October 20, 2017
Todd: (clears throat) Okay. Hey, everyone. Um, bear with me, we're going to try a little something different today. You see, one of the things that's always, always fascinated me is...
(The following word pops up in red...)
Todd (v.o.): Failure. And not just anyone's failures... Todd: Like, most of us are failures. I'm talking about the failures of the big stars. And not just any failure from them, either.
(Cut to a shot of a grave labeled: "R.I.P. - My Career - What Was I Thinking??")
Todd (v.o.): I'm talking about failures that artists couldn't come back from; failures that were... Todd: ...effectively career suicide for the poor souls who released them. And I thought I'd start with a nice long look at one of the most disastrous flops I can remember.
(Clip of "You Were Meant for Me")
Jewel: I hear the clock, it's 6AM
Todd (v.o.): This is Jewel. She came from Alaska. She played acoustic guitar. She wrote poetry. She played a lot of coffee houses. She lived in her car. (clip of Jewel yodeling) She yodels. Very serious, earnest singer-songwriter, very 90's kind of music star, very popular with the Lillith Fair crowd. Beautiful voice. Clearly, she would carry the torch for thoughtful female folk music for the rest of her career.... Todd: [beat] ...right?
(Clip of "Intuition")
Jewel: Follow your heart, Your intuition
(Todd just stares and winces)
Todd (v.o.): In 2003, Jewel released her fourth album, 0304. I believe it's named after the dates she expected the album to be ubiquitously popular. A more fitting name would be "03 for about 2 or 3 weeks" because that's how long it lasted.
Todd: And why? Because bizarrely, she decided to become a dance-pop diva.
(Clip of "Stand")
Todd (v.o.): Yes, the girl with a guitar decided to trade in her sincerity and become a full-on Britney Spears-type pop star. Todd: It was one of the most nonsensical career moves in music history. (brief image of and audio clip of "Help Me" by Joni Mitchell before a photoshopped image of Mitchell in a disco-era outfit with Anita Ward's Ring My Bell playing in the background) It's like in the 70's if Joni Mitchell decided to become a disco queen.
(Clip of "Intuition")
Todd (v.o.): And unsurprisingly, it didn't pan out. It made a brief blip on the charts and then completely fizzled, ending up to be the last time anyone really heard or cared about Jewel. Todd: How did we get from (clip of earlier acoustic performance) there to (image of Jewel on the cover of "Blender") here in just six short years? How, how? Well let's find out. This is Trainwreckords.
(Trainwreckords intro, followed by the album cover of 0304)
(Clip of Jewel performing "A Boy Needs a Bike")
Jewel: Things around the table are kind of rough...
Todd (v.o.): OK. Before we get to Jewel's giant sellout, we first have to ask ourselves. Was Jewel any good to begin with? Todd: And the answer is... eh?
(Clip of "You Were Meant for Me")
Jewel: Dreams last so long, even after you're gone...
Todd: Jewel's first album made her famous with three big hit singles which were all very spare and acoustick-y. My favorite was "You Were Meant for Me".
Jewel: You were meant for me and I was meant for you.
Todd (v.o.): It's a great little song about post-breakup denial with a lot of sharp, songwritery details in it. Todd: The other two singles though? [groans] Eh...
(Clip of "Foolish Games")
Jewel: You took your coat off...
Todd (v.o.): Okay, I think these two songs illustrate my big problems with Jewel. One, she tends to oversing.
Jewel: These foolish games are tearing me, you're tearing me...
Todd (v.o.): Ugh it's so overwrought, she sounds like a really emotional Miss Piggy sometimes. It's, it's just too much.
(Clip of "Who Will Save Your Soul")
Jewel: People living their lives for you on T.V.
Todd (v.o.): Now the other big single, and maybe this is the one that people really remember from her, is "Who Will Save Your Soul". It's about the spiritual emptiness of modern life. Todd: Which brings me to my other big problem: Jewel wasn't that deep.
Jewel: Who will save your souls when it comes to the flowers now? Huh huh who will save your souls?
Todd: I don't know. Jesus, I guess? Did you have any (image of The Watchtower) literature you wanted to share about the good news or are you just asking smug questions?
