Released: 7th August 2000
Writers: Keith Thomas / Shelly Peiken / Tiffany Arbuckle
Peak position: #21
Chart run: 21-35-46-61-69
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 69-63-54-50-45-42-31-28-24-34-42-53-65-66-77-94-99
Sometimes the UK gets things wrong (though that’s hardly a revelation these days). And when it comes to I Wanna Be With You, we got it so very wrong indeed.
In the UK, this single served as a straightforward follow-up to Candy. However, in America, the situation was a tad more convoluted. Mandy Moore’s debut album – So Real – had failed to generate any further hits. Thus, I Wanna Be With You thus served as the first single from her second album of the same name. To call it a ‘new’ album is perhaps a bit generous though; instead, it was a mixture of songs from the debut, alongside new recordings and remixed tracks, arriving just six months after So Real. That version of the album ostensibly served as Mandy Moore’s debut in the UK, albeit with the remixes swapped back to the original versions from So Real. If that all seems something of a kerfuffle, it was. However, I Wanna Be With You (the song) is absolutely deserving of the effort.
The single was a bold choice for Mandy Moore; it’s vastly different to Candy for a start. But perhaps more riskily, it saw her tread outside of her pop pigeonhole and infringe on the ground of her rivals, albeit with more subtlety than Britney Spears and less gusto than Christina Aguilera or Jessica Simpson. Nevertheless, it’s a track that probably could have appeared on any of their debut albums, although it’s also fair to say none of them would have performed it as Mandy Moore does. It wasn’t immediately evident from her early material, but she has a brilliant voice, even if it is mostly without the distinctive quirks of her peers. I Wanna Be With You thus plays to those strengths as perhaps the archetypal girl-next-door ballad of its time.
Despite being the youngest of her immediate peers, I Wanna Be With You is a notably more mature effort in every respect. It rejects many of the bubblegum pop conventions of the time and opts for a gentle guitar-led production, which gradually builds throughout the song to a stirring crescendo. Sure, there are still some synths thrown into the mix – it wasn’t a complete departure – but the essence and melody of the song aren’t reliant on them. A point that’s been proven in subsequent years when Mandy Moore adapted the song faithfully for acoustic performances. Lyrically, the song is also a little more considered than the average doe-eyed angsty teen ballad; in places, there’s an ethereal timelessness to it: “Your breath on my face, your warm gentle kiss I taste the truth, I taste the truth”. Even the chorus, which makes its intentions unmistakably clear, sounds more classically romantic than it does suggestively sexual: “I wanna be with you, if only for a night, to be the one who’s in your arms to hold you tight”.
And then there’s Mandy Moore. It’s her performance here that sells the song with a sense of musicality where she completely understands herself in relation to the song. I Wanna Be With You is not oversung (something she’s more than capable of), but neither does she get lost within the song. As it swirls towards a dizzying climax, Mandy Moore deftly elevates her performance, matching it beat for beat. The triumphant final minute of the song is exceptional; as the beat dramatically crashes, it’s accompanied by a crescendo of gentle backing vocals.
The breathy delivery of the bigger moments (“Wanna be with you-ooh-ooh-ooh-OOH, yeah-eah-eah-EAH”) and the overall tone of Mandy Moore’s voice is succulently sweet. It might not be the showiest vocal, but there’s still a remarkable degree of technicality and control employed here. The faintly whispered, half-sighed: “I wanna be with you” that closes the song is the perfect summation of Mandy Moore’s gentle approach to the track.
The music video for I Wanna Be With You ties the song into the soundtrack for the movie Center Stage (starring a young Zoe Saldana), a film that very much flew under the radar in the UK, and was only a modest hit in America. It’s not crucial to the narrative of the video but does at least give some context as to why Mandy Moore is in a dance studio and movie footage is fleetingly integrated into various sequences. Despite turning up to the studio fully kitted out, she spends the whole time sitting down or leaning against the wall while the extras dance around her. There is some synergy with Center Stage as Sascha Radetsky reprises his role from the movie and performs as the object of Mandy Moore’s affection in the video, although they don’t ever actually appear in the same shot together. Nonetheless, she acts with endearing sincerity; there’s plenty of hair stroking and suitably earnest, longing gazes into the distance that convincingly sells the message of the track.
I Wanna Be With You remains Mandy Moore’s biggest hit in America, peaking at #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 (even if Candy arguably remains more infamous). Such was the appeal of this single that the parent album peaked at #21 and had a reasonably decent chart run in America, which is particularly impressive considering half of it was recycled material from So Real. Alas, in the UK, I Wanna Be With You did not fare well. The track reached #21, definitively placing Mandy Moore in last place amongst her immediate teen pop peers. And with her debut album – having peaked at #52 – showing no signs of resurgence, that brought an end to her music career here, which is a massive shame, if for no other reason than I Wanna Be With You deserves so much more recognition. It’s a tremendous – and unexpectedly accomplished – effort from an underrated singer.
In some respects, it’s not hard to see why I Wanna Be With With You got a bit lost in the clamour of the ‘00s bubblegum pop bubble. But the understated, unassuming qualities are precisely what makes this such a brilliant track, even if they ultimately cost the track the recognition it so deserved.