How Sheryl Crow, the great survivor of the 90s music industry, finally managed to be herself at 60 | Celebrities, VIPs

“Watermelon, watermelon, peanut butter, peanut butter, watermelon…”. As she makes the classic childlike gesture of plugging her ears with her index fingers, Sheryl Crow repeats this series of words so as not to listen to an interviewer’s question about a major music magazine’s criticism of her person. The image, which dates from the late 1990s, is so symbolic of the character and the media context that has surrounded its protagonist that the first documentary about her begins. Despite winning nine Grammy Awards and shipping more than 50 million records, the singer’s success has been mocked by the specialized press and cannibalized by some tabloids that saw her as the perfect victim in pre #MeToo times. That’s why now seems like an opportune moment to vindicate some milestones on and off the stage that make her career the most “undervalued” in recent music.

“I am like a cat with nine lives… Although the truth is that I already have to go for the eleventh,” says the 60-year-old singer. She is not wrong. An essential reference for 90s rock and a regular face of the MTV generation, from stars like Taylor Swift to HAIM, Olivia Rodrigo or St. Vincent have been explicit when reviewing the musical influence that their songs had on them. Sheryl, which has just premiered on the American pay channel Showtime, is a hagiography designed for fans –its manager is the producer of the documentary– that works well as a chronological anecdote, but falls short when it comes to delving into the legacy of the artist and scratch beyond the surface in a personal journey full of milestones and potholes. She herself, who agreed to participate in the project due to the boredom caused by the pandemic, acknowledges this: “I have always had very high ups and very low downs… and that is part of who I am.” The documentary, which mixes material from the singer’s private archive with unpublished images shot during the artist’s tour, also includes statements from figures such as Keith Richards or Laura Dern, who describe Crow as the voice of a generation.

The daughter of a piano teacher and a lawyer who in her spare time played as a trumpeter in jazz bands, Crow defined herself as a music freak from a very early age. She went to college in her hometown of Missouri and began working as a high school music teacher while she spent her afternoons playing in a cover rock band. Her life took a turn when she voiced the jingle for a McDonald’s television commercial and, with the paycheck from that job, she decided to leave everything behind and move to Los Angeles to try to forge a career as a singer.

After almost a decade trying to break into the industry, Sheryl Crow managed to succeed with her first album, ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’. Photo: GETTY

We are in the mid-80s, when the successful solo women in the industry could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and the path for her was not going to be much easier than that of contemporaries like Tracy Chapman or Fiona Apple. After touring all the studios in the city with her deck in hand, Crow had to settle for working as a waitress until she got her big break as a backup singer on Michael Jackson’s Bad international tour in 1987. In just a few months she had changed the bar a cafeteria through crowded venues with tens of thousands of people in which he performed a duet – with an eighties wig through – with the King of Pop one of his most iconic ballads, I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.

But her great opportunity would come accompanied by problems caused by the sexism with which she has had to battle so much throughout her career and which she publicly denounced long before the feminist wave. First, the tabloids did not miss the opportunity to use her as bait for her, publishing several articles in which they branded her as Jackson’s new romantic interest. She even wrote that the singer had offered her two million dollars for her to be the mother of her child.

Sheryl Crow and Michael Jackson on stage at a concert in London in 1988. Photo: Getty

Behind all this information, which sought to give the singer an appearance of masculinity and put an end to speculation about his true sexuality, was the artist’s manager, a gangster named Frank DiLeo. Crow also reveals that the businessman offered her to produce her first solo album – “he guaranteed me it would be at the top of the charts” – in exchange for continued sexual harassment, which forced the young woman to wage “a constant battle to escape of the”. When he tried to seek help, the only response he received was one of the sentences most heard by actresses, models or singers in positions of professional privilege: “Others would die to be in your situation.”

The situation plunged her into a deep depression that momentarily removed her from the front line of the music industry. She undid the path she had walked and started from the bottom and on her own to make a name for herself as a singer-songwriter. In 1993, well into her thirties, she published All I Wanna Do, the good-natured anthem that featured her debut album, a best-selling hit that made her a star and remains her biggest triumph to date. Her popularity was such that myths like Prince, Eric Clapton, Stevie Nicks or the Rolling Stones took her on stage with them. At her Los Angeles mansion she would hold New Year’s parties with 800 guests where “everywhere you looked you found a celebrity.”

The one from Missouri has influenced artists like Taylor Swift or Olivia Rodrigo. Photo: Getty

Another of the points that turned Crow into tabloid meat was his commented relationship with the cyclist Lance Armstrong. The artist chose to leave her career aside to accompany the famous athlete in her professional career, even moving to Girona with him during the time that her training stages lasted. When the doping case that ended with the cancellation of Armstrong’s Tours de France was uncovered, the relationship between them also ended. “He lied to me too,” she says. A few days later, Crow underwent a routine mammogram that revealed breast cancer. She says she lost “faith in humanity” when dozens of paparazzi camped for weeks on her doorstep to hunt down, as she maintains, “a picture of her at her lowest moment.”

Thanks to early detection, the disease subsided after months of treatment and the artist took advantage of the situation to turn her life around. In addition to becoming a fierce activist in the fight against this type of cancer, she left Los Angeles and moved to Nashville. She also fulfilled her longing for motherhood by adopting her two sons, Wyatt and Levi, in 2007 and 2010 respectively. As a single mother, and regardless of the sacrifice of continuing to fight to be on the front line continuously, she has self-imposed the three-night rule, which prohibits sleeping more than three nights away from her descendants.

Crow has performed numerous times with the Rolling Stones. Photo: Getty

Although he continues to release music in different formats – he has also composed original songs for the documentary – he has confirmed that he will not be recording a new studio album again. The new Sheryl Crow no longer covers her ears to shut out what is being said about her music or her person, because now she is calling the shots. This is how she sums it up at the end of the tape: “I’m wide open, I’m still trying to learn. I’m going to fall, I’m going to make mistakes, but I’m also going to do things that I’m proud of and that speak to who I am and what I want.”