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Pop Rock Pioneers P!nk + Kelly Clarkson: Who’s on Top?

Kelly Clarkson Pink Whos On Top
Theo Wargo/Christopher Polk, Getty Images

Clear a path for P!nk and Kelly Clarkson, two pop-rock pioneers who’ve built careers on rejecting industry conventions of glamour and sparkling fantasy. Or, better let, let them blaze the trails themselves — they’re used to it.

The “What About Us” and “Love So Soft” singers, both now married moms who’ve each got three Grammys, have achieved lasting power in music by doubling down on identities as gritty risk-takers. Across more than 30 collective years in the industry, they’ve churned out tracks decrying President George W. Bush (P!nk’s “Dear Mr. President”), fighting back against neo-conservative movements (Clarkson’s upcoming Michelle Obama-inspired “Go High”) and penning more than a few of radio’s greatest breakup anthems.

And every time critics count them out, or say they’ve overstayed their welcome in an industry replete with teens and twentysomethings, the 38-year-old P!nk and 35-year-old Clarkson prove they’ve still got staying power (their most recent albums, 2012’s The Truth About Love and 2015’s Piece by Piece, respectively, both debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200).

Still, when it comes to the big-voiced belters, who will both release new albums later this month (Beautiful Trauma drops on October 13, while Meaning of Life hits stores on October 27), who’s got the better chance of making the bigger splash?

(Funnily enough, if you ask one, she’ll probably say the other: P!nk once raved about Clarkson’s 2013 Grammys performance and called her Stronger acceptance speech “lovable,” while Clarkson has routinely praised P!nk for doing what she loves, and staying true to her lyrical conviction).

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P!nk, who got her start in the industry in 1995 as a member of girl group Choice, shot onto the scene as a solo artist with 2000’s urban pop-heavy Can’t Take Me Home, which spawned earworms “There You Go” and “Most Girls.” The LP would only land as high as No. 26 on the charts, but was a solid launching pad, and set the stage for the biggest evolution of her career — from R&B ingenue to more pop-rock phenom on 2001’s Mizundastood.

(Oh, and along the way, she won her first Grammy for “Lady Marmalade” alongside Mya, Christina Aguilera and Lil’ Kim, which amounted to her first Billboard No. 1 hit).

“Get the Party Started”, “Don’t Let Me Get Me”, and “Just Like a Pill,” all Top 10 singles, made Missundaztood a hit (12 million in sales didn’t hurt, either), and while 2003 follow-up Try This barely hardly made the same mark commercially, it earned P!nk her first solo Grammy for “Trouble.”

I’m Not Dead, P!nk’s 2006 hitmaker (and first anecdotal “comeback”), delivered radio mainstays “Stupid Girls,” “Who Knew” and “U + UR Hand” as her reign as dauntless renegade extended . And 2008’s Funhouse matched its success — it debuted at No. 2 on the charts, racked up six-million in sales worldwide and delivered singles “So What,” Sober,” I Don’t Believe You” and “Glitter in the Air,” the latter of which amounted to a daring and stunning acrobatic performance at the 2010 Grammys that has since become a staple of P!nk’s live sets.

And after the release of 2012’s The Truth About Love, which debuted at No. 1 on the charts and included No. 1 hit “Just Give Me a Reason,” P!nk’s said she’s done trying to prove her talent, and has embraced her identity in music. With Beautiful Trauma comes the end of overthinking.

“Do I still have s— to prove to myself? Yes,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “[But] I feel like the people who get it, get it. And the people who don’t aren’t ever going to. I’m at a place where I’m really okay with that. I don’t need to court. I’m not speed-dating. I’m just doing what I do.”

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Clarkson, who handily won the inaugural American Idol season in 2002 (judge Simon Cowell later deemed her the best singer in the show’s history), immediately tasted success with her debut coronation single, as “A Moment Like This” shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. And while her No. 1 debut album, 2003’s Thankful, showed promise, and spawned the massive, Grammy-nominated “Miss Independent,” it was 2004 follow-up Breakaway that set her career’s tone.

Clarkson’s sophomore album, which commanded pop charts for a bulk of 2005 and 2006, included defining singles “Since U Been Gone,” “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and “Because of You.” The album earned Clarkson her career’s first two Grammys for Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album and sold more than 12-million albums worldwide.

And while follow-up My December, which debuted at No. 2 in the United States, outpaced Breakaway in its first week of sales, it would only move one-million units domestically, and proved to be a turning point in Clarkson’s career. Its heavy and dark rock influence made it a favorite of fans (“Sober” is bible to the Clarkson-devout), but singles went mostly unnoticed. All I Ever Wanted, Clarkson’s No. 1 follow-up, contrarily signaled a return to mainstream pop, and included No. 1 lead single “My Life Would Suck Without You.”

Stronger, which debuted at No. 2 in 2011, earned Clarkson her third Grammy for Best Pop Vocal album, and her third No. 1 single, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” The album was considered her most consistent vocal effort to date, and subsequent tour stops followed suit — Clarkson’s “fan request” segments became a mainstay of her shows, and her covers of Marc Broussard’s “Home,” Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” and Carrie Underwood’s “I Know You Won’t” are some the finest live vocals of her career.

Having finally wrapped up her initial, American Idol-earned RCA contract with the release of Christmas album Wrapped in Red and dance-pop experiment Piece by Piece, which debuted at No. 1 but made few waves otherwise, Clarkson’s been focused on setting the standard for future work. She promised a soul-pop record after signing with Atlantic in 2016, and so far, all signs point to a follow-through. It’s likely the album fans expected she would make immediately after her Idol win, she said, and she’s thrilled to get started.

“This is a grown-ass woman’s record,” she told Entertainment Weekly of the En Vogue- and Mariah Carey-inspired LP. “This isn’t a record I could have made at the age of 20. This is a record you make when you’ve lived…I’m not trying to impress anyone. I’m just me, and if you like that, cool. If you don’t, that’s totally cool too.”

Two tough women, who refuse to compromise, are on a mission. There’s no doubt P!nk and Clarkson will both find success with their next projects, but to whom do you give the slight edge?

P!nk’s Best Live Vocals:

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Next: Kelly Clarkson Brings Down The House With 'Love So Soft'

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