For this artist, reality imitates, well, reality

Special to The Times

“Iwas naive,” were the first words of the first song, “Mistaken,” sung by Marié Digby at the Hotel Cafe on Tuesday.

Well, the young singer-songwriter and YouTube/MySpace phenom has lost some innocence in recent weeks. A Wall Street Journal story purported to “expose” her Internet success (which came via a winsome, homemade video of her performing Rihanna’s R&B-pop; hit “Umbrella”) as not the organic, amateur rise as perceived but rather the result of major-label machinations by Disney’s Hollywood Records, which had “secretly” signed her nearly two years ago.

The thing is, although she hadn’t trumpeted her Hollywood connection, she hadn’t hidden it either -- the label’s logo was on her sampler CDs sold at concerts, among other things. And the label and she maintain that the video was something she did on her own without label involvement. And her response, a vitriolic blog post charging that the Journal misrepresented the situation, was hardly the stuff of a managed PR campaign. Regardless, the notion was out there that somehow L.A.-based Digby was the music world’s answer to LonelyGirl15 -- the calculated presentation of an actress pretending to be a “real” teen girl.

All that seemed far in the background, though, on this third show of her four-week Hotel Cafe residency. In fact, when she mentioned YouTube from the stage, there was only moderate reaction from the audience. Instead, it was a mention of airplay of a slightly more-produced version of “Umbrella” on radio station Star 98.7 (KYSR-FM) that drew the big response -- though she sadly noted that the station has changed to a rock format and will no longer play her introspective songs.


Among the fans gathered outside before the show, Star 98.7 was the primary source of awareness about Digby, and there was only superficial knowledge of the supposed controversy.

“I read something about the YouTube thing,” said Eric Francisco, waiting with friends Kat Vuong and Tony Tuy.

“But isn’t that what YouTube is for?” Vuong asked.

“It’s supposed to be for amateurs,” Tuy countered, referring to some public perceptions.


But they all said the matter has no bearing on their enjoyment of Digby’s music, and other fans took a similar line.

“Some people might feel gypped,” said Amanda, who did not give her last name. “But if she’s good, she’s good.”

Her companion Alex Nguye added, “YouTube’s an amazing thing, just like with that guy who stood up for Britney.”

And that might be the real issue at hand. The Internet is a place where a guy in makeup-smearing hysterics over media treatment of Britney Spears is on the same level as a talented singer with a homemade video. And while seeming far more than the novelty act of “Umbrella,” she at this stage seems perfectly suited for the very small screen of YouTube and for intimate clubs such as this. Can Digby (whose first name is pronounced Mari-ay) transcend that?

Her short set Tuesday showed off her lovely voice and charmingly unpolished presence, but she’s not quite ready for the big time. She played the piano and guitar, and was accompanied by guitarist Lance Konnerth, yet the songs (mostly dealing with relationship issues) seemed solid if unspectacular, though her own “Stupid for You” (featured in a recent episode of the TV series “The Hills” -- a result of both her Internet platform and the efforts of the record company) is undeniably catchy.

The irony is that, although she’s taken heat for having major-label support, it comes at a time when the majors are being criticized for not nurturing artists and developing them over a long haul. It’s worth remembering that Sarah McLachlan, for one, was signed and then kept relatively out of the spotlight for a while as she gained experience and a following. You can bet that if she’d had YouTube back then, she would have used it.