Jewel: Another doctor's bill, a lawyer's bill, another cute cheap thrill...
Todd (v.o.): I don't have lawyers. What is this song even aimed at?
(Clip of "Hands")
Todd (v.o.): And this is why she never really became, like, a critical darling. She always just kinda seemed like she was out of her depth. You may have seen that famous clip where Kurt Loder corrects her word choice.
(Clip of interview)
Kurt Loder: Casualty doesn't mean that, does it? Casualty's like a guy gets his arm blown off. I mean isn't that...
Jewel: You smartass for pointing that out. Next topic.
Todd (v.o.): People remembered this clip because you so rarely get to see celebrities get truth bombed to their face but me, I was just like... Todd: ...holy crap, she thought casualty meant casualness! That's not a minor error!
(Clip of a live performance of "Kiss the Flame")
Jewel: People selling thoughtlessness with such casualty.
Todd: This woman is a published poet! Todd (v.o.): Yeah so, unlike Tori Amos or Sheryl Crow, she didn't really retain a major following. Her second album didn't do nearly as well, nor her third, in which she tried to kick it up a notch with some slicker production.
(Clip of "Standing Still")
Jewel: Or am I standing still?
Todd (v.o.): I like this song personally but it had been diminishing returns for two albums in a row now. It looked like she was gonna fade into semi-obscurity like most of the rest of the Lilith Fair scene but it turns out... Todd: ...that album also had a fluke dance hit.
(Audio clip and image of "Serve the Ego")
Todd (v.o.): Yes, a dance hit for Jewel. Heh. Who saw that coming, am I right? Then Jewel got an idea. Todd: An awful idea. Jewel got a terrible, awful idea.
(Clip of "Intuition")
Todd: In May of 2003, Jewel released her big debut single for her new direction.
Jewel: Follow your heart, your intuition...
Todd (v.o.): It was called "Intuition" and I remember being floored because this came right the fuck out of nowhere. You think your mind was blown when (clip of "Look What You Made Me Do") Taylor Swift released her goddamn thing this year. Well imagine if she had released it right after (clip of...) "Teardrops on My Guitar". Todd: This is how this felt.
Jewel: I'm just a simple girl in a high tech digital world...
Todd (v.o.): But I think there's a much bigger problem than just the abruptness of the transition. Todd: It's that "Intuition" is just a heinous song.
Jewel: Follow your heart, your intuition...
Todd (v.o.): Jewel's main assets were her sweetness and simplicity and they took it away from her with a big stupid ugly pop song chorus that doesn't scan properly.
Jewel: It's easy to find, just follow your heart, baby (Captions read "Just follow your hot bang, bang (?)")
Todd (v.o.): But even that's not the worst problem. See I'm guessing her label was concerned of her alienating her fans so they went with the one that lyrically resembled some of her early hits.
Jewel: They say Miss J's big butt is boss, Kate Moss can't find a job, in a world of post-modern fad, what was good now is bad...
Todd (v.o.): See, just like "Who Will Save Your Soul", this is all about the emptiness of the modern world... Todd: ...and the chorus is about how you should just ignore all of that and be yourself.
Jewel: It will lead you in the right direction
Todd: Now as I said, I have never been impressed with Jewel's jabs at superficiality. I don't think she's even landed one punch.
Jewel: You learn cool from magazines, you learned love from Charlie Sheen...
Todd (v.o.): No, no one's ever learned love from Charlie Sheen. Not in his real life or his movies.
Todd: I'm pretty sure he's never even been in a romance movie like...
Todd (v.o.): Maybe (brief clip of...) Hot Shots, I guess? It's not clever. He was just an easy target with an easy-to-rhyme name.
Todd: Yes, Charlie Sheen was already a punchline in 2003.
Todd (v.o.): Just seems like commentary from someone whose only experience with life is celebrity watching. But the really, really worst thing of all is how they try to reconcile pop diva Jewel with above-it-all poet philosopher Jewel. I mean she gave herself a big, flashy pop makeover with a song about being yourself? How do you make those two things fit? I mean isn't that hypocritical? Well not to worry, folks...
