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What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)

by

Kelly Clarkson



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

The title track of American Pop-Rock singer Kelly Clarkson's fifth studio album fits in with many of the powerhouse singer's previous empowerment-themed, Miss Independent tunes. We hear the songstress confidently tell her former beau, "You heard that I was starting over with someone/ They told you I was moving on, over you/ You think I'd come/ I'd come back swinging/ You tried to break me/ But you see what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Speaking to MTV News prior to the song's release, Clarkson said the inspiring dance anthem reminded her of one of her own all-time favorites. "That'll be the one [that's] kinda like 'Since U Be Gone,' [with] people jumping up and down to [it], and it's just kind of really inspiring, so I can't wait to perform that one," she said.
AOL Music asked Clarkson why she recorded so many kiss-off songs? She replied: "It's not just guys. I just like telling people off if I don't like them. Not in a mean way. I'm just like my mother; I have no filter. I like that! I want people around me like that. There's going to be so much miscommunication if you don't say what you think and say what you feel. Life would be a lot easier if everyone did that."
The song was inspired by the Friedrich Nietzsche quotation, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Despite many of his ancestors having been Protestant clergyman, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) regarded himself as a prophet of the death of God and spokesman for the liberated man. All values and morals based on Christian thought, he claimed, must be reappraised and if necessary thrown out.

The German philosopher was a music enthusiast and even composed some pieces himself. He once wrote in Twilight of the Idols:"What trifles constitute happiness! The sound of a bagpipe. Without music life would be a mistake! The German even imagines God as a songster.

Nietzsche was once a friend of Richard Wagner and his writing was influenced by the German composer's music. He lent his name to the formation of Wagner societies throughout Germany to raise money to build the Wagner opera house at Bayreuth. Later there was a deep enmity between the two Germans and Nietzsche claimed "Wagner's art is diseased: he has made music sick."

Nietzsche's working life ended with a mental collapse after seeing a cab horse being ill-treated by its driver. He flung his arms round the animal's neck, burst into tears and fell unconscious to the ground. The 44-year-old secular prophet was taken back to his room and spent the last ten years of his life insane in the care of his sister Elisabeth. Although largely overlooked during his working life, by the time of his death, Nietzsche was beginning to receive recognition as a significant figure in philosophy.
The song was quick to become became a drag anthem. Clarkson told the Australian gay website SameSame.com.au: "I'm not even a drag diva but I love that song! It's one of my favourite ones I've ever recorded. I love that it has the beat, but it's also very pop rock with guitars and such a great message. Sometimes when it's an anthem it's throwaway lyrics, but they're great lyrics and they're so inspiring. Sometimes when you're having a crap day, you just wanna listen to something that makes you feel like you can move a mountain, and I feel like that when I listen to that song."
Clarkson told MTV News why she chose to name the album Stronger. "There were a few different titles that were going around and I think the reason why we came up with Stronger was just because every song was about empowerment and almost like overcoming stuff," she explained. "So, even if it was a bad situation and a sad song, it was about overcoming that. So by the end of the song, it's kind of more inspiration than sad. So I think that's why [we named it that], and I think after 10 years of doing it you feel a little stronger personally and musically. People know you better. It's just easier, I think."
Clarkson was featured singing this song in a Toyota commercial for a 2102 Camry. She was joined in the ad by sportscaster Chris Berman, Inside the Actors Studio's James Lipton and TV chef Andrew Zimmern.
This song climbed from #8 to #2 on the Hot 100 in the same week that Clarkson sung "The Star Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl XLVI. In doing so, the singer achieved the highest chart position of any artist during the week of a Super Bowl anthem performance. She overtook Beyoncé, who sang the national anthem for Super Bowl XXXVIII on Feb. 7, 2004, while her hit "Me, Myself And I" was at #5.

