With each edition of Cherwell this term, Keziah will be bringing you a new female artist who she believes should not be forgotten. This week: Fiona Apple.
Stumbling upon Fiona Apple’s 1999 album When The Pawn… actually inspired the concept of this column. I had heard of the American singer/songwriter before, but actually listening to her music was something entirely different.
I discovered that many others are unaware of Fiona Apple and her discography, and are thus also missing out. So, my mission is to enlighten, one underrated female artist at a time.
It’s not just Apple’s inimitable voice that captivated me over the winter vac, but the Joni Mitchell-esque emotional intensity and unique musicality of her lyrics. Fiona Apple defies genre typecasting, with each album containing a plethora: at once alt rock, blues and jazz, even infusing classical.
Fiona Apple McAfee-Maggart was born and raised in New York City with her mother and sister (though spent summers with her father in Los Angeles) and composed jazz pieces growing up. From the age of 12, she suffered from OCD, anxiety and depression, PTSD and an eating disorder following a traumatic event in her young life.
The powerful poignancy of her music cannot therefore be separated from the artist’s experiences. Apple’s debut album Tidal addresses and explores her trauma, isolation and woes. Its lyrics deal deftly with her personal life through oceanic metaphors, and we see her pain ebb and flow and rage below the surface, herself an emptied shell, helpless victim of “he” who “took my pearl” (from the album’s second song, Sullen Girl). It is no surprise, then, that this young lyrical mastermind’s debut album went triple-Platinum. But the album didn’t achieve great fame until Apple’s controversial, overtly sexual music video for the single Criminal earned her a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, and the album a spot in the Top Ten.
Since then, each of Apple’s albums offer something unique and deeply personal, her lyricism plaintive, apt and soulful. Both album titles The Idler Wheel… and When the Pawn… derive from longer poems written by Apple herself, showcasing her great expressive ambition. Apple has earned herself a cult following over the years, spellbinding listeners with her poetry and stunning, rare contralto voice.
My personal favourite songs of hers? I Know, Paper Bag, Slow Like Honey and Extraordinary Machine.