Todd: She's only pretending to sell out. Wink. I'm winking.
(Clip of interview where she explains the video)
Jewel: Gets more and more ridiculous. More and more over the top. Hopefully, you know it has to be a joke. By the time you get to the firemen and you see I'm being hosed down, you realize it's just a pastiche on music videos and what happens in music videos.
Todd: (sarcastically) See? It's a...
Todd (v.o.): ...parody of a vapid pop song. It's ironic commentary on shallow commercialized music. She's not really getting hosed down while wearing booty shorts. (Beat) I mean yeah she is, but it's a joke. And the video is just a parody of commercialization. (clip of a Schick shaver commercial using the song) And when it got used in actual ads that year, that was also ironic.
Todd: (picking up a hammer) Here, look, I'm gonna ironically hit my hand with this hammer. (Hits hand with the hammer) OW! Oh, my hand is ironically hurting! ARGH! I'm groaning in ironic agony!
Todd (v.o.): It's a cop out is what it is. It's Jewel trying to pretend she's not doing what she's doing.
Todd: And even if I bought into any of that, which I don't, the song would be basically self-defeating.
Todd (v.o.): I mean what it tells me is "this song sucks, don't listen to it". I can only describe this entire thing as a really bad Shakira song, what with the oversinging, questionable songwriting choices...
(Clip of Shakira's "Whenever, Wherever")
Todd (v.o): And here's the thing: Shakira has also always had difficulty splitting the difference between her pop and songwriter sides but she's pop on purpose. That's who she is. Todd: Jewel, meanwhile, without a guitar in her hands, she just looks like she doesn't know what to do with her hands.
(Clip of a live performance with Jewel just standing there barely moving)
Jewel: I'm just a simple girl in a high tech digital world, I really try to understand all the powers that rule this land.
Todd just limply dances and snaps his fingers awkwardly Todd (v.o.): I can tell her intuition is telling her what to do. It's telling her: "Let me go home".
(Clip of "Stand")
Jewel: Walk in a corner shop, see a shoplifting cop...
Todd (v.o.): The first single is the only one I ever heard but apparently she also released a second called "Stand".
Jewel: Mothers weep, children sleep, so much violence ends in silence, it's a shame there's no one to blame for all the pain...
Todd (v.o.): And quite honestly, it's pretty redundant. It's more "ooh I'm alienated by the shallowness of society". Not something she should've doubled down on.
Jewel: A waitress brings me lunch, we meet but do not touch...
Todd (v.o.): Sound wise, I gather that the model of what she was trying to do was (clip of...) Nelly Furtado. Todd (v.o.): Furtado also had her whole hippie-dippie Eastern tinge pop thing going on and that seems to be what Jewel is trying for here. But she doesn't have any of Nelly Furtado's spiritual vibes. She just sounds haughty and pretentious.
Jewel: Go to the counter, pay for me and my friend, a homeless man pulls out a roll, says it's on him
Todd: What the fuck are you talking about? Todd (v.o.): Yeah, "Stand" did not take off and its final single didn't get a video, I don't think. It was called "2 Become 1".
(Audio clip of "2 Become 1" plays over "Stand" video)
Jewel (v.o.): 2 become 1...
Todd (v.o.): Wait, hold on! "2 Become 1"?! Todd: No, no I reject this on principle. That title has been claimed!
(Clip of the Spice Girls - When 2 Become 1)
Baby Spice: When 2 become 1...
Todd (v.o.): Jeez, what else you got in there, Jewel? "Love Don't Cost a Thing 2"? "I'm Also A Genie in a Bottle"?
(Jewel singing "Leave the Lights On" with a performance clip of her performing "Intuition" playing over the audio)
Jewel: If you want my love, you can have my love...
Todd (v.o.): Honestly, revisiting this whole album is interesting in 2017 when pop music (Clips of a live performance of Sia's Cheap Thrills and Lorde's Green Light) is a comparably respectable genre and its performers are often highly acclaimed songwriters.
Todd: This would've been an understandable move now but...
Todd (v.o.): In 2003 in the days of Britney Spears, it was just such a hard sell. What was she thinking?
