On Kelly Clarkson’s just-released 10th studio album Chemistry, the song “Rock Hudson” tells the tale of a silver-screen love story that turned out to be all Hollywood smoke and mirrors. The first line of the song: “You were my Rock Hudson/ It was real but it wasn’t.”
“I thought I found my Rock Hudson,” Clarkson tells Billboard‘s Pop Shop Podcast about her eight-year marriage to Brandon Blackstock that ended in a 2021 divorce. (Clarkson’s full podcast interview will air on Tuesday’s Pop Shop episode next week.) “I never thought that even existed, if I’m being honest with you. I thought that was total bullsh–. So I didn’t even think that was real.”
Clarkson says Hudson — an Academy Award-nominated actor who was one of the most popular leading men of the late ’50s and early ’60s — became her “movie guy” after watching him opposite Doris Day in the 1959 romantic comedy Pillow Talk when she was a kid. “I fell in love with him.”
As she re-examined her ill-fated marriage for the new album, Clarkson realized that the early days “kind of played out like a movie. Like how we met, how we ended up together, things we had in common — like childhood things. We grew up in the same town and didn’t know each other … it just felt like a movie. And it felt too good to be true — which, OK, it was, but that was the reference.”
What she wasn’t expecting after co-writing “Rock Hudson” with producer Jesse Shatkin was that the song could be interpreted another way: While Hudson portrayed a dashing ladies’ man onscreen, the actor was privately a gay man who kept his sexuality under wraps to maintain his Hollywood career, even marrying his agent’s secretary in the ’50s to keep up the illusion. He died of AIDS in 1985 at age 59.
Clarkson says that piece of Hudson’s identity didn’t inspire the song.
“That can be misleading,” Clarkson tells Billboard. “It’s not referencing Rock’s life, like his personal life and what he was, unfortunately, having to hide from the public. … My producer [Shatkin] didn’t have a clue about [Hudson’s] story at all, and I wasn’t even thinking about that. And it was funny, because somebody at the label [Atlantic Records], I think, is the first person who was like, ‘So, Kelly…’ I was like, ‘Oh no!’ It’s just about having that movie life that people think that you have that’s so perfect, and it’s not [perfect] behind closed doors.”
Elsewhere on “Rock Hudson,” Clarkson references her 2016 Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hit “Piece by Piece,” an emotional song she wrote in tribute to her then-husband Blackstock. “By the way, piece by piece, I found out my hero’s me,” Clarkson confidently sings on the new song.
Listen to “Rock Hudson” below, and hear Clarkson’s full interview with Billboard‘s Pop Shop Podcast on Tuesday, June 27.
–Additional reporting by Keith Caulfield