The young Soviet-born, British jazz and blues singer Katie Melua is an interesting anomaly in the modern music industry. Few of her singles have even grazed the Top 10 in the U.K. singles charts (though she did achieve a number 1 in 2007 with a charity recording of “What a Wonderful World”), and her public profile is nothing like as high as that of, say, Amy Winehouse.
Yet her three album releases so far have reached No. 1, No. 1, and No. 2 respectively; in 2006, she was the U.K.’s biggest-selling female artist, and Europe’s highest-selling European female artist. She seems to be an example of a generational split in the music-buying public, whereby singles are mostly bought by teens and twentysomethings, while albums are mostly bought by an older audience who put a premium on pleasant tunefulness rather than tabloid exposure and sex appeal.
Though for those who prefer exquisite natural beauty to panty-flashing antics, Melua probably has sex appeal to spare:
In terms of personality, as well, the quiet Melua seems like an intriguing paradox. The majority of her songs are so gentle and inoffensive that some critics see her as unbearably safe and bland. Yet she’s been quite frank about her past use of cannabis, has a taste for hang-gliding and bungee-jumping, appeared in a horror segment of the 2007 film Grindhouse, and mentioned the Babyshambles song “F— Forever” as one of her 14 favorite pieces of music in a 2006 article.
In interviews, although she’s polite and articulate, there’s something inescapably enigmatic about her. Her long-time musical collaborator, Mike Batt, has been reported as saying in reference to her taste for high-adrenaline activities that “she enjoys extremes, but in life her emotions are always in check.”
I’ll admit that I have a slightly ambivalent attitude towards her music. Of her singles, my favorite is probably her 2005 release “Nine Million Bicycles,” from her second album, Piece by Piece:
Musically, I think it’s beautiful, but the lyrics, with their perpetual unimaginative return to romance (“I will always be with yoooou”) are not to my personal taste (though the song was actually written by Batt, not Melua, so she can’t be held entirely responsible).
Also beautiful, as well as less predictable, is the Melua-penned “I Cried for You,” also from Piece by Piece. Melua has said that she wrote it after meeting the author of the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, who put to her his theory that Jesus had a romantic relationship with Mary Magdalene — leading her to think about what Mary’s sufferings would have been as she saw Jesus crucified. Be warned — the video, though not gory, is a bit unsettling:
Melua has been mentioned a couple of times on this website, since a tabloid rumor surfaced in 2006 that she was involved in a relationship with lesbian photographer Lara Bloom. The tabloid in question is notoriously unreliable; Melua’s only on-the-record relationship has been with a man (Luke Pritchard of British band The Kooks, whom she split up with in 2005), and it’s worth noting that there are male references in several of her songs and videos. At the same time, it’s nice to see from this interview that Melua isn’t at pains to deny and distance herself from the lesbian/bisexual claim, even if she refuses to comment on her personal life.
Going back to her second single, “Call Off the Search,” from her album of the same title released in 2005, it’s also nice to see that the video, while featuring Melua with a male love interest, also includes not one but two lesbian couples (one of whom — in a rarity for film or television — actually looks like a lesbian). See 0:51, 02:39 and 02:47:
Finally, if you want to get a sense of the more down-to-earth side of Melua, as opposed to the fragile, ethereal figure she can seem in her videos, there’s this interview with her on the cult U.K. pop music show Popworld from 2005. Discussing her recent acquisition of British citizenship, she holds her own against the acerbic interviewer Miquita Oliver, who asks her to prove her Britishness by identifying Eccles cakes and crumpets.
So to sum up: she’s beautiful, she can sing, and she can hold down a jellied eel. I’ll admit it: I want her to be on our team, whether she really is or not.