Britney Spears might be my favourite pop artist of all time, but Mandy Moore’s eponymous sophomore album will always be the first album I bought with my own money. As an effeminate 12-year-old boy with a penchant for Britney clones (as was the fashion in 2001), Moore’s approachability and pleasantry resonated more personally to me, versus the overt raunchiness of Christina Aguilera or the Midwestern balladry of Jessica Simpson. Moore’s musicianship and melodic ability isn’t presumptuous, preferring a chilled out coalescence with her folk rock sound. Her records feels similar to Rita Coolidge or Joni Mitchell, a possible precursor to how Moore’s discography will age. “Crush,” a gold standard in 2000’s teen pop, wholesome, wide-eyed and without pretense (peep the Michael Jackson easter egg). As pop music was in 2001, all early Moore was factory manufactured by Epic Records; fast forward twenty years later and Moore is free of the shackles of the pop machine, proudly reclaiming songs from a bygone era whilst simultaneously flexing personal stability and career resilience.
Headlining a show at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall in mid-June, Mandy Moore performs both new and old tracks for a crowd of well-mannered millenial concertgoers. The In Real Life tour coming to my city came as a pleasant surprise, via an effective marketing e-blast from Ticketmaster. Newer songs like the Silver Linings’ (2020) “15” or her 2022 album’s title track are modern folk and light alt rock tracks, evoking easy summer day vibes. Classic Moore tracks like A Walk To Remember’s “Only Hope” and the grossly underrated “I Wanna Be With You” transport me back to my teen bedroom, longing for the profound love Moore so innocently pined for in her songs and videos. Even Wild Hope, my favourite Moore album, is represented by the ’08 single “Extraordinary” and a full band version of “Gardenia,” rounding out setlist. The nostalgia in the room was a warm, friendly glow. Decades later, seeing her on that stage, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, not just for Mandy herself, but for my own life journey.
Most people likely know her from playing Rebecca Pearson in This Is Us, or for the more Disneyfied demographic, from her voice-over work in the Tangled film franchise. At this point, Moore’s contribution to the 2000’s pop scene is arguably negligible, but still holds particular weight for any Mandy stan. The Toronto show’s chorus of voices singing along to “Only Hope” is anecdotal proof. As Moore begins revisits her older work, she mentions that for many years post-pop career, she actively distanced herself from music that she felt no ownership towards. It’s a common feeling – the desire to distance yourself from the past, particularly if it’s tarnished by negative feelings or situations. The erasure of my past is a common thread in my personal; the amount of deleted/now-defunct blogs, social media accounts, archived creative projects, forgotten published work and other remnants of my past feel like ghostly bruises on my future endeavours. Moore’s experiences encourage me to look at all that work, all those past experiences with kinder eyes. After all, I am not the same person I was a decade. At the very least, I’m living with a happier, lighter countenance. If she can sing “Only Hope,” brightly and beautifully at the top of her lungs, I can be proud of my own previous work in a newer, fresher way.
Unfortunately for Mandy fans, all subsequent In Real Life tour dates have been cancelled, in lieu of husband and fellow bandmate Taylor Goldsmith’s (of American folk rock band Dawes) COVID-19 diagnosis and Moore’s own exhaustion as she performs through what is reportedly a challenging pregnancy. I feel fortunate to have fulfilled a childhood dream of mine: it’s a full-circle moment for me, to have one of my favourite pop stars sincerely understand the importance of looking back at your past with kinder eyes. I hope Moore views these cancelled tour dates with the same kindness; it could not have been an easy decision to cut short a tour long-awaited by the fans. But like a best friend from a simpler time in our lives, sometimes an encouraging word is all you need to continue trekking along.
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