Folksy French-Israeli singer Yael Naim found commercial success after her song “New Soul” played in Apple’s MacBook Air laptop ads, pushing the song to No. 7 on U.S. music chart Billboard’s Hot 100.
She already had gained fame for what some saw as a comic choice to cover Britney Spear’s “Toxic,” singing a soulful, poignant version of the commercial hit while playing piano.
But Naim, 29, whose self-titled new album was just released in the United States two months earlier than originally planned following the success of the Apple ad, says she’s not worried about being seen as too commercial.
“It opened a great window for us, for a lot of people to have a chance to hear about our music,” she said. “We had a lot of propositions ... but we thought Apple and Macintosh have some connection because today we work with computers to do our music.”
The singer-songwriter, who was born in Paris but spent a large part of her childhood in Israel, recorded her new album in her Paris apartment with her music partner, percussionist David Donatien.
“We did not have a label,” she said. “We did not have a lot of money so we did it just with a computer.”
What’s in a name?
She became disillusioned with the “big studio” experience after her first album “In a Man’s Womb” was released in 2001 through EMI, which insisted she keep her name to just Yael.
“It was like they took half of my energy,” she said.
Both “Toxic” and “New Soul” appear on her new, second album, which was recorded in English, Hebrew and French and has received warm reviews. Rolling Stone magazine noted: “The way Naim purrs any word with a hard ‘ch’ will make your loins tingle.”
Naim, who spent two years in the Israel Air Force Orchestra, said she was surprised audiences in France had embraced the mixed-language album.
“I did not think anyone would want to listen to ballads in Hebrew,” she said. “It is not considered a very sexy language.”
She also didn’t expect the success of her version of “Toxic,” which Rolling Stone described as “a stripped-down, slow-motion, kinda-brilliant cover.”
“I don’t particularly like her (Spears) as a musician, the voice, but this song is a good song,” she said. “I wanted to take something that is completely opposite of the music we do.”
Audiences at live shows, such as one last week in Manhattan, react excitedly to “Toxic,” as well as to her current hit.
She confided to the crowd of several hundred that she once believed she was an old soul.
“Then my real life began and I figured that maybe I’m not an old soul,” she said before launching into “New Soul.”