Fiona Apple - To Your Love
Here’s my question: What metric tonnage of balls do you need, to write this song’s opening lines?
By the time this album came out, Fiona Apple was a joke. It was one of our finer moments, as a nation: Take a very young woman who’s experiencing a media blitz, note that she’s had some major traumas in her past, note that she’s not great at discerning the difference between “reporter” and “BFF,” and then just go to town on her. And, I mean, the speech. Did you hear the speech? Oh, my God, did you hear that one radio show parody of the speech, it was so funny, what a stupid fucking speech. What a stupid fucking girl, with her fucking speech. She’s so disgusting. Crazy, I heard. Well, you know. It was a crazy speech.
And here’s Fiona Apple, sitting down, and she decides that her song’s first line is going to be, Here’s another speech. To be precise:
Another speech you wish I’d swallow
Another cue for you to fold your ears
Another train of thought too hard to follow
She starts her song by daring you not to listen. Other musicians facing PR crises or failures have done this: Kanye West, just to note the most obvious example, had “Runaway” after Taylor Swiftpocalypse. This is the same song as “Runaway,” in a lot of ways: Yes, I fucked that up, and I fucked it up because I am fucked up, and it hurts to be this fucked up, sorry. A song about your relationship with your audience, framed as a song about relationships. But where Kanye calls himself a douchebag and then commands you to celebrate him, Fiona just repeats your own words back to you, then tells you how she feels.
On its most basic level, When The Pawn is an album about the right to define yourself. The title is a poem she wrote after reading coverage of herself in SPIN. When the pawn hits the conflicts: It’s all right there. She’s the pawn, the kid doing wind machine dances and being fed to the wolves. We were the conflicts, the people who pushed her into position and then condemned her for where she stood.
Half of the album is Fiona calling herself names or beating herself up: “How crazy I am,” “I know I’m a mess,” “I’m gonna fuck it up again.” And the other half of it, of course, is Fiona outright furious that you would dare to call her those same names, or hold the same low opinion of her that she apparently holds of herself: “So call me crazy,” “keep on calling me names,” “and I do know what’s good for me.” Nearly every song on the album revolves around these basic questions: What you think of her, whether you’re right, and if you’re right, what that person has to say.It means something that the last song on the record is called “I Know,” that its last words are don’t need to say it. The whole album has been relentlessly about language and perception and definition, and it ends with her giving up on words. But before we get there, for as long as it takes to play this thing through, she’s reclaiming her own subjectivity, even as she’s relentlessly excoriating the flaws and failures in her own vision. It’s a brave thing to do. And it’s especially brave to do it when you already know people are rooting for you to believe the worst of yourself, to fall apart, or to fail.
“To Your Love” is — like “The First Taste,” sorry — not a big moment in Fiona Apple history. But it does define a tremendous amount of what this girl was going to be capable of, from then on.