‘It was nasty what happened to girls in the 90s’

Jewel in 2021. (Photo: Dana Trippe)

“You know, Sia has life,” Jewel jokes, the day after winning against Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume. The masked singer disguised as the Queen of Hearts. “Being able to put on a wig and not deal with hair and makeup is an amazing thing. So I loved that aspect of [the show]actually, just to be able to put my hair up in a ponytail and do my job.”

Jewel became the sixth Masked Singer champion after a stunning run of performances – including the aforementioned Sia’s “Bird Set Free” – which was heralded by the judges as one of the best in the history of the series. Studio recordings of those songs are now available on Jewel’s new Queen of Hearts EP, and Jewel is proud that the show has spotlighted “something I’ve never focused on in my entire career, which is just my technical prowess as a singer.” … It was actually a goal of mine with the show. I’ve never written for my voice, which is weird. I write my own songs; you think i would write a song that showed my singing! But all I cared about was the story. So when you think of “You Were Meant for Me,” it was a huge hit, but it wasn’t a hard song to sing. The same goes for ‘Who will save your soul’. They were more idiosyncratic vocally, but not demanding vocal. And so for this show I really wanted to focus on showing my range and technical prowess. ”

Jewel remembers the overwhelming attention she received for her appearance, not for her singing or songcraft, when her debut album Pieces of you came out over 25 years ago. “I was ridiculed in the press – and you know, shock jocks were everywhere because of” [the popularity of] Howard Stern. So I went live on the radio and they said, ‘You may have heard me describe my next guest as a big-breasted woman from Alaska. Jewel, how are you?’” she says. “But I grew up in bars in Alaska, so I learned to stand up for myself. So when the guy said that on the radio, I said, “Oh, you must be that little penis I’ve heard so much about from South Carolina!” And I got kicked off the radio, out of the station. You know, people would say on the radio, ‘How do you give a blowjob with those teeth?’ It was disgusting what happened to girls in the 90s. Oh my god, it was tough.”

Jewel was “beaten up” all the time in the press in those early days, but then touring with an iconic singer-songwriter helped get her out of that dark place. “On a personal level, Bob Dylan gave me the courage to keep going,” she says. “I don’t think it made a big difference in the audience or on the radio, but he liked me. He guided me. He listened to my shows. He took me to his dressing room after every show. And he would go through my texts with me. And that disappointed me. I was tired, I was exhausted and the record wasn’t going anywhere, but Dylan really believed in me. He was like, ‘Go on. It doesn’t matter if you are successful on the radio. Keep it up. You are good.’ So that gave me the strength.”

Jewel had to deal with critics for much of her career because, as she sees it, she never quite fit in. She remembers a time when Pieces of you, which took nearly two years to break through to the mainstream, received a glowing review from a major music journalist (“The review was insanely good, like, ‘one of the brightest singer-songwriters since Joni Mitchell’, like That kind of good”), but when her album was a huge success, “exactly the same journalist murdered the record. Isn’t that interesting? I don’t know, I may have become too popular. Some critics like that you’re the underdog, and they don’t like it when you’re a populist. …But I guess it’s because I was blatantly, unapologetically serious at the height of grunge, a cynical and highly male-dominated music business, and no one could understand why a blond folk singer was talking about being sensitive. It was just so serious and so sincere. Nothing was like that. And it really struck a chord with some people.”

And then, she recalls, when she took a big creative turn in 2003 with her fourth album, the pop/dance-leaning 0304, she struck a chord again. “It’s a hard thing for women. You’re supposed to be polite and shut up and be the perfect little girl – that is also sexy, but not slutty,” she muses. “When I made my pop album, you’d think I’d killed someone! No one wanted a “credible singer-songwriter” to make pop music. You weren’t allowed to be sexy and smart. It was a contradiction with people. …And no one had done it from the ’90s, and the credibility for women was very hard-earned. Remember, the 90s were… all of them about credibility, and no one had ever become a singer-songwriter and pop. And the amount of suspicion it faced was really interesting. It was a meeting with incredible hostility. The video [for the 0304 single “Intuition”] was so obviously cheeky and it was still a really smart record, but it was either Clive Davis or David Geffen taking me aside and laughing at me! He said, “No one wants to see Joni Mitchell of this generation wearing a miniskirt. You’d better take the F!’ And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really him’ angry!’”