The following week the song climbed to #1 earning Clarkson her third chart-topper. Her previous two? They were her Idol coronation song "A Moment Like This," which reached the peak position in 2002 then "My Life Would Suck Without You" reached the summit seven years later.
This song fuses elements of Pop, Rock, and Dance to create a wonderfully catchy crossover hit for Kelly Clarkson. The tune starts with a pulsing bass synth coupled with some atmospheric keyboard sounds in the background. After eight seconds, Clarkson's vocals are introduced into the mix, along with a pounding kick drum and hi-hat cymbal. Everything becomes more intense during the pre-chorus when the electric guitars sneak in and Clarkson preludes her chorus with the line "What doesn't kill you makes you…" From there, the song kicks into a punchy, sing-along chorus with the danceable beat, guitars, synths, and vocals all turned up in the mix. Another verse and chorus follow, but a notable change occurs during the bridge. The song switches to minor chords and fuzzy keyboard tones before a transition into the final verse. This contrast of light and dark melodies prepares the listener for one last energizing chorus where Clarkson re-emphasizes the meaning of the song. The upbeat nature of the beat combined with Clarkson's ability to deliver positive, soulful, and inspiring lyrics make "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" and powerful crossover hit.
When this took over as #1 on the Dance/Club Play Songs chart, Clarkson became the first artist ever to have topped the Hot 100 and each of Billboard's Dance/Club Play Songs, Country Songs, Adult Contemporary and Adult Pop Songs tallies.
The song was written by Jörgen Elofsson, Ali Tamposi, David Gamson in September 2010 at the latter's studio in Long Beach. Tamposi was in a really bad mood as a friend had told her they'd seen him out with another girl and he wasn't answering her calls. The young songsmith had been up all night with her mom being hysterical and didn't want to do the session. She recalled to American Songwriter: "I was driving to the session and telling my mom, 'I'm turning around, I can't do it, I can't do it, I can't do it! I need to go, I need to go!' then, my Mom said, 'Ali, what doesn't kill you is going to make you stronger and its not going to kill you.'" Tamposi typed it into her notes, the whole time thinking to herself, "Ugh, this is cheesy, Jorgen is not gonna like it."

When Tamposi got to the studio Gamson started playing some chords and Elofsson asked her "What's your concept?'" After a few suggestions were turned down, she said, "'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger?' and Jorgen's all, 'THAT'S IT.'" They wrote the song, Tamposi left the session Eloffson cut the demo, and as her head was in another place, she didn't think anything more about until, "two or three months later I get this email saying, 'what doesn't kill you' is a freaking smash!"
So how did the song end up being cut by Clarkson? After Eloffson cut a demo, he got a session singer in to record it. Tamposi's manager Tom Maffei sent that version to Jeff Aldrich, who was Kelly Clarkson's A&R at the time. He felt it had potential but needed an edgier production. So one of Maffei's other producers redid the demo, which Aldrich approved and got Greg Kurstin in to produce. In 2011 the songwriters got word that Clarkson loved the song, and she cut it the following month. Tamposi recalled to American Songwriter: "I went in and helped with cutting her vocals with Greg and he was so great to work with. And Kelly absolutely killed the vocal."
Tamposi told American Songwriter how one of the lyrics was changed from the demo. She said: "The first lyric was originally 'you know the bed feels warmer sleeping here alone/And my days are brighter not staring at the phone.' Kelly came in and wanted to change a few lyrics and stuff so that was the one particular line that she wrote: 'you know I dream in color/and do the things I want.' Which I think is a better line, but we were going back and forth with the label, and the label wasn't sure so they had me write another line. And I said, Friday nights are better than dancing on my own or whatever it is. Then Kelly cut both lines, and they finally decided that the 'dreaming in color' was a better line. So that was one particular thing."
Kelly Clarkson: "That song is just a gold mine - it's a little bit pop, a little bit pop-rock, a little bit urban, a little bit dance, and it ties everything in. And everybody loves that message. 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' It's a perfect representation of my life."
For a reason that we are unable to ascertain the song's single version is titled slightly differently to the album track. It goes by the name of "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)."
Sales figures released by Nielsen SoundScan on July 5, 2012 revealed that by that date, this had surpassed Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" to become the best-selling American Idol single of all time. The numbers showed that "Stronger" had moved 3,510,000 singles up to July 5, 2012 whilst since its release in 2006, "Before He Cheats" had shifted 3,509,000 units.
Speaking with The Associated Press, Clarkson said she is proud that the single's theme of self-empowerment has inspired others to overcome obstacles. "I knew from the moment I heard it that it was going to be huge," she revealed. "I've heard everything from 'I got out of an abusive relationship' to 'I'm surviving cancer'... and I think everyone in the world needs that type of song - something that makes you feel empowered."
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