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Of Love and Natalise 

She dreams of being the next Janet Jackson, but she's just a Stanford grad who sings syrupy pop, looks absolutely fab, and makes local teens swoon.

Which, come to think of it, may be enough, for everyone involved.

Wednesday, Jul 9 2003

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Everyone can agree, I think, that sexual exhibitionism goes hand in hand with being a pop star these days. (Is there another explanation for t.A.T.u.?) So the question isn't really whether someone who looks like Natalise will go in that direction, but how far she will go.


"I would say that, if 10 is really trendy -- 10 is like Britney Spears -- and zero is what I would wear to church on Easter Sunday, for car shows I would go to eight. For any crowd, I wouldn't go lower than five."

Would she ever do a 10?

"Sure, if I did a video, and it was for an appropriate song; I actually think Britney Spears is very tasteful. I don't think I would wear what Christina Aguilera wore in the Dirrty video."

That outfit, she says, rates a 12 or 13, which is too much for her.

"I'd do Maxim; I wouldn't do Playboy," she says. "Because I think Maxim is more like for fun; they are never nude. It's more like implied sexuality."

Implied sexuality seems a reasonable way to go for someone whose audience is overwhelmingly underage, and word-of-mouth publicity from school-age fans has been crucial to the local success she has had. In fact, Natalise broke program rules at the middle school where she teaches a hip hop class by enlisting her students to pass out promotional fliers and exchanging contact information with them.

Her students were willing accomplices in the breach of policy, however; teens and pre-teens appear to have visceral reactions to her music. One, "Brian aka #1 Brianster," recently posted this shout-out on her record company Web site's message board:

"wassup natalise! juss wanted to say that Forever Now is off the hook! my middle school wrestling team at Presidio Middle School in SF uses your cd at practice every day! i hope that "Wonderful' someday will be the number one song in the entire bay."

I ask Natalise if she feels there is anything ironic about someone with a Stanford education writing repetitive pop songs that appeal, primarily, to people under 18 years of age.

"That's a really really good question," she says. "It really is, it really is ... but ... that's what pop songs are, they are a little bit repetitive; they have a hook, there is a certain type of, like, formula ... . I would say that, like, every song is at least, like, 80 percent true, and then, like, the rest of the 20 percent is, like, it rhymes."

What is "Love Goes On" about?

"Love is good sometimes, and sometimes it's bad," she says, laughing before she can finish the sentence, as if the two of us were sharing an inside joke about how useless an answer this was. "If I wasn't doing [this] I would be doing, like, some kind of esoteric, like, type of music."

Don't let fancy Stanford words like "esoteric" fool you; Natalise has not an ounce of intellectual snobbery in her. CDs currently in her player include those by Savage Garden, J. Lo, Brian McKnight, Justin Timberlake, and John Mayer. Her favorite book is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry , and though she says she read Richard Feynman books cover-to-cover in high school, she can't seem to remember his first name.

Cutting to the chase, she says, "I think I'm just a real sentimental person. I think I'm very idealistic about love, and I love romantic comedies." She laughs, and I can see her starring in one. For teens.

Tani Tritasavit, 28, has short spiky hair and drives his parents' minivan. He calls himself Tani T. and recently moved out of his parents' home.

Natalise and Tani T. hooked up professionally in late 2001 when Natalise won a grant through the Asian American Arts Centre to intern at an Asian-American-owned record company. That company, 888 Records, was Tani T.'s, and the idea was for her to learn the nuts and bolts of the industry. Natalise made it clear that she wasn't there to get coffee, though. "Right off the bat I was like, "I'm a singer and I want to be a singer,'" she says. "I'm not really here to intern. I signed up for this thing so you could help me get a record deal."

This fit Tani T.'s plans for 888 Records, which he describes as "a very, very small company." Natalise is its only artist, and the goal is to get her signed to a major label and make her America's first Asian-American pop star.

There's nothing particularly Asian about Forever Now, which contains more than its share of the kind of syrupy pop ballads that I have difficulty listening to on a full stomach. But jams like "Tell Me" and "I Wanna Hold You Tight" crawl into my subconscious, threatening to establish permanent residence and perhaps even their own system of local governance and traffic law. They have none of the raunchy lyrics or hip hop beats heard in Christina Aguilera's or Justin Timberlake's latest works; they seem, in fact, a step or two behind the times. But that just makes them more endearing.

Not endearing enough to hit the Billboard Hot 100, however.

"It's pretty discouraging the way the industry is going right now," says Tani T., blaming Internet file sharing and a weak economy for Forever Now's disappointing sales of fewer than 2,000 copies since its February 2003 release. Part of the reason it hasn't sold well -- if you ask me -- is because of all of those damn ballads. But she loves them.

"I like the slow ones. They lend themselves well to sentimentality," Natalise says. "Those are the songs I feel I can get the most emotion across."

About The Author

Ben Westhoff


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