Folkies Need Short Skirts Too

Isn't it ironic?

When Jewel's fans got their hands on her latest album, the beat-infused 0304, many of them got a little emotional. Their beloved wistful singer was pictured on the cover in fluorescent pink pants and torn lime-green and yellow shirts. The video for "Intuition" featured her dancing like any other disposable, slutted-out pop singer. Jewel had seemingly transformed from innocent, sensitive folk heroine to pop tart hot on Britney's tail! The fans fought this change the only way they knew: They logged on and spewed.

"The first time I heard 'Intuition' on the radio," one of them wrote, "I had no idea it was Jewel. And I nearly started to cry when a friend told me." Another said, "Whatever happened to the Jewel... with the acoustic guitar? Why does everyone have to try to out-Britney Britney?" Yet another was in denial. "Basically, this is not Jewel. Where to start? Her lyrics are stupid... The names of the songs are IM [instant message] abbreviations! Her CD is pink!"

This time around, the little girls don't know, but the men understand. And we're not just talking about the guys who saw some skin and bought some albums. (Jewel's first release, Pieces of You, sold 11 million copies, but her subsequent four albums -- which sold another 12 million or so combined -- went comparatively unnoticed). Grown-up reviewers at the New York Times wrote that Jewel's "Intuition" video was brilliant, and Rolling Stone said her "music does sound better now."

"I don't think it was such a huge change," Jewel says of 0304. "People just misunderstood the video. It's an ironic, acerbic jab at my job." Well, there shouldn't be any more confusion, as she's returning to the style that her old fans know and obsess over. After her bass player died in September, Jewel scrapped her plan to tour with a full band and decided to perform alone with her guitar, doing "informal, impromptu" performances that include "diverse set lists and new songs."

And after that? "I'll be putting out another folk record, a simple record," Jewel says, and "I'm planning a book of love poems." (For the record, she is still dating -- and living in Texas with -- long-time boyfriend, rodeo star Ty Murray.) Jewel has been told that her first book, A Night Without Armor, is the best-selling poetry book "of all time" (despite the fact that, in it, the names of Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski are misspelled). And she's also had some acting gigs -- but lest fans start slagging her for them, Jewel says that acting is just a hobby. "I did the thing with Rob Lowe," she says of her guest appearances on NBC's The Lyons Den, "but I don't have a lot of ambition for it."

OK, Renée Zellweger, you can relax again. Jewel isn't going to creep up on you.

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Deirdra Funcheon