Todd: Well, the liner notes give us a hint.
Todd (v.o.): (reading the liner notes with the words underlined in red) "Dear fans, where to start?" "Where?" indeed. "This record may seem different to you". Yeah, no kidding. "I wanted to make a record that was a modern interpretation of big band music."
Todd just pauses as if to say "what?"
(Clip of a vintage big band performance)
Todd pauses again before reading...
Todd (v.o.): "A record that was lyric-driven like Cole Porter."
Todd is turn aback by this information.
(Clip of "The Gay Divorcee")
Fred Astaire: Night and day, you are the one, only beneath the moon and under the sun...
(Audio clip of "U & Me = Love" with cover of 0304 displayed)
Jewel: But I'm no Cinderella to your storybook fella/You and m-e spells l-o-v-e to me
Todd: (Pause) I'm not hearing it.
Todd (v.o.): The weird thing is, even then, she had so many better options to emulate than Shakira or Nelly Furtado if she wanted to go pop. I mean, look, who else was getting big at the time: (brief clips of...) Pink, Michelle Branch, even Avril Lavigne. All of them wrote personal songs with a pop sheen. Jewel could have and should have tried that.
Todd: And there are a few times where she does and, actually I'll be honest, it's pretty good.
(Clip of Jewel performing "2 Find U" on the "Today Show")
Jewel: Hey, you, do not walk away, let's choose love, come on, what do you say?
Todd (v.o.): And those good songs were songs she could've made without the makeover. The whole album falls apart when she tries to be upbeat, party Jewel.
(Clip of Jewel performing more acoustically with the audio clip of "Yes U Can" playing in the background)
Jewel: Say hello to the room where the party's jumpin', where the boys all freak 'cause boots are bumpin', where the girls are naughty and always saying "Yes you can, yes you can, yes you can"
Todd (v.o.): Turns out there is no upbeat party Jewel! She can't sell it!
Todd: This woman doesn't go clubbing and if she does, she doesn't drink anything harder than cappuccinos!
Todd (v.o.): And one last note: that whole Cole Porter comparison. Well there's one additional connection that she made. See, (image of...) Cole Porter made music to cheer people up during the darkness of the Depression and the war. (Clip of President George W. Bush) Now we were also coming off a national tragedy and going to war in 2003. So that whole lifting home front spirits idea is probably why she mostly stays out of politics...
Todd: ...as did most everyone in that feeble time of pop culture. However, she does make a couple political comments here and there. Especially in this one called "America".
(Audio clip of "America" with 0304 cover displayed)
Jewel: We are trying in America, we're spying in America, getting high in America...
Todd: (flatly) Yeah! America. Shop at the Gap. Do yoga. This is critical commentary of some kind.
Todd (v.o.): And the liner notes say the label made her change some of the lyrics.
Todd: Honestly that may be why her enthusiasm seems to run out halfway through and the lyrics just kinda give up.
Jewel: We are getting tanned in America, we love Spam in America, Polanski's banned from America...
Todd: (flatly) Take that, America, you... spam-eating non-Polanskis! (raising fist)
Todd (v.o.): Well after that, Jewel basically faded into the background. Her next album was a more traditional one that was basically an apology for doing all of this pop shit in the first place.
Todd: And since then, she's been strictly independent. Although if you wanna still see her, you can check her in (brief image of...) "Frame for Murder: A Fixer-Upper Mystery". Was the project salvageable? (shrugging) Maybe with a better lead single.
Todd (v.o.): But the lead single is meant to be a big statement. And it's not clear if there was any statement that would've made this project make sense. And it's not like she's the last songwriter to go straight plastic pop either. (Brief clips of...) It worked for Gwen Stefani but she eased herself into it. It worked for Nelly Furtado because she had the tunes to back it up. But Jewel? Jewel as a folktronica dance pop artist was never anything but insincere, awkward and confused. She was not following her intuition when she went into this direction.
Todd: And if she was, man, her intuition, like, really sucks.
Jewel: It will lead you in the right direction.
(Ending music: Todd plays "Intuition" on the piano)
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