Jewel continued: “There’s really an incredible double standard that women are up to, especially if we’re considered ‘credible’. You can’t be creatively free. And I just always made the record I wanted, whenever I wanted. Or me not done — I did years between records, which is a huge no-no for fame, but a huge yes for sanity. And people acted like it was shameful, such as, ‘Where has Jewel gone?’ – while making sure I didn’t have a nervous breakdown. The press would rather someone have a nervous breakdown and then make fun of them, but they also want you to keep going. And when you get off that merry-go-round, because it’s a decision you’re entitled to, people act like it’s so shameful. Like, ‘Oh, she’s not that famous now!’ But for me my number 1 job was like, I need to figure out how to be happy. My number two job is to be a musician. That’s why I did years between records. I declined hosting Saturday Night Live because I was so exhausted! I knew I was headed for a breakdown. And so to this day I turned down one of the biggest career opportunities. I can’t believe I turned that down, but I ran into the wall. I just couldn’t.”

But years later, when? The masked singer came to call, said Jewel, now 47 years old, enthusiastically yes. As a visual artist in her spare time, she even designed her beautiful costume based on one of her poems with the key line: “All our hearts are destined to be broken, but it’s what we do with the pieces that make us extraordinary.” And this time, all the seriousness that had ridiculed her so much in the 90s worked in her favor, and no one seemed to think of entering a frenzied singing competition like The masked singer was damaging to its credibility.

“Yeah, it’s a totally crazy show, a totally campy show, but what amazed me was how genuine and authentic I could be in a really crazy environment,” says Jewel. “I have a youth foundation and I often tell my kids that your self-esteem has to be intrinsic. If your identity is tied to your name or your job title or how much money you make, all those things can basically be taken away. And who are you inside “So this show is oddly based on that premise. I really need to show my heart, who I am, my essence.”

And now Jewel, who has covered everything from dance-pop to country to spoken word, is recreating whatever record she wants to make: Freewheelin’ Woman, due out in Spring 2022, is a ‘soul-pop’ album that she says will showcase the kind of epic, uplifting vocals she delivered The masked singer.

“I never like to do the same thing twice. I’m just bored musically. I feel like it’s cheating doing the same thing you’ve already figured out. And Bob Dylan and Neil Young really instilled in me the idea of ​​following your muse,” says Jewel. “So this album took a long time. I bet I wrote 200 songs to find the 12 or 13 I like for this album, and to write something that felt new and fresh, that wasn’t repetitive, but it wasn’t contrived either. I definitely understand why middle aged artists do a lot of drugs to find a new style or sound because it was pretty hard to do it the old fashioned way, sober! It took a lot of psychological digging to find something I thought was fresh. I’m definitely singing in a way I’ve never sung before. I write in a way I hadn’t written before, not just lyrically, but for my reach. I can not wait for it.”

Interestingly, despite having such an incredible career with early tours with not only Bob Dylan and Neil Young, but also the Ramones, Bauhaus’s Peter Murphy and of course Lilith Fair, Jewel confessed The masked singer that she never thought she was “cool,” and neither did her critics. Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume, she echoes that statement, quite proudly actually.

“I remember watching MTV when my first song came out and they were all really cool kids and my music wasn’t like anything else. But I never focused on being the pretty or the cool or the slick. I just tried to be very sincere and really authentic. And I was seriously at the height of grunge, right? I was just a big bleeding heart. I was emotional and sincere and serious at the height of none of those things. And that’s what I’ve always focused on. And I wouldn’t change anything. I would like to encourage everyone: try not to be like other people. There is no way to do it. The privilege of a lifetime is to be yourself – and over time that becomes cool.”

The above interview is from Jewel’s two appearances on the SiriusXM show “Volume West. The full audio of those conversations is available in the SiriusXM app.

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The above interview is from Jewel’s two appearances on the SiriusXM show “Volume West. The full audio of those conversations is available in the SiriusXM app.

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