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 you have to admit when you get it wrong. And so on behalf of pop fans everywhere, we apologise to Mandy Moore. For when it comes to I Wanna Be With You, we got it very, very wrong.
In the UK, this single served as the follow-up to Candy. However, in America, things were moving more quickly and in a somewhat convoluted fashion. Mandy Moore’s debut album – So Real – had failed to generate any further hits. 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. And it arrived just six months after So Real. This super-deluxe version of the album is what was released here as the debut, albeit with the remixes swapped back to the original versions from So Real. If you could keep up with all of that, you might be wondering whether a song like I Wanna Be With You was worthy of so much kerfuffle. Well, quite simply: yes, it is.
The single was a bold choice for Mandy Moore; it was vastly different from 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 and Jessica Simpson. Nevertheless, it’s a song 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 cracking 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 proven in subsequent years where Mandy Moore was able to adapt the song faithfully in an acoustic performance setting. Lyrically, the song is also a little more considered than your 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 that brings us onto Mandy Moore herself. For it’s her performance here that sells the song. What we can now say, which was perhaps less evident at the time, is that she has a sense of musicality quite unlike that of her peers and completely understands herself in relation to the song. She doesn’t oversing it (something she is more than capable of), but neither does she get lost within it. As I Wanna Be With You swirls towards a dizzying climax, Mandy Moore deftly elevates her performance, matching it beat for beat. The triumphant final minute of the song is something exceptional indeed; 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 are succulently sweet. It might not be 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.
For the music video, we should probably point out that I Wanna Be With You was part of the soundtrack to the movie Center Stage, a film we don’t even remember getting a cinematic release in the UK. It’s not exactly crucial to the narrative of the video, but it at least explains why Mandy Moore is in a dance studio. It’s also why there is occasionally movie footage integrated within the video, albeit with no apparent context other than “centre stage” being written on the floor at several points (this may or may not have been edited out of the UK version). Presumably, Mandy Moore was signed up to dance lessons against her will, because 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 (anyone else getting flashbacks to P.E. lessons?). There’s even a nice bit of synergy with Center Stage as Sascha Radetsky reprises his role and performs as the object of Mandy Moore’s affections in the video. The visuals fit well with the song, and it’s undeniably pleasant, but is it particularly memorable? Perhaps not enough…
I wanna be with you
There’s nothing more to say
There’s nothing else I want more than to feel this way
I wanna be with you
In that sense, it’s not difficult to see why I Wanna Be With With You got a bit lost in the crowd as such an unassuming and understated number within the hyperactive ‘00s bubblegum pop bubble. But those qualities are precisely what makes it such a brilliant song, and we wouldn’t change an ounce of it, even if it came at the expense of the recognition that the track so deserved.
I Wanna Be With You did earn itself a few positive chart accolades; it remains Mandy Moore’s biggest hit in America, having peaked at #24 on the Billboard Hot 100. And yet we acknowledge that in a begrudging sense because Candy is still the much more famous hit being consistent with that era of bubblegum pop. Nonetheless, such was the appeal of this single that the parent album peaked at #21 and had a reasonably decent chart run in America. Particularly when you consider that half of it was shamelessly recycled material. In the UK, however, there is little consolation we can offer. I Wanna Be With You reached #21, definitively placing Mandy Moore in last place amongst her teen pop peers. With her debut album having peaked at #52 and showing no signs of resurgence, she called it a day in the UK, thus depriving us of several notably brilliant pop songs to come in the following years. It was a necessary – but brutal – lesson: show your pop favourites some love because otherwise, they might well bugger off and never bother coming back. Unless of course, it’s to star in a sleeper hit teen movie or an award-winning TV series. I Wanna Be With You deserved much more recognition than it got because it is a tremendous – and unexpectedly mature – effort from an underrated singer.