Last year, Mandy Moore offered to reimburse any members of the unsuspecting public who had bought copies of her early-career teen-pop albums. There were only two albums — three if you count a remix disc — and they weren’t very good. Not horrible, just not very good.
They’ve dogged her ever since, though, thwarting her ongoing efforts to be taken seriously. Now, as Moore prepares to launch herself into a second life as an indie folk-pop singer, she would rather everybody just forget the whole thing. Offering the entire country a refund would be a crucial step toward national healing, she figured.
It would also, she thinks, cost her $14 million. So far, only one person has asked for his money back (her manager gave him $8, cash), but she’s got this promotional tour coming up, and who knows what could happen? “I hope there aren’t gonna be random people coming up, like, ‘Can I have my twenty bucks back?”‘ she worries. “I unfortunately don’t have fourteen million dollars.”
Be warned, America: She may ask for proof of purchase.
These days, Moore, 23, is better known as an actress, her mastery of romantic comedies having long ago eclipsed her spotty recording career. Her new album, Wild Hope, is a lovely rainy-day pop record, simple and personal and charming, with well-considered songs and modest hooks and credible guest stars. Moore doesn’t seem to mind much whether you buy it or not: She just wants you to know she had it in her.
Moore’s struggle for musical respectability is sort of sweet. It’s a weird, sideways trajectory to which few would aspire: from arenas to folk clubs, from “TRL” to “All Things Considered”. That someone as comprehensively, Us magazine-level famous as she asks little more than to one day open for Patty Griffin, well, it’s both touching and strange.
It also raises questions that almost never get asked: Is one’s past an anvil forever, or just a really interesting hurdle to overcome? Is credibility a self-generating commodity, or irretrievable once it’s gone? And who in their right mind would relish playing dingy clubs when they have a starring role in the new Robin Williams comedy (License To Wed, in theaters everywhere July 4)?
“Because people have no frame of reference, I feel like for certain situations I have to almost over-explain myself. I don’t really mind. But it’s been a bummer,” says Moore, who just finished an ego-melting six-week radio station promo tour. “I think half of those people — or maybe more than half — didn’t really care what I’m talking about,” she says. “It starts to feel a little trite, and it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s not fair!’ Because it means so much to me. But you’re talking to someone during an interview, and they’re typing on the computer, like, ‘Uh huh, uh huh.’ Half listening.”
Spend fifteen minutes with Mandy Moore, and you’ll want to protect her, or at least buy her a frozen yogurt. She’s perky and wholesome enough to make Kelly Ripa seem like Chuck Hagel, yet you could begrudge her nothing. She’s glowy and cute, a Neutrogena ad made flesh. She worries that you don’t like your entree. Also, her hair is nice.
Over breakfast one May morning in West Hollywood, she’ll mention the paparazzi who tail her car (a Prius), or follow her boyfriend (a non-pro, as they say in Variety), and you’ll think, Why can’t people leave Mandy alone? To paraphrase one recent interviewer, to listen to Wild Hope is to instantly dislike Moore’s ex-boyfriend Zach Braff, who, judging from some of the more baleful tracks, appears to have done something horrible enough to ensure you can never watch “Scrubs” in the same way again.
Seldom has someone so politely asked to be taken seriously. “I’m not claiming to be the next great singer-songwriter, but I’m learning,” Moore says. “By no means am I sitting here like, trying to be a bit pretentious and saying, ‘I’ve made a really credible record. Pay attention to me.”
It’s just that Wild Hope is the first album she’s ever done that didn’t feel like it was happening to somebody else. The first album she wrote and, let’s face it, paid much attention to, instead of showing up at the studio at an appointed time and singing someone else’s song to a track. This makes the duties of promoting the album perilously personal for the first time.
“I really had no emotional attachment to stuff previous to this,” she admits. “With acting, I’ve definitely had more of an emotional attachment than to the music I’ve done. If someone didn’t like [my albums] it hurt my feelings, but it was like, [shrugs] ‘I didn’t write it.’ If they said the record was poorly written or not well executed, I’d be like, ‘Aw, that sucks.’ But it didn’t hurt my feelings, really. Because I had nothing to do with it.”