-E-E-ER, oh, no” elevates the track immensely. It’s followed by an instrumental section with phaser guitar riffs bouncing rousingly through the production, culminating in most of the instrumentation dropping out as the vocals kick back in: “Oh, no, I do not hook up, up, I go slow…”. That moment shows I Do Not Hook Up at its anthemic best, with a genuine sense of stadium-ready, fist-pumping energy.

Katy Perry had already proven she could write a killer chorus, with tracks like I Kissed A Girl and Hot N Cold becoming major airplay hits. And I Do Not Hook Up does little to dissuade that notion. It’s a giddy rush of late ‘00s pop-rock: “Oh, no, I do not hook up, up, I go slow, so if you want me, I don’t come cheap, keep your hand in my hand and your heart on your sleeve; oh, no, I do not hook up, up, I fall deep, ‘cos the more that you try, the harder I’ll fight, to say goodnight” complemented further still by Kelly Clarkson’s harmonised ad-libs towards the end. Setting aside any quibbles about whether this was the right second single – or indeed should have been released at all – just for a moment, taken at face value, I Do Not Hook Up is perfectly enjoyable for what it is.

The accompanying music video continues the precedent set by My Life Would Suck Without You, where it’s intent on marketing Kelly Clarkson’s personality in the most fun, affable manner possible. But that does end up coming at the expense of a narrative which is cohesive with the song itself. I Do Not Hook Up revolves around her encountering a handsome waiter at a garden party and later a guy playing pool in a tavern. In both situations, a fantasy sequence ensues where she loses her inhibitions and hooks up with them. The waiter, thus, ends up being thrown onto the table, with Kelly Clarkson crawling on top of him, much to the horror (or, in some cases, excitement) of the other guests.

Meanwhile, in the bar, she grabs her girlfriends and climbs atop the counter to dance, which attracts the attention of the patrons, including the man she’s been checking out. As I Do Not Hook Up builds towards the final chorus, Kelly Clarkson loses her footing and falls backwards, causing the music to stop. After a few seconds, she rises to her feet, cheers, and the track restarts. It’s heavily inspired by a scene from the 2008 rom-com What Happens In Vegas (although Cameron Diaz slides along and off the end of the counter in the movie) but is very funny nonetheless. The thing is, neither scenario makes any sense in relation to the song unless the insinuation is that the lyrics are a bluff and Kelly Clarkson actually does want to hook up. There are some positives; her likeable personality is very much at the forefront, and obligatory performance shots with a live band interspersed throughout are full of energy. Overall, though, the video treatment seems to have totally misinterpreted (or willingly ignored) what the song is actually about, which seems odd in hindsight.

Commercially, I Do Not Hook Up was successful in America, reaching #20 on the Billboard Hot 100. It did, however, end up sandwiched between two much bigger hits (My Life Would Suck Without You topped the chart, while Already Gone peaked at #13) from All I Ever Wanted, both of which also had much higher airplay. Furthermore, the song seemed only to have a modest impact on sustaining interest in the album, which experienced a steady downward trend. Thus, there was almost immediately a sense that a better second single might have been chosen instead (if RCA was set on recreating the main beats of the Breakaway campaign, then Don’t Let Me Stop You still seems like the obvious counterpart to Behind These Hazel Eyes). I Do Not Hook Up fared worse still in the UK. The track reached #36, making it Kelly Clarkson’s lowest-peaking single at that point. It’s not as if she didn’t promote the song here either, so there’s no way to spin the outcome as anything other than a bit of a disaster. Particularly as the album campaign never recovered after that.

All of which goes back to considering I Do Not Hook Up in the broader context of Kelly Clarkson’s career. Many of the things it does right as a song are (valid) criticisms of it as a single. There is, unquestionably, a sense of the track coming across like the product of a record label brainstorm session, which ultimately resulted in a derivative version of the sort of stuff Kelly Clarkson had already done much better. For some people – perhaps those not enamoured with My December – that evidently wasn’t an issue. However, the chart performance does indicate a degree to which audiences didn’t respond as rapturously as they had to My Life Would Suck Without You. Furthermore, it wasn’t unprecedented for Kelly Clarkson to sing material co-written by other artists, as happened with Miss Independent (Christina Aguilera) and Breakaway (Avril Lavigne). However, that was earlier in her career; she shouldn’t really, by this point, have been in a position of recording – let alone releasing – tracks that, for whatever reason, weren’t deemed good enough to appear on Katy Perry’s album in the first place.

Yet, the legacy of I Do Not Hook Up (or lack of) has more or less corrected whatever misgivings people may have had at the time. Kelly Clarkson hasn’t abjectly disowned the song, yet it’s rarely been performed live since the All I Ever Wanted Tour concluded in 2010 and didn’t even make the standard tracklist of her Greatest Hits – Chapter One compilation. Thus. it’s difficult to regard I Do Not Hook Up as a wholly objectionable addition to Kelly Clarkson’s back catalogue because the worst it’s ever been is inconsequential. 

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