All words: Jeb Gavin — All photos: Joy Asico
Ingrid Michaelson is twee and adorable and absolutely hates it when people point this out. Unfortunately it’s difficult to adequately describe her show Wednesday night at the 9:30 Club without acknowledging how she is cute, as is the music she makes. But it is nearly impossible to describe her without using the word adorable. She stood center stage for the entire show, flanked on either side by guitarists, backed by a bassist with a drummer and percussionist standing on either side of him. Through most of the show she looked like someone’s kid sister set front and center with her piano and ukulele.
Lacking a more exact term, Ingrid is a nerd. By this I mean she has an earnest and un-ironic love of a single subject or medium, and a willingness to pursue it doggedly with little regard for how this might make her look. In her case, the medium is singer-songwriter pop music. Her show, which seemed more like a cabaret act considering how often she talked directly to the audience, felt like your girlfriend made you a heartfelt mix tape of all their favorite TV soundtracks, and you were going to listen to it one way or another or else suffer pouting the likes of which you haven’t seen from a girl since high school. Of course, this is an extremely dickish and shortsighted thing to say, even if 90% of the audience was ladies and nearly every song Ingrid played that night was at one time or another featured on a TV show.
The thing is, the show succeeded when she didn’t acknowledge its cuteness or the target audience. Michaelson is in fact adorable, made even more so when she excitedly recounted a conversation with a jaded venue manager, or insisted she’s not peppy or bubbly. Her music, with pop sensibilities and hand claps and harmonies is cute. Even on songs where she sang about the negative aspects of a relationship, the music belied the weight of the words. The show only slows when she’s arguing against herself out loud. As I previously mentioned, I am not the target audience (no matter how many Scrubs episodes I watch). But I was swept up watching her sing what I now know to be “You and I” and seeing her love every second of it- or to listen as the audience sang every word of “Overboard”.
This never used to happen. Not me being swayed by music, or pop music itself existing. Rather, for decades the prevailing message in popular media was nerds would win out in the end by some grand show, though it never actually happened in real life. Suddenly, there it is, happening before my very eyes: that nerdy girl, on stage (albeit attractive and famous), with a thousand people hanging on her every word. So she’s not macramé-ing Daleks or writing Princess Bubblegum and Marceline ‘ship fan fiction. Yeah, it’s still a concert, people paid money to hear live music. Right at the end Ingrid sang and then beatboxed Rihanna’s “We Found Love”. It’s hard to get down on someone for doing what they love unabashedly, especially if it in no other way forces you to confront anything you hold true. And if you enjoy it and don’t have to think much about it, that is the measure of good pop music. Being a nerd simply means obsessing over it.