Amanda Shaw – Another Way to Be a Teen Sensation
Of all the homemade Britney Spears videos on YouTube, one of the harshest isn’t a Britney video at all. Images of the pop-diva-in-disgrace then and now accompany “Pretty Runs Out”, the title song from Amanda Shaw’s debut album for Rounder Records.
“I’m not my cowboy boots/I’m not my faded jeans,” Shaw sings to a still photo of a young Britney in a halter top and pale blue jeans. “I’m not my hazel eyes or what it is you think you see,” she continues as the camera zooms in on Spears’ cleavage. “Read beyond the magazine pages,” she sings as a Rolling Stone cover appears on screen, soon replaced by a shot of Britney’s cellulite-ridden posterior. “Don’t you know that a supermodel ages?” When Shaw reaches the chorus — “Don’t you know/Pretty runs out” — a bald Britney is baring her teeth and looking crazy.
For years, Shaw and Spears have existed in similar orbits — not the same, but close enough. Both are from Louisiana (Spears from Kentwood; Shaw from the Northshore, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans). Both started careers in music before they were teenagers. And both have links to Disney: Spears was a new Mouseketeer, and Shaw did two made-for-TV movies for the company.
But the record industry didn’t see a way to market a cute young Cajun fiddler with punky, multicolored hair the way they sold Britney to the masses, and that made all the difference. Britney’s life has been led almost entirely in public, whereas Shaw has slowly charted a more temperate course, taking her time to grow as a musician and performer in Louisiana.
When she enters a coffee shop in the New Orleans-neighboring community of Metairie, heads turn not out of recognition but because she’s wearing a shiny pewter smock with black leggings, and because she’s still a little young for coffee. She is 17 and has recorded three albums — Little Black Dog (when she was 10), I’m Not A Bubble Gum Pop Princess (at age 13), and the new Pretty Runs Out (released by Rounder January 8). It’s tempting to see Pretty Runs Out as a decision to move from music that appealed first and foremost to younger audiences to a more mature statement, but Shaw says that’s not quite right.
“When I did Little Black Dog, it was children’s music because I was a child,” she explains.” I’m Not A Bubble Gum Pop Princess was because I was going through a stage where that wasn’t what I want to be. The music has followed me through the stages of where I’m at.”
The album is rooted in Cajun music — it includes a medley of songs by Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee, as well as a medley of three reels — but it also includes more contemporary roots-rock, notably “Wishing You Away” (co-written with Anders Osborne) and “Chirmolito” (co-written with Shannon McNally). The guitar and groove for “Chirmolito” recall a midtempo Creedence track, but with a coquette whispering the lyric. Shaw’s fiddle assumes the role of the lead guitar, playing the solo and the fills leading into the chorus.
When talking about McNally, Shaw’s youth becomes apparent. “I think she’s awesome,” Shaw says. “I want to be like her when I grow up,” she continues, then almost instantly realizes what she said and tries to replace that thought by saying, simply, “She’s the coolest.”
“Pretty Runs Out” was co-written with Jim McCormick, a New Orleanian on Music Row who also co-wrote Luke Bryan’s recent country hit “We Rode In Trucks”. “That idea came to Mister Jim,” Shaw says. “He said, ‘I had envisioned it for an older singer, but I think it would be interesting to write it from your perspective.'”
Shaw’s voice doesn’t betray her youth on the infectious pop country song; instead, she simply sounds wise before her time. She sings the descending melody of the chorus compassionately, taking no joy in the knowledge that seems to have eluded others.
Shaw’s mother made the YouTube video for fun, but Shaw talks about it in the professional, careful way that suggests she’d rather not talk about it at all: “Well, I don’t have time to pay attention to what’s going on with Britney right now. I’m trying to concentrate and make the most of what I’m about.”
Though Spears has long been the celebrity who provided an answer to a host of “what ifs” for Amanda Shaw, these days Miley Cyrus suggests another possible end of the story. The 15-year-old Cyrus stars on The Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana” TV show, and it’s easy to wonder whether Shaw might be playing that role had she continued to work with Disney. Now Cyrus is nationally known and selling out arenas around the country, but any musical talent she might possess is suspect because the Disney machine is behind her.
“I’ve never seen the show, but if I get to be a professional musician farther along, I want to be a respected songwriter and musician,” Shaw says. “I want to be a happy person. Tell everybody I’ll always wear my underwears.”