I Went on a Jewel Bender During Quarantine. This Is My Report.
COVID-19 sure sucked the life out of things. I found some comfort in Jewel. That's right. Jewel.
Editor's note: This article was written before the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd and the subsequent anguished and righteous demonstrations against police brutality and racism across America and in other parts of the world that are happening at the time of this publishing. This article focuses on self-isolation during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and should be understood in that context.
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Jewel recorded some bangers. Fight me. You won't. Because who doesn't like Jewel? I dare the world to produce a human being who hates Jewel. Doesn't exist. Her name is goddamn Jewel. If she were an actual jewel, she would be the Hope Diamond of VH1 in 1996. She was a child protégé yodeler. She wrote a freaking poetry book. She once called Kurt Loder a smartass on television. During an April weekend in quarantine, my wife and I had the idea to watch all of Jewel's music videos. We went on a Jewel bender. This is my report back.
Somehow, Jewel has 30 music videos. For comparison, Michael Jackson, who only revolutionized the music video, released 35 as a solo artist. What I'm saying is, Jewel hustles. Admittedly, we didn't watch all 30 videos on our Jewel expedition, because my wife and I wasted too much time veering off into a Shania Twain side argument which could only be settled through a viewing of "Still the One". She won the argument. At some point in the evening, we deep dived into some Woodstock 99 Limp Bizkit footage just to feel the full-on visceral horror of high school once more. Then we came out of the other side of Jewel's 2015 collab with Dolly Parton, which felt like a salve.
Let's start with "Who Will Save Your Soul". It's a black and white affair with people making out in bathroom stalls. It appears to be set in some sort of public transportation hub. Jewel is busking over by the sinks. The making out going on in the stalls is gentle and loving, but also forlorn and full of meaningful eye contact. It's not drunken and groping like actual bathroom stall hookups—not that I know anything about that, Jewel. (Or wife, who is reading this. Remember how I said you won that Shania Twain argument. I will not be taking further questions.)
Next video is "You Were Meant for Me". Song's hot. It's timeless breakup shit that makes you sob as you arrange your pancakes and eggs into smiley faces alone in your filthy raccoon nest with towels strewn on the floors. Then Jewel came along with this anthem that encouraged us to pick up our damn towels and move on. Simply Iconic, Jewel.
In the video, Jewel writhes on the ground in nothing but a slip, next to a puddle on the floor with a teeny tiny boat, while an out-of-focus dude reaches our celestially. There's a lot of emoting with hand gestures. The video is a visual version of that deep important stuff you wrote in your high school poetry notebooks. The dude in the video doesn't look like the kind of guy Jewel would go for, but I struggle with reading straight women and their tastes. In real life, Jewel was married to nine-time World Champion professional rodeo cowboy Ty Murray, and I maintain what I said about straight women.
We're up to the music video for "Foolish Games", the third single from Pieces of You. There's a horse galloping in slow motion in it, which means shit is about to get dead serious. Jewel is covered in lip gloss in the video. From here, my wife says, "Remember that video where Shania Twain was covered in lip gloss?" and we begin to argue about which video that was. Indeed, it's the video for Still the One, and indeed, Twain is covered in some sort of gloss. Embalmed in Lip Smacker was a mid-'90s aesthetic.
I observe that Jewel seems to exist outside of all her music videos, which is another music video aesthetic. She wanders through them observing the world with pained glances and longing. The epitome of this aesthetic is the video for "Hands", in which she literally wanders through the street until she encounters a bombed out, collapsed apartment complex. Survivors straggle out of the rubble covered in blood and soot. Jewel, meanwhile, continues deeper into the rubble like some sort of Jesus figure, until she finds three children huddling in a bedroom.
Great, Jewel, now I'm depressed as hell. This is apparently what the rest of the world thought in 1998 too, because for a few years, it felt like Jewel disappeared from the top of the charts after this single. She emerged at Woodstock 99, slotted after Elvis Costello, who had left the Pukka-shelled-white-dread-dudes audience ice cold. Jewel came out performing a sexy version of "Who Will Save Your Soul" to their howls and screams, and if there's one thing you need to do in quarantine, it's queue up the YouTube video of this performance. She managed to striptease the audience without removing a single article of clothing, turning in a jazzy, hypnotic performance that might have just made Woodstock 99 worth it.
From here, we had to watch Limp Bizkit's performance of "Break Stuff", just to properly contextualize Woodstock 99's true legacy of oversized DC Shoe shirts and dude rage. My high school friends went to Woodstock 99 and had a dramatic friend break up there. It was like their last big kumbaya friends forever concert, but then they went to a festival on a concrete tarmac and got in a huge fight.
I was the only friend not to go. I don't think they invited me, but sometimes I think I invented the memory of them inviting me just to spare my feelings. I said, "Mom, my friends are going to Woodstock '99." She replied, "well you're not going, driving your busted-ass '87 Volkswagen Jetta that overheats four hundred miles to an open-air drug festival." I didn't rebel or assert my independence, because yeah. That made sense. Perfect sense, Mom.
Speaking of my mother, she bought Jewel's poetry book. This was a thing Moms did in the 1990s. Back then, there was one television in the family room and pop stars were still a family affair. You watched Jewel as a family. You bought her poetry books at Waldenbooks, where it received a prime spot in the store window, a stack of the fuckers, face out, much to the chagrin of the writer who wrote the "Revisiting Jewel's Book of Crappy Poetry" article that sits at the top of the Google results. I hope the publication of this article will prompt a full re-evaluation of Ms. Kilcher's body of work, including her foray into poetry, A Night Without Armor. If nothing else, she called Kurt Loder a smartass when he asked her about typo in the book, for that, we should all stan our queen.
The next video on our list was "Intuition", a music video that features sexy firefighter and cheerleader versions of Jewel, with nods to J. Lo, Kate Moss, Nike, and Coca-Cola products. It' supposed to be her ironic response to pop commercialism—an artistic comment upon selling out—but it's also unironic because she wrote the song specifically for a $70 million Schick Intuition Razors Campaign. Jewel later criticized the worst parts of the music business and complained that no one understood the video, but 17 years later, I think we all fully understand it. No judgement, Jewel. You had to hustle.
By now it was getting late, and so my wife and I had time for one more video. I clicked on the 2015 collaboration with Dolly Parton, "My Father's Daughter". The music video features Kilcher clan home videos, which show chopping wood, catching fish, and yodeling in Homer, Alaska. There are severe and dramatic lens flare effects that transition us between past and present while Jewel, still existing outside of her own video, wanders through the landscape of memory.
Dolly Parton doesn't appear in the video and I'm disappointed. We end the night on a 1988 performance of "Jolene".
The takeaway is this: you might be tempted to shelve her somewhere in your '90s CD collection next to Joan Osborne. Hell, if you're filing by genre and alphabet, it makes sense. Perfect sense. But what I'm saying is, it's 2020 and everything sucks right now, so let's all fucking chill and listen to Jewel, emote with our hands, and arrange our yolks into smiley faces.