I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the controversial lady of self-expression, Fiona Apple, has booked a 2012 tour.
"Fiona Apple announces 2012 tourdates. She’s the one who plays the harp, right?
'It’s been a while since we’ve seen or heard from Fiona Apple. Of course, this is most likely because of the multiple legal battles with Sir Paul McCartney, the ghost of René Magritte, and that apple-eating pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean, in which she’s been embroiled for the past seven years concerning her rights to, variously, eat apples, take press photos with apples, and have Apple as a last name.”
As a tween, I spent hours learning every single song from Tidal by ear and playing/performing them with my young angsty girlfriends. As a senior in high school, I arranged “Never is a Promise" for piano and three violas for a school coffeehouse performance. However, in the now seven years since Apple’s last studio releases, she seems to have faded into a strange sort of well-known obscurity, as well as migrated outside of my developing (snobbish) musical tastes. I was probably unduly influenced by the eye-rolling that seemed to accompany any mention of her name:
We all remember this moment, right?
(Why can’t the girl just shut up and be happy?)
It has become impossible not to associate Apple’s musical achievements with her aggressive Grammy speech. Somehow, as a developing classical musician, being an avid fan of hers became something a bit less than OK (if it ever was OK)-Apple’s music was for whiny girly teenagers, of course, and any love or discussion of the woman was relegated to close friendships and closet “music I don’t think I should like” revelations.
However, news of her possible return (as well as news of a possible 4th album) has had me thinking about my mental attitude towards Apple during the past few years. Re: my post “sad sack or sexappeal” about recent female artists in the public eye, I have been wanting to shout “Adele has nothing on Fiona!” for the past month. Here is a woman who is in charge of her own material, who speaks her mind, and who, somehow, became a chart-topper. Why shouldn’t I embrace her as a personal hero?
Something very interesting happened to women in commercial music at just about the same time as Apple was releasing her debut and second albums. If you all will join me in thinking back to the glorious 90s, which women in pop music are you most likely to recall? Probably Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. Here, alongside Apple’s self-written sad music, were the catchy tunes “sung” by women (asking us to please hit them one more time) who didn’t have anything to do creatively except perhaps choose a hue of platinum blonde with which to color their locks. Among my musician friends, there is heavy lamentation of the decline of the music industry after the mid-90s, for both male and female artists.
And here, I posit, is what went wrong: Nobody at the top of the ladder in music business wanted to admit that someone who made their career by saying “Something is terribly wrong with this world” could make them money (Nirvana also springs to mind). In fact, I think this scared a lot of powerful people (remember when Extraordinary Machine was held back from release by Sony (and, apparently, by Fiona herself)). So instead they brought us an onslaught of skin-showing singing-only divas which continues bombarding us to this day (think Katy Perry or Lady Gaga).
'I wanted to write a happy song. I didn't know how.'
Yeah, it’s scary. That people support a woman who is so vocal about how terrible the industry and the masochistic culture are. That people connect with an artist’s inner lamentations on such a deep level, and that that artist happens to be a woman. After giving it much thought, I do not believe we can or should separate Apple from her cultural persona - as internal and as soul-searching as her music is, as a public figure she asks all of us to soul-search about the state of the external world. And to be ourselves.
"If I respect myself and believe in what I’m doing, no one can touch me."
There you have it, artists, musicians, writers, and lay peoples. We are being encouraged to respect and believe in ourselves. No wonder Apple has been relegated to such a quiet state - self respect doesn’t sell lipstick.
(this post is dedicated to my sister, Grace)