“I am making all of my mistakes in public,” Fiona Apple said at a Spin party in 1997.
“I'm just hoping that if I can be raw about my emotions and not hide anything, I can show people my age and younger it's okay.”
True to her intentions, she took us deep into her explorations of relationship dynamics on her debut album. She sang about giving in to temptation, her inner conflict with guilt and falling out of love. There seemed like a world of experience behind the weariness and a sensuality in her voice.
She sang with such a lack of repentance, sometimes a resignation, but you could tell this was a woman on a mission to express herself.
What wasn’t readily obvious was that she was only 18 years old.
Even as a young child, Fiona was wary, intense and knew she needed to be heard.
"I'd get into arguments with my parents and I couldn't ever make my point,” she told the Washington Post in 1999. “It was when I was in therapy for whatever everyone thought was wrong with me and it kind of made my credibility nothing.
“If I was making an argument, everybody thought I was trying to manipulate them, so I could never have my side of the arguments heard.
“So, I'd go back into my room and I would write a letter and an hour later, I'd come out and read it--'This is how I feel' – and I'd go back into my room.
“I would love the way that it felt to have your side of an argument right here in front of you. If I wrote a letter, I didn't even need to win an argument.”
Indeed, the delicious sting of rhyming barbs like ‘Sleep to Dream’s’, ‘I have never been so insulted in all my life/I could swallow the seas to wash down all this pride/First you run like a fool just to be at my side/And now you run like a fool but you just run to hide and I can't abide’ are loaded with the evidence of the sweetest emotional release.
“I do see it as an angry song but it’s also a song of joy for me,” Apple told Angela Catterns on triple j in 1997.
“I think there’s a lot to be said for anger. It can be a very good thing, as long as you know what you’re angry about. And that song is about realising the truth about a situation and when you know what your angry about, it’s the first step to getting over it and moving on.”
The ocean is also the setting for ‘Sullen Girl’ on which Apple shares the trauma of her rape.
‘I used to sail the deep and tranquil sea, But he washed me ashore, And he took my pearl, And left an empty shell of me’
The pensive song, lifted by pedal steel and fluid vibraphones, show how she turned a horrific experience of powerlessness on its head.
“Rape is the most humiliating thing that can be done to you; it’s the most vulnerable that you can be,” she told Interview magazine in 1997.
“But, once I realised that, I became a stronger person and faced all my fears. Now it’s like, ‘Well, the worst has happened and I’m fine.’ Now I feel like, whatever I can do, no one can hurt me. I cannot be violated, I cannot be humiliated, I cannot be disregarded. I cannot be disrespected. I respect myself and believe in what I’m doing, no one can touch me.”
Being in a position of control meant she was motivated to take on challenges and put herself in uncomfortable situations.
Apple copped a lot of flak for the sexualized video for the album’s best-known song ‘Criminal’.
“Making the video was a huge step for me,” she told Interview Magazine. “I’ve gone through stages where I hate my body so much that I won’t even wear shorts and a bra in my house because if I pass a mirror that’s the end of my day.
“So it was a personal mission to do that video. To get up in front of all those gorgeous girls and strut my stuff, to convince myself, ‘You’ve got something else going on here’. It was a huge step.
“But, in the end, the truth is it’s fun to be up there and know that you’re in your underwear. Even though I know I’m exploiting my sexuality in a certain way, it’s fun! It boosts my ego. Which is exactly what the song is about.”
In September 1997, a composed Fiona Apple walked up the aisle of Radio City Music Hall to accept the MTV award for Best New Talent. She launched into her now famously awkward but impassioned plea to “Go with yourself”, which was cheered but also criticized and lampooned for months after.
Standing there in her simple white dress, her eyes fixed and fiery, Apple was a woman who backed herself completely, something she’s attested to since the start of her career.
“I’m such an incredibly, stupidly sensitive person, that everything that happens to me I experience it really intensely,” she told MTV in 1996.
“And when you feel things deeply and you think about things a lot and you think about how you feel, you learn a lot about yourself and when you know yourself, you know life.”