Ingrid Michaelson coming to The Ark for two sold-out shows
Ingrid Michaelson is a young, indie-folk-pop artist who got really popular, really fast, partly on the strength of her simple melodies and quirky, heart-on-her-sleeve lyrics — but also because one of her songs, “Keep Breathing,” was used in the emotional, climactic 2007 season finale of the TV drama “Grey’s Anatomy” — a show that has featured several of her tunes.Her rapid rise was also due to another one of her songs, “The Way I Am” — in which she sings, to her lover, “If you are chilly, here, take my sweater” — being picked up for use in an Old Navy TV ad that went into full-throttle heavy rotation: Billboard magazine reported that the ad ran 65 times in a two-week period in the fall of ‘07.
That resulted in the inevitable backlash from some quarters — including some music critics. Last year, in a review of her release "Be OK," one Rolling Stone critic described her signature song as “cutesy,” said she was “still a yawn” and that “most of (her) ditties are fit for kindergarten teachers.”
But, even though Michaelson, 29, describes her new album, “Everybody,” as her “big girl” record — one that she says conveys a more mature outlook on life — she can still conjure some youthful, snarky ‘tude when responding to such critics.
“I’ve been attacked for my simplicity,” says Michaelson, who comes to The Ark for two sold-out shows on Tuesday and Wednesday. “But I love my music, so if I feel satisfied with it, then f--- everyone else.”
But, at the same time, much of her work has also received critical kudos. The New York Times called her music "soulful" and "idiosyncratic," and Billboard wrote that "Everybody" is a "new batch of lovably quirky tunes."
Michaelson, who will also do an in-store mini-concert at the downtown Borders on Wednesday afternoon, thinks her music has struck a chord in the pop-music audience because “I sing about things that everyone feels, and I’ve been told I say it in a way that most people might not have thought to say it.
“I say what I want to say. And as far as those who think my songs are too ‘simple,’ well, some of the most beautiful songs in the world are simple. Some of the Beatles’ best songs were their simplest ones. I just try to make it interesting and beautiful and melodic, and I think the masses yearn for that, and accept that.”
Michaelson feels that the songs on “Everybody” also express a “loss of innocence.”
“I say that because I’ve learned more about life, and about love, than when I wrote my earlier songs — some of which I had actually written five years before they were released. When you’re younger, you have the idea that love is all that’s needed to sustain a relationship, but as you get older, you find that’s not always true.”
“And I went through a lot over the 18-month period that I wrote these new songs,” she says. “I got into a serious relationship, which ended — that was the one major disaster — and then, without getting too much into my personal life, I had some other experiences that left me ..I wouldn’t say more jaded, but I just have more knowledge now” when it comes to romance.
“I don’t think I will ever become completely ‘grown up,” she says with a girlish laugh, “but I’m definitely now more clued in to a lot of things, especially love.”
So, when choosing songs for “Everybody, she looked at the 30 or so tunes she had written over that period, and she went with 12 songs that “fit that topic ..that had that ‘arc’ — you know, going into a relationship, and then having everything fall apart, and what you learn from that.”Listen to Ingrid Michaelson's "Everybody"
What Michaelson has learned, as she has grown, is that “sometimes I choose against myself — that is, I didn’t make the best decisions for me, for who I was. What I know now is that you have to love yourself enough to leave someone who maybe isn’t good for you.”
One driver for Michaelson’s overnight success was her MySpace page, which is where Michaelson first made her songs available. (She still has not signed to a label — her new disc is on her own Cabin 24 imprint). It got so much traffic, and she engaged her fans so freely there, that Newsweek called her “the first MySpace-created music star.” Michaelson told Newsweek that “I have a really accessible personality .I just hope it doesn’t turn around and bite me in the a--. I don’t want people to cross the line. People have said, ‘You’re my best friend, let’s go out .Let’s hang out (after the show.) Honestly, what I love to do after a show is get into my pajamas, go online, watch TV.”
Evidently, Michaelson was also conflicted about the Old Navy ad — enough so that she started a discussion on her MySpace blog, dealing with the topic of “selling out.” In that discussion, she told her fans that it’s difficult for young, unknown artists to turn down offers that would introduce their music to more people. “If a big, bad corporation comes up to me and wants me to be their mascot, hopefully I’ll be able to do my research and know in my heart to be the right thing,” she said.
In addition to reflecting a more mature outlook, “Everybody” is also a more produced, more textured record.
“I definitely wanted this record to be fuller-sounding than my previous ones — I really did want to build the songs up more.” That’s evident from the opening bars of the first song, “Soldier,” with its chunky drum track, jangly electric guitar and string arrangement (the strings appear on other tracks as well).
She hasn’t sublimated her innate quirkiness and sense of whimsy to the extra layers of production, however. Several tracks, like the title song, “Sort Of,” “Are We There Yet” and “Incredible Love” are quizzical, minimalistic, woozy or sing-songy, in some cases recalling the music of Kimya Dawson (of “Juno” soundtrack fame).
Ingrid Michaelson performs "Maybe" live on "Good Morning America" earlier this week: As for the use of her songs in a popular TV show: “They’ve used a lot of my music, and to hear my songs in that kind of context, to accompany scenes that I never imagined when writing the song, was weird,” says Michaelson. “But they showcase the songs in such a wonderful way that enhances the action. So, it’s strange, but it’s also exciting.” PREVIEW Ingrid Michaelson Who: Young folk-pop artist who became overnight sensation in ‘07. What: Quirky songs, built on simple melodies, about love romance and newfound maturity. When: Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 27-28, 8 p.m. Where: The Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor How much: SOLD OUT. Details: 734-761-1451; www.theark.org. Related event: Michaelson will also appear at the downtown Borders, 612 E. Liberty, at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday.