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Multiplatinum and Grammy-nominated artist Jewel — the small-town horseback rider who got her start in biker bars and eventually racked up more than 27 million worldwide album sales — has come a long way since her childhood in Homer, Alaska.
With her 12th studio album, Picking Up the Pieces, being released Friday — 20 years after her debut effort, Pieces of You, hit shelves in 1995 — Jewel speaks to The Hollywood Reporter about the long, winding path that brought her this far and the sexual harassment she’s had to endure since the very beginning.
“The music industry is a very male-dominated business,” says Jewel. “I never slept my way to the top, ever. There was never one time I’ve ever compromised anything. I was always willing to walk away. … And I think that type of spirit that you bring just informs everybody that’s around you. You know, I’ve heard plenty of stories that the opposite happens.”
“I saw what women would give up for a compliment,” she says. “I felt men were willing to take advantage if they saw something vulnerable.”
“I’ve had men hitting on me, sadly, since I was really young. At 8, I had men putting dimes in my hands saying, ‘Call me. It’d be so great to f— when you’re older.’ And just horrible stuff.”
Jewel says that traumatic experience early in life helped prepare her for the sexual harassment she’d have to endure in the wake of her big break at 18, when she signed with Atlantic Records.
“In the music business, it ended up serving me very well. I learned to keep my energy to myself, where there’s nothing about me that seemed approachable. And as men did approach me, I got very good at handling men in a way that sort of didn’t anger them. … And at the same time using wit and usually humor to defuse the situation and to inform them, ‘P.S. Not available that way.’ “
Jewel was homeless at the time she got her record deal, and she says sexual harassment is what put her on the streets.
Back when she was just starting her career by singing in bars and coffee shops in San Diego, Jewel says her boss at the time fired her for refusing to have sex with him. She no longer could pay her rent and lived out of her car until it was stolen. She describes this chapter of her life as her most fragile state and says men around her continued attempting to exploit it.
“I’ve never been more propositioned by businessmen in my life. It was almost like they were sharks that could smell blood, like of vulnerability,” says Jewel. “I’d go back to my car, writing songs, and men would literally come up and proposition me. They would be like, ‘Hey, do you need rent money?’ you know and things like that. It was pretty wild. I never took anybody up on it, but it was interesting to see this side of men that basically would prey on somebody vulnerable.”
Jewel touches on these issues in her raw new memoir, Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story, which will be released on Sept. 15.
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