Some artists constantly change, and while some we love for that, others we despise for it. In Jewel's case, people just seem to be wondering why.
The once folksy singer/songwriter has done a complete 180 in style and sound. Gone are the guitars and granola of her first few albums, traded in for a high-gloss, highly commercial dance-pop groove.
The Marc Klasfeld-directed video for her first single, "Intuition," from her cryptically named fifth album, 0304, is as commercial as the music — you might say deliberately so. It substitutes the ubiquitous "Jewel" brand in place of recognizable logos for soda, beer, jeans, sneakers, even a certain music video channel's video request program. Is it a calculated move to put Jewel in Britney and Shakira's shoes, or is it more of a sendup of what it takes to get those shoes to fit in the first place?
The clip is a parody "of rap videos, of runways, of pop culture," Jewel said Friday morning on NBC's "Today" show. But by that afternoon, she had changed her tune for "TRL," a program more likely to encourage her new look. Wearing a bow-tied tank top, fatigue pants, heels and a bouffant hairdo seemingly inspired by a combat-prone Gwen Stefani, Jewel said she "just wanted to have fun."
"Spoofing it, I'm not doing," Jewel said. "It's more about the fact that I am a person who is sold as a product. I'm comfortable with that. It's my job. If I wanted to not make a living at this, I could just move to Alaska and write songs in a cabin. ... I'm driven and motivated to do what I do every day, and at the same time I can't help but giggle and go, 'Holy sh--, look what I'm a part of.' It isn't all a spoof, it's not even a parody, it isn't all making fun of it."
A cousin on some level to Madonna's "Material Girl," Jewel's "Intuition" seems to tackle consumer culture and society's expectations of womanhood in one fell swoop, though the meaning might be lost in the shock of hearing a Jewel singing over a dance groove. While the song partly stabs at the commodification of culture, the ultimate message is not to let the culture govern you.
"We don't even know what we feel at all [anymore], we're always asking somebody else," Jewel said. "You're looking in magazines and you're looking at TV to figure out how to behave, to the point where you're almost in danger of losing your natural instincts and losing your intuition, losing your ability to make your own decisions. Intuition is a really elusive, fragile thing."
One line in the song getting a lot of attention is "Miss J's big butt is boss/ Now Miss Moss can't find a job." "A lot of people have taken that lyric like I'm insulting somebody, and I'm not," Jewel explained. "I'm talking about fads with human flesh, the fact that it used to be that Kate Moss' body type was really desirable, and I know so many girls were starving themselves. I don't think she starved herself to be that way, that's how she's built, but now it's J. Lo and her voluptuousness, and we're able to embrace that. ... That's fantastic. But it's [about] trends, fads and trying to have kids question it, know what they're buying into and not be hard-pressed to try to force your [body] type to be another one."
The same might be said for forcing your musical style into another one, but Jewel insisted that her evolution wasn't a sudden jump taken lightly. Apparently she's been interested in what she calls "hip-hop dance folk" for a long time but found it difficult to undertake. Plus, she was warned against it by people who heard her describe it.
"People were like, 'That sounds awful, that sounds like a pickle-and-peanut butter sandwich — bad idea, don't do it,' but it interested me," she said. "And my fans ... have seen me do classical music, jazz, dance, they've even seen me yodel, so I think it will make sense to them."
Much of the rest of 0304 does sound at least lyrically like the old Jewel fans knew, despite being dressed up in dance beats. Folkies deterred by the over-the-top "Intuition" still might enjoy love songs like "Run to You," "Leave the Lights On," "To Find You" and "Sweet Temptation." There, music is a bit closer to the coffeehouse than the clubs, with simple beats and slight grooves more reminiscent of Mirwais, Poe or Radiohead than what could've been employed by her collaborator, Lester Mendez, who's known for his work with Shakira and Enrique Iglesias.
Still, if this electronic turn and new look aren't a marketing ploy, why did she already partner with a women's razor (Schick's new wet shaver, not coincidentally named Intuition), co-promoting each other in a cycle that makes it difficult to determine which came first — the single or the product?
"I'm here to make my label money," Jewel said. "The reason they do keep me around is because I do make them money, and at the same time I try to do that by being an artist and by being a lyricist. Being able to exist like that in this culture is a phenomenon, one I'm always amazed at, one I'm always looking at, one I'm always questioning and examining."
The newly realized "product" known as Jewel releases her actual product, 0304, on June 3.