Jewel's yodel isn't just some vocal-gymnastic thing she does to show off — it's a secret power. Her rebel yell can shake people out of their complacency.
At least, that's according to her upcoming animated short "Punk Rock Angel Girl," in which the singer/songwriter moonlights as a superhero — kind of.
"Punk Rock Angel Girl, or PRAG, she's just a teenager," Jewel explained. "She's a punk rocker, but what I call punk rock is getting angry with a cause. A lot of the show is about anger as a transformational, useful tool. There's a difference between pent-up aggression that's randomly expressed — that's just confrontational with no thought behind it — versus positive anger, thinking for yourself and making tough decisions."
Jewel created the concept, wrote the script and drew the title character — whom she also voices — for the Nickelodeon short, set to air this fall. The former art major thought the cartoon would be a fun way to use parables and satire "in an unassuming way," unlike, say, her "Intuition" video, which depicted her becoming an overly sexualized, overly commercialized pop star. It was meant to be ironic, but not everyone got the joke. With "Punk Rock Angel Girl," she hopes she can do something sophisticated and simple at the same time.
"I really enjoy the medium," Jewel said. "It's so much fun creating this whole world, but it's so hard to get everything I want in."
It's still a work in progress, so Jewel's got time to cram all her ideas into the series, which currently exists as two-minute stand-alone shorts. In the first, called "Tough Choices," PRAG discovers that a big, faceless corporation called Megacorp is trying to brainwash the youth of America to buy things that nobody would ever need. Megacorp's minions are disguised as celebrities — but underneath, they're actually robots, and if revealed as such, they attack.
"It's a faceless network conspiracy to make people stupid," Jewel said.
In "Tough Choices," one of Megacorp's robots pretends to be the pop idol Francoise, who picked PRAG's band to open up for him on tour. But instead of coming out to sing, he exhorts the crowd to buy a ton of products.
In another short Jewel has in mind, one of Megacorp's robots pretends to be Barbara Walters, who's supposed to be reporting on a protest at Central Park where a group wants to replace the ugly animals with pretty ones.
"Normally, PRAG is pretty cynical, but this level of stupidity is just shocking to her," Jewel said. "This robot impersonating Barbara Walters is saying these dumb and absurd things: 'Worms deserve to die.' 'Cows are ugly.' Stuff like that. And while she'd normally walk away and not get involved, she's starting to get upset and angry."
To top it off, Punk Rock Angel Girl gets a strange sensation when she gets angry, a feeling like she needs to throw up, which becomes a yodel as a lightning bolt comes out of her. These "Yellow Yodel Bolts of Energy" help PRAG tap into her inner reserves of power — but she also discovers that everyone has this power within them; it's just a matter of finding out what triggers it. For PRAG, it's being around stupidity, and for Jewel, that means there's an abundance of inspiration for future shorts.
"There's going to be tons of pop-culture tie-ins," she promised. "When Matthew McConaughey plays the bongos naked, when Janet Jackson's boob pops out, it turns out they were just one of the brainwashed zombies. And it's up to PRAG to save them."