Mandy Moore's Sweetest Song Yet: Inside Her Hard-Fought Return to Music

The This Is Us star has released the debut single from her first new album in 10 years after rediscovering her confidence and finding the support she needed

By Natalie Finn Sep 17, 2019 4:35 PMTags
Mandy MooreChris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank


That's what Mandy Moore promised on Monday, along with a few seconds of a guitar lick, an all-too-brief sample of what her fans have been waiting for—Moore's debut single from her first new album in 10 years.

"Song title?? Release time?? Which platform???? WE NEED DETAILS AMANDA," @ashleyontheair demanded to know.

Well, this morning—with her career once again on fire after a creatively fallow stretch that had her wondering if her time had passed—Moore is back with "When I Wasn't Watching," which doesn't bother to hide its message under a veil of metaphor.

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"My favorite version of me disappeared / Through longer days and shorter years / So where was I when this was going down? / Assumed the world would come around."

Moore eventually met the world halfway.

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"The idea of diving back into music after so much time and personal change was really intimidating to me for a while," Moore said upon the song's release. "But then I finally realized: I'm the only person who can make this move. It all has to start with me."

Picking up where she left off with 2009's Amanda Leigh, only with considerably more anticipation this time, the onetime "Candy" girl has dug even deeper into the personal singer-songwriter sound she started exploring after making her name with slickly produced pop tracks that complemented the teen-friendly movie fare she made in the early '00s. She wanted Amanda Leigh to sound like a "quintessential California '70s pop record," as she told at the time, and in 2019 she still "wanted to make a very California-sounding record—something that feels sunshiny and airy and natural, something you could listen to driving up and down the [Pacific Coast Highway] with all the windows rolled down on a beautiful weekend day."

As befitting where she's at in the rest of her life, as well as in the studio.

"I very much feel like I'm at the helm of the ship now, where I'm stepping back into music completely on my own terms," Moore added. "Everything that's happened up until this point has gotten me to where I am today, and I'm so excited to just keep moving forward."


By her side on this journey is her husband of almost a year, Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith—who, when he said he would collaborate with her on a new album, actually came through.

Unlike some.

Moore hasn't just reinvented herself as a dramatic actress on the decades-spanning NBC drama This Is Us, for which she's nominated for her first-ever Emmy Award this coming Sunday. She also got busy rebuilding both her confidence and her creative drive after what was for her an emotionally debilitating six-year marriage to Ryan Adams. She originally thought the prolific singer-songwriter was a kindred spirit, someone who would inspire her, in the studio and out.

"It's nice to be able to bounce ideas off someone, especially someone that you have a lot of respect for. It's wonderful," she told in 2009, shortly after they got married.

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Asked if she planned on working with Adams, Moore said, "I'm sure in due time something will probably come about in terms of collaborating. We certainly have done that at home, writing together—it just organically happens. In terms of putting stuff out there [commercially], I don't know. Maybe somewhere down the line that'll be fun."

A year later she told E! News that she was "sure he'll be involved in some way" with her next album. "We work well together."

Two more years went by and Moore told CBS News in 2012 that she and Adams were "probably" going to work together on her next album.

"There's a lot to say and a lot that's happened to me in the last three or so years since the last record's come out," the American Dreamz actress said. "So I have been writing a lot and it's definitely going to be an intense, emotional record. I'm excited about it. I'm excited to get into the studio and start recording."


But after the hit soundtrack to Tangled in 2010, nothing came out. And she didn't act much, either, mainly doing voice work until landing a lead in 2014 on the Fox hospital drama Red Band Society, which only lasted for 13 episodes. At the show's premiere that November, Moore again told E! News that she was working with Adams on her album, and that "his influence will be all over it."

Adams, on the other hand, released four albums during the course of their marriage and had two come out in the months following their divorce announcement in January 2015.

"When I think back to that particular time period that we're talking about...It was heavy. It was dark. It was confusing. It was lonely," Moore shared with Bustle last November. "There was no room for me. There was no room for me to have anything else in my life."

Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP Images

By then remarried and comfortably ensconced on the instant hit that was This Is Us, Moore opened up further about her experience being married to Adams in a February article in The New York Times that detailed sexual misconduct allegations against the "Come Pick Me Up" singer from several women. (Through his attorney Adams categorically denied the "extremely serious and outlandish accusations" leveled in the story and insisted that he never knowingly had text exchanges or online conversations with underage girls.)

"Music was a point of control for him," Moore told the Times

She recalled Adams telling her in 2010 that he'd work with her on her follow-up to Amanda Leigh, but then preceded to not follow through and to discourage her from reaching out to any other producers or managers. (Adams denied that as well.)

"His controlling behavior essentially did block my ability to make new connections in the industry during a very pivotal and potentially lucrative time—my entire mid-to-late 20s," Moore said.

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After she filed for divorce, it was indeed as if she had unclogged a necessary pipeline that was preventing her from reaching the opportunities that were waiting for her.

Their split was finalized in June 2016, and This Is Us, created by Tangled screenwriter Dan Fogelman, premiered that September to much "you've got to see this twist!" fanfare. You soon saw that her character, Rebecca Pearson, had found the closest-to-perfect husband and father ever in Milo Ventigmiglia's Jack Pearson, but she's an aspiring singer relegated to singing in local bars because her career never took off.

"Life is not easy," Moore acknowledged during the series' TCA panel that summer. "I think it's been great to be able to take all of the chapters in my life and be able to pour it into a job like this because it all helps. It's all fuel."

"I think everything happens for a reason," she continued. "I think I spent a good portion of the last years of my life really pouring all of my energy into my life and relationship, and now that that's sort of not part of my life any more. It's just not a coincidence to me that things sort of opened back up, and I'm able to focus back on myself again."

Rachel Luna/Getty Images

A few months ago she shared some photos of herself in the studio, "In the middle of making new music with some of [her] favorite people ever," including Goldsmith—who had already come through in co-writing "Invisible Ink," a Rebecca-sung tune from season three.

"We've been writing for the last couple of months," Moore told E! News at a This Is Us event in June. "It's everything to be back in the studio again. I'm like," she sighed contentedly, "'I've missed this.' It's been over a decade and, yeah, to really be working on my own music again, it's just..." Moore shook her head. "It's just, I don't know, everything's sort of coming together and coalescing in the right way, and I'm very grateful."

Goldsmith, who got in touch with Moore via social media in 2015 after she gave Dawes a shout-out on Instagram, has proved himself to be a stalwart partner many times over, be it when they summited Mt. Kilimanjaro together in March 2018 or performed "Invisible Ink" at the This Is Us party.

"I'm a little bit nervous," she told E! News before they took the stage about singing live with her husband, "but we do it at the house all the time, so it's not going to be too different. Just add a couple of other people in the audience. It's usually just our cats, but now it'll be actual human beings, so...I'm a little nervous, but I'm excited.

"I feel comfortable, I can always just look over and he's standing right there, and I feel good." 

(E! and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)