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Track Review

In 1888, German philosopher and noted nihilist Friedrich Nietzsche penned these words: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." As he put his quill down, pulled off his reading spectacles and twizzeled his gargantuan moustache between thumb and forefinger, I doubt that even in his wildest dreams he could have imagined a cute lil' singer from Texas making his words a No. 1 hit 124 years later.

But that's exactly what Kelly Clarkson has done with her third chart-topping effort, "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)."

Plenty of pop singers plunge straight into emotional purgatory in the wake of a bad romance. Take, say, Adele, for instance, who's managed to parlay her devastating heartbreak into the sale of 17 million albums in the last year. Clarkson, in contrast, will have none of that. "You know the bed feels warmer/Sleeping here alone," she begins as she brainstorms how her life is better since her man's been gone, "You know I dream in color/And do the things I want."

And she's not about to let this callous cad's assessment of who she is shape the way she sees herself: "You think you got the best of me/Think you had the last laugh/ … Think you left me broken down/Think that I'd come running back." This guy has got another thing coming, there's no doubt about that: "Baby, you don't know me, 'cause you're dead wrong/ … Thanks to you I got a new thing started/Thanks to you I'm not the brokenhearted."

Those brusque sentiments pave the way for Clarkson's Nietzschian ode to empowerment in the chorus: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger/Stand a little taller/ … What doesn't kill you makes a fighter/Footsteps even lighter/ … Just me, myself and I/ … Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone/ … Doesn't mean I'm over 'cause you're gone."

"This is one of my favorite songs on the album," Kelly said in an interview with digitalspy.com. "Everybody loves the message 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' It's a perfect representation of my life." And in the video we see her clearly relishing its effect on others as she watches different groups of people doing a little muscle-flexing line dance to celebrate.

And I guess there's really not much reason for them to restrain their enthusiasm. Apart from the implication of premarital sexual intimacy in the opening line, there's a lot to like here: A broken relationship doesn't mean that life is over, and the lessons we can learn from it are myriad. Who knows, maybe even Nietzsche, furrowed-brow atheistic philosopher that he was, might have been tempted to tap his foot a little bit had he lived long enough to witness this unexpected application of his well-worn philosophical nugget.

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Million-selling track topped the Billboard Hot 100.

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January 17, 2012

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Adam R. Holz

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