Strong enough for a man, but made by a woman
Bikini magazine  
February 2000

  by Amanda Anderson

Fiona Apple's music and persona is spectacular to some, alarming to others.  While she pulls no punches on her newest album, the girl is never anything less than a true gentleman.  Amanda Anderson comes calling. 

Approach Fiona Apple like you would any man.  Don't try to change him.  Don't shove high heels onto his feet or a negligee onto his unwilling body.  Or at least understand that you will get a negative reaction.  Maybe he just wants to bypass the bullshit of fame and focus on the integrity of his work.  Just like Fiona.

She's been there, and her present logic is hard to argue with:  "I wrote a lot of songs and now I'm supposed to be a model?"

Not that Fiona isn't physically beautiful.  That's the easy part.  The problem, apparently, is that she chooses to present herself in a way that coincides with her work, rather than to manipulate an image that's designed to sell records.  Of course, anti-image is also an image.  Here you have a young, beautiful singer, so why not put her in underwear, short skirts, and tell her to put her hand down her pants?  If she balks? All the better for that rebellious anti-image.

When Fiona describes the stories behind the stories that inflated her wild child image in the wake of her debut, Tidal, a theme develops:  guilt, insecurity, and a sometimes unsympathetic media makes for a bad, bad reputation. 

It was only a few years ago that Apple left a small private school in New York City and headed for the Los Angeles public school system.  "I thought I should be in public school," she says, 'because I thought I was too shy to be in private school and throw myself into something."

Her attendance records there tallied "something like 256 absences," she says now.  By then she was already spending hours behind the piano, writing songs.  She returned briefly to New York, only to fly back to Los Angeles and begin attending a school for troubled kinds.  Her approach this time was:  "Okay, well, maybe I'll try and make friends here."

Then somebody passed her demo tape onto somebody somewhere.  And somehow it got into the hands of producer-manager Andrew Slater, who heard big things in those songs.  And soon Apple, at 17, was signed to a big-time record label and suddenly thrust into a world of videos and photo shoots and stylists and makeup artists and managers and lawyers and the media.  Standing in front of a camera was a new and strange experience.

"There's a whole environment there," Apple says, "because you don't want to be there dressed like you don't want to be dressed and you've got this makeup on you and you think you look ugly, but you don't want to insult the makeup artist.  But half the time you're saying no and they hate you, and half the time you're saying yes and you hate them.  And they're saying to you, 'I photographed Beck last week and he was really lively.'  And you're like, well, I'm sure you didn't have him standing against the wall in a negligee."

One regret is her video to the single "Criminal," which had her cavorting with a crowd of young, half-naked actors, like a scene right out of a Calvin Klein ad.  Wearing the underwear on-camera, she says, was "the fatal mistake."

"It sounds ridiculous," she explains.  "Your were standing there in your underwear -- how could you not realize what you were doing?  but when there's 20 people standing around you going 'This is so great, it looks wonderful,' then you're going, 'Really?  This is going to get people to like me?"

Inevitably, the "Criminal" video was a success.  But it was precisely the kind of success Apple did not want.  Ironically, it was the desire to be liked, coupled with the guilt that came from going against her own beliefs (in order to be liked), that gave birth to what many people came to be seen as her notorious moment:  The MTV Video Awards speech.

The Best New Artist award she won, she felt, was awarded not for her talent as a musician, but because she had gained so much attention by wearing her underwear.  "I felt like I was at the high school prom and I really wanted to be cool and all of a sudden I was cool, but because of something that I was ashamed of -- like I fucked the football captain or something.  And it just all fell apart.

"I don't even remember exactly what I said," she recalls hazily.  "But at some point, I said 'To everyone watching this thinking that all of us up here are, you know, anyone who's going by what you're seeing on this show -- I know this show's really stylish and everyone's wearing cool things -- just go with yourself'"  She goes on:  "'If you're looking at this world, this world is bullshit.'  And I said that and everyone thought I said the world is bullshit and we should all die.

"Y'know, we're sitting here," she says, "and I've probably said a few things that you could blow up into the pull quotes that would make me look ridiculous."

One way Apple dealt with the taunting and insults was to write about it.  The 89-word title of her new album (When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts He thinks Like A King What He Knows Throws The Blows When He Goes To The Fight And He'll Win The Whole Thing 'Fore He Enters The Ring There's No Body To Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand And Remember That Depth Is The Greatest Of Heights, And If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where To Land And If You Fall It Won't Matter, Cuz You'll Know That You're Right) is one of these expressions.

"I'm sitting on the bus, with these hate letters in my lap," she explains, referring to letters published in Spin magazine in reference to an article in that magazine.  "'We hate Fiona, Fiona's so stupid,' with no way to really defend myself.  If I make mistakes and they can make me look like this, it doesn't matter because I know I'm right and they're wrong.  And so I wrote this thing and I told myself I would put this on my new album as a good reminder for myself, and what happens? They make fun of that."  (Time magazine's review of the title was one word: "nonsense.")

But the continued taunting neither seems to affect Apple the way it used to, nor is it as widespread.  Her album has received much critical praise and her name has been inconspicuously missing from gossip columns and nasty headlines.  And she seems to have become comfortable enough with herself and her position in life to focus on what's important to her, rather than wasting energy and creating accidental disasters by attempting to defend herself.  "There's no way to win,' she allows.  "I'm very proud of this album.  That's why I'm doing all this promotion -- because I think the album deserves it.

"I want some fucking credit on this album because this is some good work and I don't care what else they say about me.  I just hope I get credit for writing good songs and singing them well." 

What a guy.