NEW YORK -- Moments before receiving an MTV award for best new artist of 1997, Fiona Apple had an epiphany.
''It dawned on me that I had been hinging my personal security on what other people think of me,'' Apple says.
''And I thought, 'Now they're gonna give me an award, and I don't feel any better about myself.' ''
The singer/songwriter's acceptance speech, in which she expressed her self-doubt with an awkward candor that some mistook for impudence, added to a growing perception that she was a Difficult, Troubled Artist. Apple, who was 18 when her debut album,
Tidal, was released in 1996, helped fuel the fire with her startlingly precocious songs about thwarted, twisted passion -- and her equally provocative personal history.
She had been, by her own account, forced into psychotherapy at the age of 11 and raped at 12, and she wasn't shy about discussing those events, or her enduring hang-ups, with reporters.
But as she arrives in her publicist's midtown office, Apple, now 22, hardly looks like a tortured soul. The doe-eyed beauty whose pout became an MTV staple is smiling today -- giggling, even. She's promoting her second album, which boasts a 90-word title that begins
When the Pawn -- more about that later -- and arrived this month to rave reviews and a No. 13 chart debut.
''Everything happened so fast with my first album,'' Apple says.
''If you look at the press I did, you'd see somebody faced with something they didn't know what to do with.
''When you're new to the business, people can take advantage of you -- whether it's writing something that hurts your feelings or having you dress a certain way. I would spend nine hours at a photo shoot, with people picking at me until I didn't even look like myself -- I just looked sad but pretty. Now I can say, 'I'm not doing a nine-hour photo shoot.' That's not a diva thing -- that's a common-sense thing.''
Apple also is more confident musically. ''It takes courage to be creative. On my last album, I wasn't really giving it everything. Now I'm more experienced. Also, I worked this time with (producer) Jon Brion and (engineer) Rich Costey, who are great friends, and we had so much fun.''
That playful quality is projected in the quirky video for Apple's new single,
"Fast as You Can," which was directed by her boyfriend of two years, director/screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson. Apple feels that her relationship with Anderson, with whom she shares a house in Los Angeles, has helped boost both her self-esteem and her creative ambition.
''He's impressed me so much that I want to impress him,''
she says, ''and that makes your work drive go up.''
Apple's enthusiasm about her work with Anderson contrasts sharply with her feelings about the video that made her an MTV icon. That video, for the 1997 single Criminal, showcased the young singer half-dressed and in suggestive poses.
''I don't like that I made that video,'' Apple says now.
''It's cheesy. I didn't know at the beginning that I was, like, only gonna be in my underwear. That wasn't what I had talked about with (director) Mark
Romanec. Then I show up, and 30 people are there, going, 'It looks great!' And I thought, 'OK, I'm in my underwear, and everybody's happy! I feel really good about myself!'
''But I felt bad afterward. I felt like I'd just performed the same act for young girls that was performed for me when I was a kid. And it didn't need to be that way. It wasn't artistically relevant for me to be in my underwear.''
Apple was upset to an even greater extent by a cover story in the November 1997 issue of
Spin magazine, which inspired the title of her second album.
''They set me up,'' Apple says. ''The guy who was editor then cut and spliced everything I said, so that I looked like a moron. Then I opened up
Spin the month afterward and saw all these hate letters. I just lost it. I thought, 'I'm gonna lose my mind if I don't write something,' because that's what I do when I feel weak or overwhelmed.
''I was on a (tour) bus, so I couldn't write a song -- I didn't have a piano. So I wrote a poem. I needed to remind myself that I'm a good person, and this
(Spin article) can't touch me. And it just made sense to put it on the cover of my new album.''
The poem became the long title.
Alan Light, who has been editor in chief of Spin since February, says: ''There are no bad feelings about Fiona on the part of our staff. In fact, she's got a lot of fans among our editors. And I think one reason that she's such an interesting artist is that she does draw on real experiences and real feelings.''
Apple insists she will maintain that approach -- whatever the consequences.
''I'm realizing that you don't need to be on magazine covers and on MTV and VH1,'' she says.
''I'm proud of this album, so I'm gonna play the game for a while -- and enjoy the fact that I know more about it. But you don't need to be a rock star to be a musician, you know?''