Seven years ago, in town to play a bar concert, indie singer Ingrid Michaelson killed a free afternoon at Mall of America playing Famous/Not Famous. She serenaded unsuspecting shoppers with her sweet song “The Way I Am” while her band mate captured the blank stares she received on video. “Not famous!” the good-natured Michaelson would conclude. She hugged those who had heard of her song, and didn’t even bother asking whether they knew her name.
The crowd reaction is likely to be quite a bit different when Michaelson performs in the MOA Rotunda on Friday. She added the free, 30-minute mall concert when her Saturday evening show at First Avenue sold out.
Hours before kicking off her Lights Out tour in Montreal this week, the charmingly down-to-earth Michaelson talked to me about everything from her gender-bending new song and video “Girls Chase Boys,” the relationship between music and fashion, and her affinity for Rainforest Café. She brought up the Lisa Loeb comparison, so I didn’t have to.
Your “Girls Chase Boys” video spoofing Robert Palmer’s 1988 hit “Simply Irresistible” is getting a lot of attention. How did it come about?
I always wanted to do a dance video. When we finished the song, I thought let’s see what Robert Palmer’s video looks like as a backdrop. And how funny and awesome would it be to flip the gender. The song is about blurring gender lines. We’re all looking for the same thing.
Your backup dancers are hot men, even in bright red lipstick. Who are they?
A lot of them are the director’s friends. Some are hired models. Whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, we wanted muscle-y men who look hot . . . even with lipstick and eye makeup. It was funny—all these super masculine men went home with the makeup on to surprise their girlfriends.
Was it weird to be the one with the most subtle makeup on set?
It actually took me longer in hair and makeup (two hours) than it did to shoot the video!
Is it wrong to admit I fell for your music on Grey’s Anatomy. Your songs have also been on many shows—One Tree Hill, Ugly Betty, and Scrubs. Why does TV love you?
My lyrics are vague enough that they make sense in a lot of situations. I’m not pulling you out of a moment on TV singing ‘I need a jelly donut.’ But my lyrics are specific enough that they make sense in a lot of situations.
Eyeglasses have become your thing—was that conscious?
No! I actually didn’t want to wear my glasses because of the Lisa Loeb comparisons. I’m nothing like her, other than the glasses, and we’re both women. But contacts hurt my eyes, and I’m afraid of Lasik. I’m very, very nearsighted. Painfully nearsighted. So I wear glasses. Now, all these young girls show up to my concerts in glasses. It’s cute.
How many pairs do you own?
Ten. But I wear one. They’re from SEE Eyewear.
You’re returning to Mall of America this week. What will you do with any free time?
Go to Rainforest Café! Wait—don’t tell people that. It has sentimental meaning to me. We don’t have that in New York City. Other than that, Teavana. I try not to go to too many clothing stores when I’m traveling.
Do you have a stage uniform?
This time around, we (the band) went with red, white, black. We all shopped within those colors. I have about eight different outfits I can rotate through. On stage I’m in high platform heels, short shorts and crop tops that I’d never wear walking around. Off stage, I’m very much into comfort—sweatshirts, jeans, moccasins. I tried performing in T-shirts, but that didn’t really work out. I had to step it up.
Do you say that grudgingly?
I have to give a good show. What comes along with that is fashion. How you look needs to fit the music. It’s not equally important, but it is definitely part of the show. I enjoy creating the whole palate that goes around a record. I wouldn’t go to a deli wearing platforms and a tiny little skirt, but it is me on stage. It makes me feel more like a performer.
Michaelson will perform in the Mall of America Rotunda Friday, April 25 at 6 p.m. She’ll sign autographs for those who purchase her new CD, Lights Out. Wristbands required; get one with purchase while supplies last at Best Buy. Check official event guidelines for more details.