Let’s go back to the early 2000s.
I was probably busy watching The Princess Diaries or A Walk to Remember, both of which featured the vocal performances of Mandy Moore. Back then, Moore was a big deal. She was spunky, sweet and had a calming, melodic voice. More recently she’s voiced the leading lady in Disney’s Tangled. And, of course, Moore’s had a starring role (and been nominated for awards) in NBC über-popular family drama series, This Is Us.
But 35-year-old entertainer hasn’t released any music as an independent artist in a decade. So, as you can imagine, it came as a bit of shock to listeners when she unexpectedly dropped a new single, “When I Wasn’t Watching,” just a few weeks ago.
A mixture of pop and light rock, this so-called “California track” focuses on Moore’s own personal story of change and self-discovery. It’s a reflective tune that looks back through time and ponders the process of transformation.
Change is inevitable. And Mandy Moore takes center stage to address her own life changes here, asking some big questions of herself and her audience. She also digs into personal fears and some big realizations as well.
Moore ponders where the “old her” has gone (“Where was I when this was going down?/Maybe sleeping in, maybe outta town?”). She realizes that in her waiting and immobility (“I spent my whole life waiting patiently/Convinced it all would come to me”), she lost and important part of who she was (“My favorite version of me disappeared/Through longer days and shorter years”).
These are deeply relatable words. As we age, we begin to see ourselves change, and the changes we notice aren’t always encouraging. Moore herself wonders why she’s waited so long to move forward (“A little lost, a little rough/I asked myself, ‘Have you had enough?’”). She also confronts anxiety about new paths (“How do I start to retrace the steps/I haven’t even taken yet”) and even self-discovery (“The fear of what I’m facing in the mirror/Stops me cold and leaves me here”).
Moore concludes with two final thoughts. The first focuses on the importance of knowing our inner selves (“Who we are/When nobody’s lookin’”), while the second prods us to recognize how we’re changing over time and to examine our past experiences (“What I became/When I wasn’t watching”).
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Moore said that the inspiration for her latest track came from her own life experiences:
“I think everyone’s had the experience of feeling lost and not quite understanding how you’ve found yourself at a certain point in your life. And I think the key is not to judge yourself for that. I’m a big believer in the idea that what you’ve journeyed through is ultimately going to factor into the person you become, and how you’ll greet whatever big challenge you face next.”
That’s a healthy perspective, because we can’t change what has happened, but we certainly can learn from it and give ourselves grace for where life has brought us.
And that is the entire gist of “When I Wasn’t Watching.” It’s relatively content-free (apart from wearing Moore in a spaghetti-strap dress and black, lacy bra in the music video), and it prods us to ponder the kinds of deep, personal questions that are often ignored in today’s pop world.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).