Stripping ruins, not boosts, image

It has happened many times before in the land of pop culture: a female artist with a declining career bares some skin to boost her next single up the billboard charts. Some artists consider it a comeback or coming-of-age, but most claim this more naked image is a truer reflection of themselves.

Mariah Carey abandoned her “Dreamlover” days, bringing new light to her career in ’97. Carey moved from the soft contemporary genre to the hip-hop arena. She traded in her flannel shirt and blue jeans for a bikini top and a mini-skirt. Christina Aguilera exploded on the TRL scene in ’99 with “Genie in a Bottle” and “What a Girl Wants.” Four years later, this bubblegum pop singer emerged with Stripped. She shocked viewers with her “Dirrty” video and a Rolling Stone cover where she wore nothing but a guitar neck.

Maybe it was inevitable for those, but not Jewel.

She stepped into the mainstream with Pieces of You, featuring guitar-driven, simplistic singles “Who Will Save Your Soul,” “Foolish Games” and “You Were Meant For Me.” Since that debut release, Jewel managed to preserve her folk/country roots. Jewel represented what most singers abandon when breaking into mainstream – integrity and artistry.

So how could this folk singer be added to the list of clothes-shedding singers?

The new Jewel gyrates with her backup dancers in the video for “Intuition,” the first single off 0304. Another scene portrays Jewel getting blasted with a fire hose, sporting a white tank top and patriotic bra.

I’m all for patriotism and celebrating femininity, but wasn’t there another way to go? Jewel had a great thing going. Her first CD went multi-platinum, she published multiple poetry books and built a lasting career for herself with a dedicated fan base — all while being fully dressed. Now Jewel is prouder than ever to be known for her cleavage, reducing herself to mere Maxim centerfold material.

When I first heard that Jewel was working on a new album, I imagined that her songs would play on Starbucks’ radio between Norah Jones and John Mayer. Instead of hearing her music played in a coffee shop, her new album is more fit for a dance club.

Jewel told MTV News that she “wanted to make a record that was fun.” She also said she created a new sound by combining folk lyrics with electronic beats.

While listening to the intelligent songwriter speak, I found myself almost understanding her reasoning for this about-face. I snapped out of it, however, after realizing she could have created a fun album without stripping the music of its original essence and replacing it with electronic rhythms. And it would have been beneficial to release an album that reflected a mature image instead of reducing her intelligence to that of an illiterate teenager (see song titles: “Run 2 U,” “2 Find U,” and “U + Me = Love”).

As for the “new sound” Jewel created by combining electronic rhythms with folk melody, it’s been done – it’s called pop music. There are record companies that specialize in producing it and radio stations that are dedicated to playing it.

Jewel used to be something different. She used to have an edge above others in the mainstream. That edge was integrity, and with 0304 she chose to flush it down the drain. I lump the new Jewel in with the other washed up performers that gave in to the pressure of the entertainment industry, pleasing the Girls Gone Wild demographic. Now I can only pray that I won’t soon be writing a column on Norah Jones entitled “Don’t know why Jones looks like a hoochie.”

Andrea Papadopoulos is a scene music writer. Contact her at