Jewel Opens Up About Fighting Sexism in the Music Industry: 'I Refused to Be Leveraged'

The Alaska-born musician spoke to Stereogum about her unconventional rise to fame, enduring sexism from several music industry figures, and how it all influenced her new album, Freewheelin' Woman

Jewel. Photo: Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty

Jewel is getting real about her experiences as a woman in the music industry.

On Friday, the Alaska-born musician gave a career-spanning interview to Stereogum about her unconventional rise to fame, signing her first record deal while experiencing homelessness, and enduring sexism from several music industry figures — all of which influenced the lyrics of her new album, Freewheelin' Woman.

The four-time Grammy winner, born Jewel Kilcher, notably lived in her car upon signing her first major label deal with Atlantic Records in the mid-'90s, though she claims her story has been told over the years through a "patriarchal lens."

"The whole world knows I lived in my car. They think because I was fighting for my dream of music. That is an absolute misrepresentation of what happened," the 47-year-old performer told the publication. "I was living in my car because I wouldn't have sex with my boss. I refused to be leveraged and he wouldn't give me my paycheck and I couldn't pay my rent and I started living in my car and then my car got stolen and I was homeless because of that, because I wouldn't bang a boss."

According to the "Foolish Games" singer, she informed interviewers of her alleged experiences early in her career, "But it was almost like people didn't even have the ears to hear it," she claimed. "They would just write the story, 'Jewel lived in her car to pursue her music career.'"

Following the extreme success of her 1998 hit "Hands," Jewel took two years off and told Stereogum she recalls listeners calling her "washed up" and saying "she couldn't cut it," but the musician claims that wasn't the case.

"I couldn't psychologically handle the adjustment… Nobody cared if you were doing well, they would offer you drugs and just want to keep you touring because that's how you made money," she alleged. "So it was again very funny to have that portrayed in the media as if it was a disempowered thing, when it was an empowered thing, it was a difficult choice."

Furthermore, the singer spoke about clapping back at radio interviewers in the '90s who'd make sexist comments about her appearance. "They'd say, 'So, Jewel, how do you give a blowjob with those f—ed up teeth?' Live on air," she said. "I would go, 'You know what? I can fix my teeth, but you'll never fix being stupid.' And I'd get kicked out of the radio station… I got escorted out of so many radio stations because I wouldn't take s—."

Jewel's currently gearing up for the April 15 release of her new album Freewheelin' Woman, and she told Stereogum about drawing from her turbulent past for inspiration. "I feel proud that I've gotten to live life on my terms. I've gotten to have my career on my terms," she explained. "The reason I called the album Freewheelin' Woman is because that's how I feel."

"I've fought for my autonomy, I've fought for my liberty as a woman, and been able to make a living, and even support my child on my thoughts and my ideas and my feelings," continued the "Stronger Woman" singer. "I'm proud and I wanted the record to encapsulate that whole feeling."

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